Unearthing the Moon's secrets: science and extractivism in ESA's and NASA's lunar station concepts
Tamara Alvarez (The New School )
Paper short abstract:
Drawing on ethnographic material gathered during a two-year fieldwork at ESA and international space organizations, this paper examines the uneasy marriage between scientists and extractive industries in the second race for the Moon.
Paper long abstract:
In 2015 the European Space Agency's newly appointed Director General announced his ambition towards a Moon Village, a permanent base on the lunar south pole. Advocates insisted on the settlement's scientific promises, including the billion-year history of the Solar System that hides in the Moon's untouched geologic record, waiting to be unearthed. In the last two years, space mining companies' increased support of the concept has further encouraged the agency's research on extractive technologies, revealing important synergies between science and industry; however, some scientists —in particular, astronomers and astrobiologists— remain wary of companies' participation on the grounds of planetary protection. On the other side of the Atlantic, NASA too has set its sights on the Moon: after years of efforts towards a science-oriented Journey to Mars, under Trump NASA has veered moonwards —and profitwards. The leading candidate for next NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine, champions the establishment of an American-led mining-based cislunar economy, and a new concept —an orbital lunar station, or Deep Space Gateway— is being designed to facilitate, above all, commercial operations. How are scientists and industries co-constituting the ways in which ESA's and NASA's concepts are coming into being? In what ways is a logic of extraction, at play in both for-profit and scientific activities, shaping these visions? Drawing on ethnographic material gathered during two years of fieldwork at ESA and international space organizations, this paper examines the uneasy marriage between scientists and extractive industries in the second race for the Moon.
- Encounters between people, things and environments