In the stars, we see both our past and our future, and in NASA’s Artemis program, we see a seeming dismissal of that past and a possible threat to that future. As the program graduates its first class of astronauts, the most important questions remain unasked and, therefore, unanswered.
In recent months, NASA has loudly promoted the new space exploration program, named after the ancient Greek goddess of the moon. The program “will land the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024,” looking ultimately to “prepare for Mars” by “study(ing) and prov(ing) new human deep space capabilities on our moon.” This entails establishing “a long-term human presence,” as NASA laid out in this admittedly exciting promotional video released Dec. 19, which is part of a larger promotional campaign NASA has conducted over the last six months. The undertaking further entails “find(ing) and us(ing) water and other critical resources needed for long-term exploration” on the moon.
Artemis is plainly dedicated to expansionism of extraterrestrial proportions. If the Artemis program succeeds, the US could add the moon to its colonial possessions, which include Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico, in fact if not in law.
Additionally, the program could lead to extratelluric (outside Earth) environmental exploitation, as it contemplates the unspecified mining and use of the moon’s natural resources, which include titanium and iron. Recent human experience in environmental exploitation should caution us against such an endeavor. Put another way, the cavalier use of Earth’s raw materials has gone horribly wrong on our own planet, so what makes us think it will work out better elsewhere?
In 2000, atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen and former biology professor at the University of Michigan Eugene Stoermer popularized the term “the Anthropocene” to describe the “current geologic epoch,” which spans the last two centuries and during which human activity profoundly changed Earth’s geology and ecology. In the heat of the Anthropocene — and at the close of a year that saw global climate calamity, the publication of David Wallace-Wells’ “The Uninhabitable Earth,” the activism of Greta Thunberg and the meteoric rise of the term “climate emergency” — this move that could result in extratelluric exploitation should be roundly rejected.
Indeed, if the Artemis program succeeds, we may well enter a new era in human civilization — one in which humans will move from the unsustainable exploitation of Earth to unsustainable extratelluric exploitation. In essence, the Artemis program could mark a point of departure from which human destruction and depredation is exported from Earth to the stars.
Those who would oppose US expansionism and US environmental exploitation on Earth should likewise oppose expansionism and environmental exploitation on the moon, which was likely created after a large object collided with Earth and ejected some of the planet’s crust into space. But how can the US be prevented from expanding into Earth’s largest natural satellite?
As the 2020 election draws near, we should consider a candidate’s stance on extratelluric expansion and exploitation, noting that a candidate who is in favor of such expansion and exploitation is no friend to movements that seek to combat those two features of US governance on Earth.
It is crucial that those who can vote elect a president who will not seek to expand the US empire into space, but this is only a start. Sustained political resistance is needed to thwart the US empire’s expansion into the final frontier.
When it comes to the Artemis program, we must bear in mind that celestial colonial expansionism is, at bottom, colonial expansionism, and extratelluric environmental exploitation is, at bottom, environmental exploitation. While these developments do not bode well for what is to come, they also signal that we must prepare our political energies for the coming battles. The US empire and environmental exploitation, long held at bay by the Earth’s gravitational pull, will soon be freed from these constraints.
Michael Arjun Banerjee is a graduate student in jurisprudence and social policy at UC Berkeley.