Lucianne Walkowicz: So, our sec­ond pan­el today is called Mars on Earth. And this deals with the inter­sec­tions between Mars as a plan­et, a real phys­i­cal space, and the way that we think about envi­ron­ments in Earth his­to­ry. And nowa­days we know more than we ever have before about the Martian envi­ron­ment and some of the his­to­ry there. But as I men­tioned this morn­ing, in many ways, we’ve still just scratched the sur­face. And so, we want to look in this pan­el at what we can do to think about the explo­ration of oth­er worlds, or human beings liv­ing off-world, in light of the his­to­ry that we’ve had here on our own planet. 

So, with­out fur­ther ado, I will intro­duce our pan­elists, and if I can ask you to walk up as you saw this morning. 

Dana Burton is a PhD stu­dent at George Washington University’s Anthropology Department. Her research fol­lows the search for life on Mars, and seeks to under­stand the epis­te­molo­gies of val­ue and order which come to be applied to Martian life by var­i­ous pol­i­cy­mak­ers, sci­en­tists, and pri­vate entre­pre­neurs. With atten­tion to fem­i­nist and mul­ti­species lit­er­a­ture, her work explores visions of life and liv­ing in space, and how it shapes our con­cep­tions of the envi­ron­ment, social­i­ty, and gov­er­nance. Thus far, her work has tak­en her to myr­i­ad con­fer­ences, lec­tures, and lab­o­ra­to­ries, in DC, Texas, and California. She plans to be a part of projects fur­ther afield, whether they be space ana­log sites in Iceland or Chile, or beyond. Dana is also an avid fic­tion read­er and enjoys blues danc­ing. And above all, she loves drink­ing tea and get­ting into con­ver­sa­tions about affect, pres­ence, and the intri­ca­cies of every­day life.

Nathalie Cabrol is the direc­tor of the Carl Sagan Center for Research at the SETI Institute, where she leads the strate­gic vision for sci­ence and explo­ration. She heads projects in plan­e­tary sci­ence and astro­bi­ol­o­gy, devel­ops sci­ence explo­ration strate­gies for Mars, Titan, and the Outer Solar System icy moons, and designs robot­ic field exper­i­ments. She’s a mem­ber of the NASA Mars Exploration Rover sci­ence team. Nathalie explores high-altitude lakes in the Andes as analogs to ear­ly Mars. She doc­u­ments life’s adap­ta­tion to extreme envi­ron­ments, the effect of rapid cli­mate change on lake ecosys­tems and habi­tats, its geo­bi­o­log­i­cal sig­na­tures, and rel­e­vance to plan­e­tary explo­ration. Nathalie counts over 410 peer-reviewed pub­li­ca­tions and pro­ceed­ings of pro­fes­sion­al con­fer­ences. She’s authored three books and ten chap­ters of books on the sub­ject of plan­e­tary sci­ence and explo­ration, astro­bi­ol­o­gy, and ter­res­tri­al extreme envi­ron­ments. Her work is fea­tured in US and inter­na­tion­al media as well as in pop­u­lar books. 

Bobak Ferdowsi is known for such things as Battlebots, Cupcake Wars, and Sharknado 3. But by day he’s the Fault Protection lead for the joint NASA-ISRO mis­sion, an Earth-observing satel­lite eval­u­at­ing glob­al envi­ron­men­tal change and haz­ards. His pri­or posi­tions have includ­ed the Europa Clipper flight sys­tem engi­neer, Integrated Launch and Cruise Engineer on Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity, and Science Planner on the Cassini mis­sion. In addi­tion, he served as flight direc­tor dur­ing Curiosity oper­a­tions. Bobak earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics in 2001 from the University of Washington, and sub­se­quent­ly his Master of Science in the same area from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Bobak has always want­ed to explore the uni­verse. He plays short­stop in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory soft­ball league, with a career 0.817 bat­ting aver­age, and usu­al­ly rides his bike to work. 

Margaret Huettl is a descen­dant of Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibweg, Assyrian reve— Let me just try that entire thing again.

Margaret Huettl, a descen­dant of Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibweg—oh. I prac­ticed this and I apol­o­gize for what I’m cur­rent­ly doing. Ojibweg, Assyrian refugees, European set­tlers, is assis­tant pro­fes­sor in History and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She earned her PhD in History from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, her MA in Native American History from the University of Oklahoma, and her BA from the University of Rochester. She’s a schol­ar of Native American his­to­ry and North American Wests, and her research exam­ines indige­nous sov­er­eign­ty and set­tler colo­nial­ism in a transna­tion­al con­text. Her cur­rent project, Ojibwe Peoplehood in the North American West, 18541954,” explores Ojibwe and Anishinaabe sov­er­eign­ty in the United States and Canada dur­ing the 19th and 20th cen­turies, cen­ter­ing her research on Anishinaabe ways of knowing. 

Thank you so much to the pan­elists for join­ing us today. In this pan­el we’ll be direct­ing ques­tions to spe­cif­ic folks here on the pan­el, but I hope to hear from each one of you in turn about your thoughts. 

So, the very first thing that I’d like to talk about again goes back to this theme of nar­ra­tives that we have been revis­it­ing here today. And my first ques­tion is for you, Margaret. So one of the things that often comes up in space is that we often use a com­par­i­son to the fron­tier. And I think often­times that’s invoked in a way that is not par­tic­u­lar­ly crit­i­cal, that invokes fron­tiers and the American West in a very pos­i­tive sense, when in fact the explo­ration of the American West was harm­ful to many peo­ple. And giv­en your schol­ar­ship, you know, how do you think the nar­ra­tives that we use shape our under­stand­ing of his­to­ry and the way that we envi­sion the future?

Margaret Huettl: I think talk­ing about space in that lan­guage of the fron­tier, one of the things that it does is it goes back to these set­tler fan­tasies about what the West was, what North America was, right. The lan­guage of the New World, the lan­guage of this vir­gin wilder­ness that is untouched by any real habitation—despite the fact, of course, that there’s, you know, mil­lions, maybe even tens of mil­lions, of Native Americans liv­ing in North America, not to men­tion South America. But the lan­guage of the fron­tier of dis­cov­ery imag­ines vir­gin wilder­ness, untouched space, that exists for one pur­pose and that pur­pose is for the exploita­tion of the new com­merce, the exploita­tion of the set­tlers, rather than as like a ful­ly devel­oped space, place, on its own.

Walkowicz: And do you see par­al­lels to that in the way that we talk about space?

Huettl: I do. And the lan­guage comes up a lot like when var­i­ous… I know there’s— I don’t remem­ber who it was from SpaceX that was talk­ing about not want­i­ng space to be a Wild West. There’s lots of lan­guage about you know, going out and car­ry­ing on this nar­ra­tive of explo­ration. When peo­ple talk about explor­ing space, the lan­guage that they use often ref­er­ences the past, using the lan­guage like fron­tier.” I mean, that’s inher­ent­ly invok­ing the sto­ry about the explo­ration of North America, the set­tling of North America that does­n’t actu­al­ly match the real­i­ty of what hap­pened but instead puts…you know, these fic­tion­al explor­ers in kind of a, you know, glow­ing light where they’re you know, doing good for the rest of humanity.

Walkowicz: Yeah. And if I can broad­en this to the entire pan­el. You know, the use even of the word col­o­niza­tion” was very heav­i­ly debat­ed back in the 70s. There were all these meet­ings at NASA Ames about imag­in­ing life, human beings, liv­ing off-world, with one camp sort of exem­pli­fied by Stewart Brand being that you know, we should use col­o­niza­tion because it would help us remem­ber in his words I think it was, what was good and bad about col­o­niza­tion.” Which…we could dig into in and of itself. And then folks like Carl Sagan say­ing that we should use some­thing like space cities” because cities have a lot of dif­fer­ent kinds of people. 

But one of the things that I’ve real­ly been won­der­ing about is to what extent does our choice of word­ing mat­ter? You know, many of the things that I think a lot of sci­en­tists, even, who shy away from say­ing col­o­niza­tion will use like dis­cov­ery” or explo­ration” as sort of neu­tral words? And I’d love to hear from the pan­el how you choose your words when you talk about these things. I see Nathalie reach­ing for the—

Nathalie Cabrol: Yeah no, just—it reminds me—and Bobak might be also sen­si­tive to that. Words are, you know, very impor­tant. But engi­neers and sci­en­tists, when they’re prepar­ing mis­sions to Mars, or where they have to oper­ate a mis­sion in Mars, well…for the Mars Exploration Rover team, we had to work on a dic­tio­nary. Because I was say­ing some­thing, and I had some­body right next to me who was nod­ding and hear­ing the words, but we real­ized that some­times we’re not say­ing the same thing at all. So, there is a per­cep­tion. As an envi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist I can tell you that for me there is no neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tion to say that bac­te­ria col­o­nized a rock. They do what they do; they are just expand­ing their ter­ri­to­ry, but for them, there is no neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tion. I think that the neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tion comes from the inter­ac­tion of…in human his­to­ry, when peo­ple actu­al­ly did nasty things to each oth­er. But, I think that this is the weight of his­to­ry that we put behind the words. And we have to be, you know, acknowl­edg­ing this. But you can also say well okay, we are col­o­niz­ing Mars as the bac­te­ri­a’s col­o­niz­ing the next rock, because this is what they do. They need to grow and they are going to this oth­er space. So, I would say yes, we need to be very sen­si­tive to his­to­ry but we also have to under­stand that some­times we could go beyond the words themselves.

Dana Burton: Just to quick­ly fol­low up with that as well as… Also you know, along the line of being sen­si­tive to words is also not hid­ing the fact that those his­to­ries hap­pened, either, right? Exactly. So like, the idea that if we’re going to replace the word col­o­niza­tion” with some­thing else, is it actu­al­ly chang­ing the actions that are hap­pen­ing or is it just invok­ing a dif­fer­ent kind of mask? And then what would get smug­gled in with those dif­fer­ent types of activ­i­ties if we call it habi­ta­tion or…something else?

Bobak Ferdowsi: So I also find it rather inter­est­ing because ten years ago I’m sure I was guilty of some of the Manifest Destiny sort of things as well. And you know, try­ing to be more aware of the sit­u­a­tion as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of NASA. I think one of the things that’s inter­est­ing is a lot of this comes up from an American dom­i­nance in the space explo­ration field. You don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly hear the same words, in my expe­ri­ence, with some of the oth­er space agen­cies that I’ve had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to work with. And so, as kind of the de fac­to own­ers of sort of this…you know, whether it’s NASA, whether it’s SpaceX, whether it’s, you know, kind of industry…going to Mars, that cer­tain­ly does mean that we sort of tend to the famil­iar terms. 

And you see even in the cur­rent admin­is­tra­tion, right, there’s some­times some almost a religious-like aspect of divin­i­ty, of a sort of Mani—you know, Manifest Destiny but as impart­ed to us by a supreme being ver­sion of that in our con­ver­sa­tions. But I think also to your point [Cabrol] is we def­i­nite­ly do strive, right, in engi­neer­ing even. And we’re very tech­ni­cal peo­ple but we also work very hard to define the seman­tics of what we’re talk­ing about. And that those things real­ly do mat­ter in our— You know, in our case often­times it’s just because if I make the wrong choice based on an inter­pre­ta­tion of what you’re doing, we’ve lost you know, a bil­lion dol­lar mis­sion. But also because it’s…you know, it’s the way that we come to a com­mon frame­work. So I’m will­ing to accept, of course, any term, but I think we also have to, you know, as a soci­ety agree on what the mean­ing of that term is and what the con­no­ta­tions are.

Walkowicz: So, if we can explore some of these nar­ra­tives a lit­tle bit more. Dana, I want­ed to par­tic­u­lar­ly ask you, giv­en your back­ground in anthro­pol­o­gy and your work. Another thing that I hear a lot when we talk about this stuff is not just nec­es­sar­i­ly ref­er­ences specif­i­cal­ly to the American West or the fron­tier, but we also hear a lot about like what humans do and don’t do? And I won­der if you could speak to that.

Burton: So, I guess one of the first things you learn as an anthro­pol­o­gist is that peo­ple are very dif­fer­ent. And it’s very dif­fi­cult to wrap your head around dif­fer­ence, because often in so much of our every­day lives we’re try­ing to relate to each oth­er, we’re try­ing to find sim­i­lar­i­ties. Society and insti­tu­tions are all about mak­ing cat­e­gories and then fit­ting peo­ple or objects or beings into them. So, par­tic­u­lar­ly with space explo­ration, you have to be very care­ful about the ways in which the human or per­son­hood is evoked. Because it can also not give enough atten­tion to the myr­i­ad dif­fer­ent types of expe­ri­ences that peo­ple have. So, I think a real­ly good exam­ple would be from what we talked about in the first pan­el, which is you know, how peo­ple relate to their bod­ies. Humanity has mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ent types of ways in which we under­stand pri­va­cy, or inti­ma­cy, and the ways bod­ies get visu­al­ized, or rec­og­nized, or acknowl­edged. And so it will be inter­est­ing to see how these projects that push peo­ple out­side of known and rec­og­niz­able envi­ron­ments will shift how we under­stand bod­ies and peo­ple and human­i­ty in rela­tion with each oth­er as well as rela­tion­ship with the environment.

Walkowicz: What do you think— If there exists one, do you think that there’s a con­crete effect to mak­ing state­ments about what humans do?

Burton: [laughs] A con­crete state­ment to what humans do.

Walkowicz: Yeah, so I’m ask­ing specif­i­cal­ly about how these shape our ideas of…you know, to return to actu­al­ly to that first pan­el of like who is an explor­er or how we include or dis­in­clude peo­ple. You know, I think often­times when that phrase of like it is in human’s nature to explore,” I think that often shapes the way that we think about who an explor­er is? So I won­der if any­one wants to speak to that. And I throw it out not only to you but to the whole panel.

Burton: I can start at least. It’s— I’ve also heard that a lot? in terms of you know, peo­ple want to explore, it’s human’s des­tiny to go forth and know the uni­verse. But, I think that some­thing that we could say with…that humans are is we relate to each oth­er, we inter­act with each oth­er, and we have these com­mon expe­ri­ences that deeply affect who we are. And it’s through these dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ences that we are able to com­pre­hend a lot of the nar­ra­tives around space. And so you know, the idea that even think­ing of the word explo­ration” is going to have dif­fer­ent res­o­nances with a lot of dif­fer­ent peo­ple and yet at the same time we may be able to under­stand what those res­o­nances are and where those com­mon grounds are and have con­ver­sa­tions that would pro­mote, in the­o­ry, a respectful…or a type of explo­ration hope­ful­ly that isn’t all exploitative.

Walkowicz: Anyone else want to com­ment on that?

Cabrol: Obviously, you know, this aspect of anthro­pol­o­gy and rela­tion­ship, etc. is not my exper­tise. What I can relate to is, once again, going back to look­ing at life on this plan­et, we say humans are explor­ers. You can take this state­ment and take life is an explor­er. And the rea­son why we’re still here today is because life has giv­en itself a chance to adapt, and evolve, and sur­vive by mul­ti­ply­ing its envi­ron­ment and the habi­tat it has been col­o­niz­ing for four bil­lion years. So it’s not just humans. This is not some­thing that is spe­cif­ic to us. What is spe­cif­ic to us is that now we have the tech­nol­o­gy to take it far­ther. We also have a soci­ety that allows humans to relate to each oth­er. But it’s not spe­cif­ic to humans, it’s spe­cif­ic to life. 

So, if you want to take the inter­ac­tion between humans and how it’s going to col­or explo­ration, you can say this also of sym­bi­ot­ic sys­tems of life. How you’re suc­cess­ful or less suc­cess­ful in an extreme envi­ron­ment is who you are going to asso­ciate your­self with and use the strength of the next body of yours, the next microor­gan­ism, to make the sys­tem func­tion. As a human, we can see this this way, and it is that— And we were hav­ing this dis­cus­sion just before the pan­el, and we had it even you know, a few days pri­or to that. 

For me, I see all of you in this room not as gen­der, or races, or as an envi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist. I see you as the prod­uct of envi­ron­ment, cli­mate, and his­to­ry. The dif­fer­ences in our bod­ies, dif­fer­ence in our cul­ture reflect where we have been evolv­ing, where our his­to­ry resides, what kind of cli­mate we have been under. How we have per­ceived the envi­ron­ment and how we relate it struc­tural­ly as organ­isms, we are all the same. The dif­fer­ence we are show­ing here is real­ly about that. 

And it’s true for all sys­tems. What is real­ly inter­est­ing is how are we going to use this reflec­tion of who we are, which is a reflec­tion of bio­di­ver­si­ty and adap­ta­tion, into the next explo­ration. The same that is true for microor­gan­ic colonies is true for us as well, but on top of this we have brought what we call intel­li­gence.” And again, as an envi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist, I would say that you know, any­body who made it thus far on our plan­et has to be intel­li­gent in some ways. But we brought a soci­ety, and we brought an inter­ac­tion which is neg­a­tive or pos­i­tive, but we all have strength. Beyond our diver­si­ty, we are here, we are sur­vivors, we’re adapt­able. And I think that this is what is going to take us next, this is what we need to use beyond the terms of col­o­niza­tion, beyond the terms of you know, cul­tures, etc. We need to bring our strength like a sym­bi­ot­ic sys­tem if we’re going to make it.

Walkowicz: Yeah.

Huettl: One of the things that this con­ver­sa­tion makes me think about—and I’m sor­ry, I guess today finds me in a lit­tle bit of a pes­simistic mood?—is the way that appeals to the pub­lic good or uni­ver­sal truths have been used to vio­late the rights of minor­i­ty peo­ples through­out his­to­ry. I think maybe an exam­ple that fits this space is I mean, not too far from here, there have been draw­ers full of native peo­ple’s bod­ies, ances­tor’s bod­ies in draw­ers for decades, right. Stolen from graves, heads cut off by US mil­i­tary gen­er­als and reduced to data, for the pub­lic good. And when native peo­ple asked to have their ances­tors returned to them, they were [told], Well, you’re stand­ing in the way of sci­ence. We all need this knowl­edge. This is some­thing that is for every­body’s good and your objec­tion does­n’t car­ry as much weight in this con­ver­sa­tion.” And so I have ques­tions about how this—you know, this appeal to a com­mon human­i­ty could potentially—not nec­es­sar­i­ly, but potentially—be used in a sim­i­lar way, to over­ride the per­spec­tives of peo­ple who don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly agree with, you know…yeah, with peo­ple who are mak­ing decisions.

Ferdowsi: I think you… On kind of a sim­i­lar theme to cli­mate change, right, where we are mak­ing deci­sions on behalf of every­body, whether we like it or not. I think you hit an inter­est­ing point of tech­nol­o­gy, because you know, the tech­nol­o­gy that allows us to explore is also very sim­i­lar to the tech­nol­o­gy that allows us to sur­vive and thrive in our own envi­ron­ments, right. The fact that we can get crop yields that are hun­dreds of times what they were and also can you know, on the con side of that extract oil from sand essen­tial­ly and make our cars go for years to come. It is an inter­est­ing dilem­ma, though, because right, those are things that both have the—you know, the ben­e­fits to some of us and not nec­es­sar­i­ly equal ben­e­fits to all people. 

And it’s a real­ly dif­fi­cult chal­lenge, you know. I was think­ing about the ear­li­er pan­el. From a nar­ra­tive per­spec­tive it’s very easy for me to be like, ask all of you to close your eyes and imag­ine, for exam­ple, a world with­out home­less­ness. And for most of us in this room it real­ly does­n’t change our life in a sig­nif­i­cant way. But if I ask you to close your eyes and imag­ine you’re liv­ing on Mars, the life sto­ry is a very dra­mat­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent one. And I think that’s one of the prob­lems that we sort of have, is the sort of abil­i­ty to put our­selves in these oth­er per­spec­tive and how do you tell the nar­ra­tive of, well obvi­ous­ly if I was a home­less per­son, the life…homelessness is a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence to me. So how do I then put myself into that per­spec­tive, and I think that’s the chal­lenge that each of us faces. I think the way that I’m slow­ly learn­ing to do this is, right, through con­ver­sa­tions like this and to kind of think about okay, what is it not to have my own expe­ri­ence but to have oth­er peo­ple’s expe­ri­ences. And amaz­ing­ly, right, we slow­ly see, I think, over time that some of these dif­fer­ences come full cir­cle, right? I think of LA, for exam­ple, where we used to have bike paths through­out the city that were torn out for free­ways to be made and now we’re going back to bike paths, right? So what’s old becomes new again and it is an inter­est­ing thing. So to start think­ing about some of that like, what are the things that we are miss­ing out on because of so-called progress” but as in return like sort of a cycli­cal process, you know. Not that we can cut cor­ners but maybe there is a way for us to sort of think in those terms.

Walkowicz: Yeah you know, the point that you both have brought up about not every­one nec­es­sar­i­ly agree­ing with space explo­ration I guess I would say as an enter­prise, or even the lan­guage that we use around it, right. It makes me think actu­al­ly of some of the ques­tions that exist about astro­naut health, and again return­ing to this idea of like bod­ies in space, right? That essen­tial­ly for long-duration mis­sions if we were to go to Mars or some­thing like that, there’s no way for those health stan­dards to actu­al­ly be met. So the way that it’s cur­rent­ly done is that NASA has to eval­u­ate whether they will vio­late the stan­dards for astro­naut health in every sin­gle mis­sion case. 

And so, there’s also this slight­ly more sub­tle issue, right, of informed con­sent. So you can say with astro­nauts indi­vid­u­al­ly could…you know, we love think­ing about the indi­vid­ual, here in the United States a lot at least. And so you could say, well an astro­naut can choose to under­take a mis­sion that might cre­ate dam­age to them. However, when we think about things like Mars sam­ple return, you—or even just pri­vate space indus­try being in charge of flight, you know, when you launch some­thing into space you launch over oth­er peo­ple. You have the poten­tial for risk, in which peo­ple are not able to actu­al­ly con­sent to being part of that. Either because they don’t know it’s going to hap­pen or because they are…you know, space does­n’t obey nation­al boundaries. 

And then you also have things like plan­e­tary pro­tec­tion, which is this series of poli­cies which we’ll get into momen­tar­i­ly, where you could bring some­thing back into the Earth envi­ron­ment that would com­pro­mise us in some way. I won­der if we can turn to think­ing about pol­i­cy and treaties. So, the Outer Space Treaty, which dates from 1967, is this gov­ern­ing doc­u­ment of all of the things that one can and can’t do in space. I think my… Well, pri­or to this year, myself and my fel­low sci­en­tists have a pret­ty warm, fuzzy feel­ing towards the Outer Space Treaty that it’s this very aspi­ra­tional doc­u­ment. And we’ll dig into that in a moment. But first I want­ed to look specif­i­cal­ly at plan­e­tary pro­tec­tion. So maybe I’ll throw this to Bobak, can you talk about plan­e­tary pro­tec­tion, broad­ly what it is and then how it’s imple­ment­ed in missions?

Ferdowsi: Yeah. So for those of you who don’t know, right, we do also have essen­tial­ly kind of our own Prime Directive when it comes to explor­ing oth­er places, which is as we go there we are… For…largely for—honestly, for self­ish rea­sons, which is we are try­ing to pre­serve the envi­ron­ment as is so that if we ask addi­tion­al sci­en­tif­ic ques­tions about those envi­ron­ments, then we haven’t com­pro­mised the read­ings. So what that boils down to for our mis­sions is essen­tial­ly places where we think there’s a cred­i­ble chance of habitability—like Mars, like the moons of Jupiter and Saturn—we delib­er­ate­ly clean our trav­el­ing space­craft and we do an assess­ment of how dirty they are from a bio­log­i­cal per­spec­tive, and the prob­a­bil­i­ty that they reach an envi­ron­ment where they could con­t­a­m­i­nate that envi­ron­ment. And say you know, it has to be less than a cer­tain com­bined chance, right. So say there is some num­ber of spores, you know, essen­tial­ly of var­i­ous micro­bial life on my rover; the like­li­hood that it reach­es a place that has water or some­thing else where they can sur­vive; the like­li­hood they sur­vive the whole trip from Earth to Mars, etc.; and then I mul­ti­ply that out and I fig­ure okay, it’s less than one in a bil­lion, that’s an accept­able risk. 

That also of course, as Lucianne men­tioned, comes back to Earth. Which when we talk about sam­ple return, both from pre­serv­ing the sam­ple as a pure lunar or Martian envi­ron­ment, and as a pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sure for us some­how you know, bring­ing back Andromeda Strain and like, tak­ing over. 

So with that regard, as an engi­neer, it’s one of my…it’s like one of those rules that we deal with, right? Like essen­tial­ly as an engi­neer I don’t want to have to wor­ry about how clean my parts are, because it makes my job a lit­tle hard­er. But as the big pic­ture, we’re able to under­stand okay, the con­text of this is if we are look­ing for life on Mars, the last thing we want to find is life that we brought with us and be unable to answer the ques­tion. And to be fair that ques­tion’s very dif­fer­ent dif­fi­cult, in part because we’re not entire­ly sure of whether life could’ve orig­i­nat­ed on Mars or oth­er places—panspermia, essen­tial­ly; life prop­a­gates with or with­out us, like through aster­oids and oth­er means. And whether life would look the same in its ori­gin. So mean­ing that even if it’s inde­pen­dent­ly derived, does it have to be DNA-based, does it have to have oth­er sim­i­lar traits to our life? 

So we use those rules in order to sort of pro­tect those kind of bound­aries and be able to ask sci­en­tif­ic ques­tions. But like I said, I think it’s pure­ly self­ish. I don’t think we are think­ing of that oh, from the good of Mars per­spec­tive,” that we’re think­ing about it from the good of the sci­ence” perspective.

Walkowicz: And you know, I think cur­rent­ly the cur­rent admin­is­tra­tion is very pro relax­ation of reg­u­la­tion? And I know that there are some peo­ple, at least with­in like the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty as well as maybe new space com­pa­nies and enter­pris­es who don’t want have to pay for plan­e­tary pro­tec­tion, who have sug­gest­ed that one should relax plan­e­tary pro­tec­tion. And you’ve writ­ten about this, Nathalie. Can you speak to what you think plan­e­tary pro­tec­tion requirements…how and if they should evolve as we move forward?

Cabrol: Yeah, well. You know, I like to flip ques­tions on their head just to make sure that I’m look­ing at dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. And I think there is a mis­per­cep­tion right now about plan­e­tary pro­tec­tion. And I will go with Bobak on this. It makes his life very com­pli­cat­ed, but that’s a good thing. We could dis­cuss sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly, you know, would it be dif­fi­cult to rec­og­nize ter­res­tri­al life and Martian life? You look at coevo­lu­tion and I think it would be pret­ty easy to see who is com­ing from where. Because the evo­lu­tion of Mars and the Earth very early—even very ear­ly was very dif­fer­ent. But giv­en that we still want to send the clean­est spacecraft. 

On the oth­er hand there is this per­cep­tion of plan­e­tary pro­tec­tion as you know, the bad guy who’s pre­vent­ing you from going to the real­ly cool place where you want to explore. [point­ing at Ferdowsi:] See? See the smirk. Yeah. Well, you know, that’s a mis­per­cep­tion. In fact, what plan­e­tary pro­tec­tion is doing…should be doing and should con­tin­ue doing, is real­ly to bring in front of you the ques­tions, what they are, what are the poten­tial issues…but not just to let you know that no you can­not go there. To put you to work and say, How am I going to be able solve that ques­tion?” In fact this is a source of progress for me as some­body who is think­ing in terms of explo­ration strate­gies. Now I’m just think­ing in terms of what kind of tech­nol­o­gy can I devel­op to com­plete­ly clean a space­craft, to do pen­e­tra­tion of the sub­sur­face where life actu­al­ly could be, that is com­plete­ly clean. Or are there ways from bio­log­i­cal exper­i­ments that I’m going to be able to rec­og­nize that life is com­ing from Mars or the Earth. 

And we are run­ning against time here, because as you said you know, there was a time where space explo­ration was NASA, or ESA, or the Russian agen­cies. That’s not the case any­more. I don’t know if you are aware of, there is a Tesla going to Mars right now. And there are no real poli­cies in place at this point in time. And also as an astro­bi­ol­o­gist, I would like to dis­cov­er whether there is life on Mars, like native life on Mars, before humans go, because once we’re there, we will find life on Mars—I’m not being face­tious, we’re just a micro­bial fac­to­ry. And we already know that some microbes that we are car­ry­ing would sur­vive to some extent in some places on Mars. 

So, for me plan­e­tary pro­tec­tion has to become an enabler of explo­ration. Not some­thing that pre­vents us from explor­ing. And I think that a lot of good can come out of this, because as usu­al you’re push­ing the enve­lope of think­ing, as plan­e­tary explo­ration does, and we can come back to the ques­tion of cli­mate change where tech­nolo­gies we are devel­op­ing for plan­e­tary explo­ration are actu­al­ly help­ing us mon­i­tor faster and bet­ter envi­ron­men­tal change on Earth. 

So that would be my view­point on these things. And right now it’s still fuzzy, a fuzzy dis­ci­pline, where we don’t have real poli­cies. And we’re ask­ing all the ques­tions and every­body is going out there to the final fron­tier of space” with­out real guide­lines on what is harm­ful, what is not.

Walkowicz: Yeah, and if we can go to talk about that pol­i­cy, you know, Margaret, giv­en your schol­ar­ship with nation­hood and sov­er­eign­ty through­out his­to­ry for indige­nous peo­ple, I won­der if you could speak to the Outer Space Treaty as you know, should sci­en­tists be as san­guine about its aspi­ra­tional nature as they per­haps are sometimes?

Huettl: So, I think one thing that the his­to­ry of treaty-making in the United States specifically—and I think you could expand this to Canada, Australia, and oth­er places where European nations have col­o­nized. I think it teach­es us to be cau­tious. We’re in a build­ing that has hun­dreds of native treaties, treaties with native nations, and the United States has bro­ken every. sin­gle. one. 

And it’s espe­cial­ly bad when resources are involved, right? I think a good exam­ple of this is the Treaty of Fort Laramie from 1868, which was a treaty pri­mar­i­ly with the Lakota peo­ple? And it pro­tect­ed the Black Hills. It said the Black Hills are Lakota ter­ri­to­ry, the United States can’t go here. And the United States’ respon­si­bil­i­ty is to make sure any US cit­i­zens who go into Lakota ter­ri­to­ry, the mil­i­tary will help remove them. But then, some of those white cit­i­zens who weren’t sup­posed to be in Lakota ter­ri­to­ry in the first place found gold. And as has so often hap­pened in US his­to­ry, it became a free-for-all, right? The US mil­i­tary end­ed up actu­al­ly sup­port­ing the set­tler min­ers who were look­ing for resources, vio­lat­ing the treaty, start­ing a real­ly ter­ri­ble geno­ci­dal war, and com­plete­ly vio­lat­ing the terms of the Treaty of Fort Laramie, which they con­tin­ue to vio­late to this day. 

The pipeline con­tro­ver­sy is also relat­ed to vio­la­tions of the Treaty of Fort Laramie. So when there’s resources at stake, these kind of real­ly grandiose treaty terms often are not car­ried through. And part of the rea­son for that is that baked into the United States’ legal sys­tem is a legal sys­tem that priv­i­leges pri­vate enter­prise, and both indi­vid­u­als’ and incor­po­ra­tions’ access to resources and access…and the United States’ right to cer­tain ter­ri­to­ry, going back to the Doctrine of Discovery, which said that— It start­ed out as a papal bull in the 15th cen­tu­ry and says that what­ev­er (Christian) nation dis­cov­ers” a ter­ri­to­ry has the rights to the ter­ri­to­ry and every­thing that is in that ter­ri­to­ry. And this con­cept is baked into the US legal sys­tem and makes it real­ly easy to defend actions that would walk back, you know, like the Outer Space Treaty. And I mean, we saw it under the pre­vi­ous admin­is­tra­tion as well when Congress passed a law that said that the prod­ucts of—I think it was aster­oid min­ing and maybe more gen­er­al­ly that who­ev­er is min­ing that has the right to prof­it from those resources? And so you know, there’s already been some under­min­ing of the prin­ci­ples of the Outer Space Treaty with­in just the United States, and that’s not talk­ing about oth­er nations around the world as well.

Walkowicz: I think one of the things that always strikes me is that a lot of the move to extract resources, so for exam­ple the Space Act from 2015 that you’ve just ref­er­enced, real­ly clears the path for sure, you can’t own a celes­tial body—which is what the Outer Space Treaty says—but you can, you know, own” its resources. And par­tic­u­lar­ly, I was struck by the fact that water was explic­it­ly includ­ed in the Space Act. 

But, at the same time, a lot of the com­pa­nies that are express­ly inter­est­ed in doing that will also use this rhetoric about how going to space will change us? And I won­der, Dana maybe you can speak to this. You know, I think there’s cer­tain­ly the pos­si­bil­i­ty for space to be some­thing that chal­lenges us and per­haps makes us grow, but what do you think of that asser­tion, you know, in light of things humans do and don’t do?

Burton: Well, I guess it depends on how peo­ple define being bet­ter? So, what pro­tec­tions make me think of is that there’s a cer­tain type of val­u­a­tion being put on what­ev­er you’re try­ing to pro­tect, and that there are cer­tain peo­ple who are priv­i­leged to ensure that pro­tec­tion and/or break it. And par­tic­u­lar­ly in terms of like, resource extrac­tion, right, we have to ask the ques­tion of who would be ben­e­fit­ing, and how those ben­e­fits would be redis­trib­uted. If they are redis­trib­uted. And it seems as if…and this is some­thing the first pan­el touched on as well, like if space is to become a place or a space where we can exper­i­ment with dif­fer­ent types of social­i­ties, where we can final­ly hope­ful­ly acknowl­edge per­son­hood in a dif­fer­ent way, or just being in dif­fer­ent ways, then it’s going to also have to ask ques­tions of like well, how do we val­ue peo­ple? When peo­ple become objects, then what kind of dif­fer­ent man­ners do we have in relat­ing to them and using them? Who has all these dif­fer­ent pow­ers and priv­i­leges that can decide those things? 

So, will space make us bet­ter? Hopefully it will make us actu­al­ly ask these ques­tions. And maybe even put into dia­logue, with pub­lic forums. And that’s some­thing that I feel as if I need to do more explo­ration of, which is like, how often do we engage in pub­lic events like this on these top­ics? Often they’re held in either sci­en­tif­ic con­fer­ences or aca­d­e­m­ic conferences—or at least those are the spaces that I’ve been in, so how can we expand these con­ver­sa­tions so that it’s not just us talk­ing to each oth­er but actu­al­ly talk­ing about what we imag­ine space to be, and how it could help us to grow beyond just cap­i­tal­ist or extrac­tivist dia­logues and discourses?

Walkowicz: Yeah. I guess I’d be curi­ous to hear from the whole pan­el or who­ev­er wants to take it. What do you think of the rhetoric com­ing out of new space, or some of the plans that are thrown out there that are some­times I think out of the realm of fic­tion? But what do you think the effect is of those ideas. Things like the Tesla in space that you men­tioned, Nathalie, ter­raform­ing, some of these plans/ideas for these off-world environments?

Cabrol: Well you know, I think at this point in time we’re con­front­ed with two things. There is the I do this thing because I can,” you know. And there is a lit­tle bit of that. And this is great. Don’t get me wrong. I real­ly do appre­ci­ate, and I think this is a great oppor­tu­ni­ty for us to have oth­er peo­ple than nec­es­sar­i­ly the gov­ern­ment who are capa­ble now of putting assets in space and help the devel­op­ment of tech­nolo­gies and maybe mov­ing humans around, etc. 

On the oth­er hand, there is also a lit­tle bit of catch­ing up into you know, what it entails real­ly to… (I’m sor­ry to uti­lize that word, col­o­nize,” but right now we are going with that.) to set­tle Mars, and real­ly what hap­pens when you are there. There is a lit­tle bit of a roman­tic vision of explo­ration, where we are going to land on Mars and you know, we are going to send 100 thou­sand peo­ple and they will stay there, and from there we are going to become an inter­plan­e­tary species. Ultimately this is going to hap­pen, but it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be messy. And it is going to hum­ble us very much. 

And I think that there is an under­stand­ing that going to Mars is not easy, it’s hard. It’s hard even to land robots on Mars. It’s hard to keep peo­ple alive dur­ing the flight to Mars. The first thing that’s going to hap­pen when they land on Mars, they are going to be weak­ened by the trav­el. They won’t be able to get out of the habi­tat for at least a month. I think that the old stud­ies were show­ing some­thing like that. But when you’re an astro­naut, you have plen­ty to keep you busy in your space­craft before you go out. 

But once you go out—and that’s the main dif­fer­ence between the roman­tic vision that is inher­it­ed from the explo­ration on Earth and the real­i­ty of going to Mars, is not even being on the moon. When you’re on the moon, you look up at the sky and you see your plan­et’s right there. You com­mu­ni­cate in three sec­onds, alright? And if some­thing goes wrong, well you’re back pret­ty fast. Once you’re on Mars, and espe­cial­ly when some­body is going to tell you you are going there and you are stay­ing there, there is no tick­et back. Then what hap­pens? You’re in this con­fined envi­ron­ment. When you’re on Earth, wher­ev­er you are, even in the most lost place on Earth, if you want to take a walk because you are mad at the rest of the crew…you take a walk, alright. You go out and you walk. 

And so on Mars, there is a lim­it­ed amount of time that you can spend out per day, just because of the radi­a­tion envi­ron­ment. The peo­ple you are with, you bet­ter get along with them. Because you are going to be with them for a very very long time. You know, so the idea of going back to Mars, col­o­niz­ing Mars, I think needs to be reframed into what we know of Mars, the real­i­ty of Mars. I think there is a lit­tle bit of roman­ti­cism right now that is infused into the vision of some cor­po­rate companies. 

But at the same time the dream is the dri­ver, you know. We first dream of things. It’s just like a kid who wants to be a fire­fight­er. Why they want to do that, because there is a red truck, you know. And they are heroes. Well an explor­er’ a lit­tle bit of that. There is no red truck, but if you sur­vive, if you made it, you come back, you’ve dis­cov­ered some­thing new. And then as the kid grows up, they learn that they need to have skills, and they need to—you know, being a fire­fight­er is not only the red truck. And this is going to be the same thing here with the roman­tic vision of explo­ration of a plan­et that is so far away that you can­not just take the next cab and come back home. 

So, for me, this is what I— You know, right now this is a lit­tle bit of the dan­ger because of the roman­tic approach to explo­ration. There are steps that are tak­en that might not be too wise or too smart. But if we work togeth­er, I think there is a great deal of good things that can come up with the merg­ing of the expe­ri­ence that NASA or ESA or oth­er agen­cies have with the we can do” type of approach of cor­po­rate companies.

Ferdowsi: I mean, obvi­ous­ly I love new space. It enables us to do a ton of things that we weren’t able to do even, you know, ten years ago. Which is great. I think the big con­cern and sort of what you’re hit­ting on, right, which is the nar­ra­tive as sort of being seized as a very roman­tic oh these habi­tats” and these, you know, var­i­ous… I mean, when I walked by the botany build­ing on the way here and I kind of imag­ined like that could be like a Mars set­tle­ment, right, with the glass and I’m look­ing out and I’ve got plants grow­ing inside, mak­ing air for me. 

But I do think it’s con­cern­ing— Yeah. And to be fair, right, I mean my own insti­tu­tion is some­times guilty of this, the roman­ti­cized vision of you know, astro­nauts walk­ing on the sur­face of Mars for the first time. The chal­lenges are real. I think that the big con­cern with that nar­ra­tive is always that if you don’t want—if you don’t need it, you get dis­cour­aged. Which then sets back the legitimate—all the stuff that we’re try­ing to do. But also the set­ting of that prece­dent. And it was kind of— You know, I men­tioned ear­li­er where like, peo­ple talk about the time for doing things, and of course I think of so many peo­ple, includ­ing myself, right, the time is always now because, I’m only going to be alive for you know, n years more, and I want to dis­cov­er life some­where else in my life­time. I want to see peo­ple do cer­tain things. Or I want to accom­plish cer­tain things. And so it’s always this— And part of that is because I grew up on a vision of oh, these are achiev­able things in my life­time, so there­fore I want to achieve them. And I think that’s part of the issue with the nar­ra­tive of this you know, let’s expand to Mars” kind of thing, which is again, if we sell every­body on a very roman­tic nar­ra­tive and we either don’t deliv­er or even if we do, it just sort of sets us up to have to do these things and not nec­es­sar­i­ly in the— And I don’t want to say like in a…calculating way, but in a sort of method­i­cal, sys­tem­at­ic way where we real­ly appre­ci­ate what we’re doing. And as you know, some­one like myself, the dream is very much alive with space. I love the chal­lenge of it. So hon­est­ly at the end of the day if I don’t get to do all these things I’m going to be hap­py because it’s…the fun is in try­ing to do it? And you know, most of the time, we try to suc­ceed. I mean, we always try to suc­ceed; most of the time we succeed. 

But if there was­n’t a lit­tle bit of a gam­ble or a risk to it it would cer­tain­ly be a lot less excit­ing. But I think it’s one of the we’re real­ly need to find, is what is the bal­ance of sto­ry­telling that we strike between encour­ag­ing peo­ple to sort of want to tack­le these seem­ing­ly insur­mount­able chal­lenges and you know, dream big and do cer­tain things, and how do we do that in a way that’s con­struc­tive for soci­ety, right? Is it focus­ing in on dif­fer­ent areas? Is it telling a sto­ry that is more about the jour­ney than the end? You know, I don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly have an answer for that but I think that’s kind of one oth­er things that I’ve…you know, as you were talk­ing, it sort of remind­ed me. And again, so I’m very opti­mistic about the work that’s being done. I think that’s incred­i­ble stuff. But I am con­cerned about the…sort of the vision of it all, or the sort of sales­man­ship of it all.

Walkowicz: [to Cabrol:] Do you have something…?

Cabrol: Yeah, just to add some­thing. I think that with becom­ing inter­plan­e­tary, there is some­thing that, you know, that was not present for…in the explo­ration of our own plan­et, and which is that now you are adding a new world. And it’s not a new plan­et Earth. We’re not start­ing with that. We’re start­ing with a world that is very hos­tile in the first place. And I think this is— When you think about impli­ca­tions, you have to think at two lev­els. So the first impli­ca­tion is okay, how is this going to serve soci­ety as a whole you know, here and some­where else? But there is also you know, what’s hap­pen­ing on this humankind that’s on Mars? What are they becom­ing? Especially if they are not com­ing back? 

So we have to… You know, maybe this is where the big dif­fer­ence is between explo­ration here on Earth and what has hap­pened with the explo­ration of Mars, is that when you’re on Mars, you are com­plete­ly on your own—which you were some­where you know, on Earth as well in some places. But here, you are in an envi­ron­ment that you…you are not the mas­ter of it. The envi­ron­ment is going to dom­i­nate you for a very long time. And you have to count on each oth­er. You have to use each oth­ers’ smart[s]. It’s the big equal­iz­er. The envi­ron­ment will com­plete­ly dom­i­nate you for hun­dreds of time. 

And by the way, those beau­ti­ful spheres that you see, you know as much as I do how many aster­oids are falling at the sur­face of Mars every sin­gle year. So we bet­ter be under the sur­face for quite some time. 

But what I’m say­ing is that unlike Earth, you just can­not take a walk and find the next spring, the next cas­cade and you know, live off the land right away. You’re going to have to count on each oth­er. So this is where maybe dif­fer­ences between peo­ple and race and gen­der, etc. is going to be maybe a lit­tle less impor­tant because well, you are one against the environment.

Walkowicz: Well, I think— I actu­al­ly want­ed to spend the last cou­ple of moments of our pan­el here talk­ing about Mars as a phys­i­cal envi­ron­ment. Because I think often we think of our­selves as mas­ters of our envi­ron­ment, which we objec­tive­ly on this plan­et are clear­ly not? And also the rela­tion­ship of the envi­ron­ment as being some­thing we can or should try to con­trol I think is not shared by every cul­ture. You know, one of the things that came up— And since I haven’t specif­i­cal­ly men­tioned it in this pan­el, all of us were co-creators of the things that we’re talk­ing about here, so we did these pre-event calls. And one of the things you brought up, Margaret, was envi­ron­men­tal per­son­hood and some of the ways in which indige­nous cul­tures have thought of envi­ron­ments but also engaged with the legal sys­tem and with pol­i­cy. So maybe if you could speak to that.

Huettl: Yeah. So, I was think­ing of an exam­ple from New Zealand where the indige­nous peo­ple there were able to get legal per­son­hood pro­tec­tions for a par­tic­u­lar riv­er, so that any vio­la­tions of the riv­er are the same as vio­la­tions of like a human body, and they have legal recourse to envi­ron­men­tal dam­age done to this like, phys­i­cal enti­ty that rep­re­sents their rela­tion­ship with this place. So that’s one way that indige­nous peo­ple have used the legal sys­tem both to their advan­tage and to the advan­tage of the envi­ron­ment, right? I know India has also giv­en per­son­hood sta­tus to at least two of its rivers in order to fight pol­lu­tion. And so you know, for me, the ques­tion is if there isn’t… Like there’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly oth­er peo­ple, right, out on Mars. But does Mars, right, as an enti­ty have the same right to some sort of sta­tus equiv­a­lent to the per­son­hood sta­tus that this riv­er in New Zealand has?

Walkowicz: Yeah. And this also came up in our call in the sense of… I think one of the ways I hear peo­ple some­times split the dif­fer­ence, right, is well, we’ll be able to do what­ev­er, or indus­try can do what­ev­er to an envi­ron­ment after we’re sure that life is not there. And I don’t know when that could pos­si­bly ever actu­al­ly hap­pen. Yeah. 

So, what are— And I’ll throw this out to the pan­elists as a whole just as a part­ing thought. What are your thoughts about how we should con­ceive of Mars as an envi­ron­ment, or even why we study oth­er plan­ets? And maybe I’ll give that to you first, Dana.

Burton: So, a cou­ple of kind of branch­ing thoughts with this is that Mars as an envi­ron­ment is as much an envi­ron­ment here on Earth. And in prepar­ing to go to Mars, there are lots of dif­fer­ent strate­gies and pro­to­cols and pro­grams being put into effect that are chang­ing the land­scape. So just think­ing of new space, right. They’re try­ing to cre­ate dif­fer­ent types of rock­ets; so reusable rock­ets which could tech­ni­cal­ly land in dif­fer­ent places and don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly have to be launched from cer­tain places—I don’t know. The sci­ence stuff I can leave to these guys. 

But, just tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion like what places are we then chang­ing in order to ful­fill these goals of space explo­ration. So, if we’re think­ing about Mars then we need to under­stand prin­ci­ples of life or you know, is it organ­ic, is it carbon-based. (Again the sci­ence.) We also have to think about what kind of tests are we per­form­ing on enti­ties and bod­ies here, in order to under­stand that type of envi­ron­ment. So, I think these larg­er ques­tions of like, the Mars envi­ron­ment, are as much a reflec­tion of how we’ve treat­ed the envi­ron­ment here on Earth. And I think that would…as a part­ing thought would be to real­ly take a good reflec­tion of how our search for knowl­edge and our under­stand­ings of life are impact­ing how we work with and see life here, and I won­der if we could…you know, maybe that would be a point of doing some­thing bet­ter, is incor­po­rat­ing a more…a per­spec­tive that is respect­ful and incorporates…or, is col­lab­o­ra­tive with dif­fer­ence and under­stands dif­fer­ence bet­ter. Differently.

Cabrol: I’m going to take a slight­ly dif­fer­ent take at this. Obviously I don’t have your exper­tise and I’m deal­ing more with the aspect of…well yeah, carbon-based and envi­ron­ment and things like that. So I think that we are doing our homework—astrobiology is doing its home­work right now in try­ing to fig­ure out what kind of envi­ron­ment and what kind of coevo­lu­tion Mars could have been. Because if you’re look­ing for life on a plan­et you have to think about coevo­lu­tion. You have to think of Mars as a bios­phere. And that goes back a lit­tle bit to the per­son­hood that you [Huettl] were men­tion­ing, that is not exact­ly the same thing. I think I under­stand very well what’s hap­pen­ing here, where you’re giv­ing you know, legal rights to a plan­et, to a riv­er, etc. 

But in terms of envi­ron­ment, where you are rec­og­niz­ing that we are part of a bios­phere, we are not out­side of a biosphere—we are part of a sys­tem. And then if you are hurt­ing that sys­tem, you are hurt­ing the entire bios­phere. Then there is a lit­tle bit of that, too. There is a respect of the sys­tem you are part of. I think that what we are doing is try­ing to put our­selves out­side of that. We’re see­ing this with the envi­ron­men­tal change right now. 

But to go back to your ques­tion. As an astro­bi­ol­o­gist going to extreme envi­ron­ments and look­ing at what we think could be the most evolved type of life that could be on Mars right now—which basi­cal­ly are microbes because there’s not enough ener­gy to just sus­tain com­plex life on Mars. I’m look­ing at what these microbes are in an envi­ron­ment that is very rel­e­vant to what Mars was 3.5 bil­lion years ago. And they are telling me some­thing very pro­found about humans. Which is that in those places where we go, the ear­li­est organ­isms we see are blue and green algae. And you see them, and they can thrive in places where the radi­a­tion is extreme­ly strong. In places that are a lit­tle bit cold, where there is a lot of arid­i­ty, etc. etc. Fundamentally, they are the same, but they become a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. They are devel­op­ing dif­fer­ent pig­ment. They are devel­op­ing dif­fer­ent capa­bil­i­ties to adapt because of the place they are at. 

And so this is telling me some­thing about our human­i­ty, or a new evo­lu­tion. We are adapt­able. We are the prod­uct of our envi­ron­ment, of our his­to­ry. Going back to Mars, I am won­der­ing if going to a place that is envi­ron­men­tal­ly com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent is going to help us final­ly fig­ure out what it means to be human when you are removed from your plan­et of ori­gin. And when you are get­ting you know, con­front­ed [with] some­thing that is com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent, if final­ly all of a sud­den, what it means to be human is going to get to the sur­face, but being on anoth­er plan­et then all of a sud­den you will lose your human­i­ty,” what was mak­ing you human in the first place. So it’s an inter­est­ing para­dox that explo­ration of an envi­ron­ment and the Martian envi­ron­ment could bring humans to final­ly dis­cov­er of who they are, what it means to be us.

Ferdowsi: So to one of your points, right, in terms of the devel­op­ments, right, I do know for exam­ple that Mars Sample Return, which is a robot­ic mis­sion, is effec­tive­ly being very high prioritized—it’s always been a high pri­or­i­ty from a sci­en­tif­ic per­spec­tive but is being pushed for­ward very quick­ly because of the poten­tial for humans to go to Mars and con­t­a­m­i­nate that envi­ron­ment. That is not obviously—you know, the dozen, two dozens sam­ples that we’ll get back is cer­tain­ly not what you would ide­al­ly want but I know that there is some pres­sure to do that. Because we’re afraid that if the envi­ron­ment gets con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed then once that hap­pens then there’s no going back. 

I think for me the exploration—kind of the case for it as far as—and I work real­ly in robot­ic explo­ration, is I think of it most­ly as a kind of way of reflect­ing upon our­selves. There is sort of an inher­ent curios­i­ty to me, of course, about whether we’re alone in the uni­verse. Statistically speak­ing I would say it seems very unlike­ly. But there’s a sort of sense of look­ing at these oth­er places as reflec­tions upon like how did we…what is our ori­gin sto­ry? How did we arrive here? How does a place like Earth form? What is the con­text for life show­ing up like ours? Mars is in so many ways a very obvi­ous reflec­tion, and from the fact that when we see pic­tures of it we can imag­ine our­selves there. There’s a grav­i­ty that’s sim­i­lar to ours; there was a warmer, wet­ter envi­ron­ment in the past; there’s still a lot of things— As inhos­pitable as Mars is there are far more inhos­pitable places in our solar system. 

So there is a fair amount of abil­i­ty to sort of reflect on our own plan­et and I kind of hope that some of these are oppor­tu­ni­ties to do that. I think that our most pow­er­ful images of course of space explo­ration are often the once that show Earth in the con­text of the places that we’re vis­it­ing, whether it be Earth on the hori­zon of Mars, or the Pale Blue Dot pic­ture from the Voyagers. So I do sort of see them as a way of look­ing at our­selves and being intro­spec­tive. And I hope that many of the peo­ple who con­tin­ue to do this will also see that as a moti­vat­ing fac­tor for this. It’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly to accom­plish some­thing there as much as to kind of accom­plish some­thing here about an under­stand­ing of our­selves, a deep­er under­stand­ing of ourselves. 

And I think on some lev­el it speaks to the com­mon­al­i­ty of expe­ri­ence. I mean it’s very hard to imag­ine we’re very dif­fer­ent when you see Earth as you know, a pix­el on an image. It makes you feel a lot— I think a lot more— A lot more alone but also lot more con­nect­ed. So I hope that that’s kind of the ver­sion of explo­ration that we take forward.

Huettl: I’m not real­ly sure how to answer this ques­tion? But I think Nathalie when you were talk­ing about you know, see­ing every­thing as a sys­tem, that’s very sim­i­lar to my own under­stand­ing of things from a slight­ly more—albeit you know— I’m not claim­ing this is a uni­ver­sal Ojibwe per­spec­tive but you know, that’s how I was taught to under­stand my rela­tion­ship not just with things on Earth but with the sun, the moon, and the larg­er sys­tem as well, and things… You know, it’s impor­tant to main­tain some sort of bal­ance. And so I would think that… You know, it would be… And I guess my ide­al sit­u­a­tion, Mars would be viewed not just—again, as this blank slate resource for us to learn about ourselves—which I think is an impor­tant part of it—but also as an enti­ty in itself that deserves respect and we can learn about as well. If that makes sense.

Walkowicz: Alright. [crosstalk]

Cabrol: That makes a lot of sense because when you look—

Walkowicz: Sorry we’re— I know we have a lot of won­der­ful com­ments to make but we have time for ques­tions and answers now and I don’t want to cut into that so, let’s every­body thank our panelists.


And as in the morn­ing we have mic run­ners, so if you have a ques­tion please just raise your hand and some­one will bring a mic to you.

Audience 1: So first of all, great respons­es and answers. So it seems like there’s kind of like a talk­er or cen­ter point around us being con­nect­ed as you know, one. How do you nav­i­gate— This can be for any­body on the pan­el. How do you nav­i­gate a polit­i­cal land­scape or kind of media land­scape now that is kind of not in that inter­est? It’s a bit more divid­ed and kind of pit­ting peo­ple against each oth­er. So maybe even through your work or even through your per­son­al lives, how do you kind of nav­i­gate that com­po­nent so that peo­ple can res­onate with the fact that we have more of a con­nec­tion on a fun­da­men­tal base?

Bobak Ferdowsi: So I think for me per­son­al­ly, right, I def­i­nite­ly do try of con­nect at an indi­vid­ual lev­el with what res­onates with me and hope­ful­ly share that kind of excite­ment or pas­sion. In terms of a more broad per­spec­tive, I think it has been an effort on my part, becom­ing eas­i­er over time, of try­ing to use more inclu­sive ter­mi­nol­o­gy in terms of— You know, of course NASA, right, we made the tran­si­tion from manned space-” to human space­flight and” things like that. But just try­ing to sort of bring that per­spec­tive into it. 

And ulti­mate­ly you know, I don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly expect that any of these things is going to con­nect with 100% of peo­ple. But in the inter­est of sort of includ­ing as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble at least try­ing to con­vey what are the ben­e­fits to peo­ple. And I think while NASA does an incred­i­ble amount for Earth sci­ence, that’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly the vision that we always tell to the pub­lic. Whereas work­ing with India now, right, the thing when they talk about their space pro­gram, they are lit­er­al­ly talk­ing in, Okay, we are able to grow more crops. We’re able to bet­ter pre­dict mete­o­ro­log­i­cal events, and evac­u­ate areas so that even though the storms are get­ting worse we’re actu­al­ly see­ing few­er casu­al­ties,” in places like that. And that is a direct tan­gi­ble thing, right, that ben­e­fits peo­ple direct­ly. And I think that’s… To try and talk to those points is sort of where… I think that’s—again, it’s a new­er thing for me but it’s kind of the direc­tion that I feel like I’m going in.

Nathalie Cabrol: I will add to what Bobak’s say­ing. This is some­thing that I pre­sent­ed a few years ago. When I’m mak­ing a pub­lic pre­sen­ta­tion I always talk about from the Earth to Mars and back. And it can be Mars or it can be some­thing else—let’s say plan­e­tary explo­ration or explo­ration of worlds—is that… And I’m going to take the exam­ple of envi­ron­men­tal change. In that case, you can see the cli­mate change on Earth a lit­tle bit like a plan­e­tary mis­sion where you have very finite resources, very lim­it­ed amount of time to under­stand what you have— You have a sci­en­tif­ic goal. You have very lit­tle band­width to com­mu­ni­cate and very lit­tle time to gath­er as much data as you can to fig­ure out the ques­tion, or the answer to your ques­tion, or artic­u­late your ques­tion better. 

And this is exact­ly what we have with cli­mate change. We have some­thing that’s upon us. I can­not even say now that it’s com­ing at us like a freight train—it’s there. It’s all over the place. And we have very very lit­tle time to under­stand what’s going on. And what peo­ple don’t real­ize is that with this mind­set of hav­ing to solve a ques­tion real­ly fast, very effi­cient­ly, plan­e­tary explo­ration is devel­op­ing tools, new tools and new ways of approach­ing plan­e­tary envi­ron­ments, that you can take back to the Earth and use it for the ben­e­fit of every­body try­ing to under­stand you know, what is the next best thing to not only mon­i­tor the envi­ron­ment but maybe help, you know, slow down what’s going on. 

So, I think this…even if peo­ple don’t real­ize it day-to-day, there are a cou­ple of rea­sons for that. Everybody is busy doing their own thing. But as Bobak was say­ing, NASA is not doing a very good job at men­tion­ing the good stuff that hap­pens on Earth because of plan­e­tary explo­ration and what they are doing. And I think they should do that a lot more. 

So, this is hap­pen­ing. This is not nec­es­sar­i­ly because it’s not hap­pen­ing, it’s because you don’t know about it. And so the effort maybe you should be about those agencies—and this is NASA and this ESA and this every­body else; maybe the Indian agen­cy’s doing a bet­ter job at, is relat­ing what we are doing as far as an endeav­or for mankind. Which is actu­al­ly true. It’s not like a small amount of peo­ple doing some­thing for an elite. That’s not right. This is not how it should be pre­sent­ed. How many things you are wear­ing or using that are actu­al­ly the result of plan­e­tary explo­ration. You don’t know it, you know. You don’t even know about it. 

So, there is an effort for us to be made of. And of course, for peo­ple like us, go out and talk to the pub­lic, and say what’s hap­pen­ing. And also maybe, you know, take the kids and say well you know, Be part of this. And also find on your way.” We were hav­ing this inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion ear­li­er on about how kids have their own judg­ment and mind­set, etc. They prob­a­bly have very good ideas on how we can make this explo­ration for humanity.

Burton: Very briefly also. Fiction and fan­ta­sy and imag­i­na­tion offer so many dif­fer­ent ways of reimag­in­ing spaces. And as things are right now, prob­a­bly if you just take cut and dry the polit­i­cal or com­mer­cial sec­tor, you’re not going to real­ly get that far. But if we start thinking…and I think the next pan­el will talk about this a lot too, right? If we start imag­in­ing dif­fer­ent ways of relat­ing to each oth­er, res­onat­ing, and also know­ing that con­sen­sus is not nec­es­sar­i­ly pos­si­ble and that we don’t want to all agree with each oth­er? that it’s through con­tes­ta­tion that our best efforts and explo­rations and dis­cus­sions occur. I think we can go at that, and hope­ful­ly that will build into some­thing pro­duc­tive and gen­er­a­tive and creative.

Walkowicz: Any ques­tions? Chanda.

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein: So I guess, you know, obvi­ous­ly I’m read­ing things through the lens of the con­ver­sa­tion we had on the first pan­el this morn­ing, and think­ing a lit­tle bit about vocab­u­lary and you know, the word explor­er.” And I have been try­ing in just my every­day life to get away from oh, I dis­cov­ered this new artist” and to say I’ve learned about a new artist? Because often the artist exist­ed before I dis­cov­ered them, lo and behold. And so I’m kind of wondering…and maybe I’ll put this ques­tion par­tic­u­lar­ly to Margaret because I think that this falls along some of the things that you’ve been think­ing about and talk­ing about. How does a tran­si­tion like that shape the con­ver­sa­tion that we have in terms of think­ing about learn­ing about Mars ver­sus explor­ing Mars?

Huettl: I… Are you say­ing that like you—

Prescod-Weinstein: [indis­tinct]

Huettl: Okay. Yeah, I think that I like that shift to think­ing not just about explor­ing but learn­ing. And, I don’t— I think part of the rea­son why it’s so impor­tant is because lan­guage has pow­er beyond just like the sto­ries we tell. But I mean, I guess think­ing about it from a legal per­spec­tive again, the way that this lan­guage gets embed­ded in the legal sys­tem also shapes peo­ple’s lives on a day-to-day basis as well. So I think that yeah, I’ve— I mean I don’t know what lan­guage would be best but I like the idea of using less explor­ing, more learn­ing. Thinking about rela­tion­ships. Yeah.

Walkowicz: Questions? Maybe one more?

Audience 3: I was won­der­ing why Mars? Why not col­o­nize the moon or some inde­pen­dent free-floating habitat?

Cabrol: Well, I’ll go first then you. Well, I think we are going back to the moon. And frankly as a sci­en­tist I think this is an excel­lent idea. This is next to home. This is a place where we can learn a lot about how to do things right. Which basi­cal­ly will mean mess­ing up a lot before we learn how to make things right, but it’s clos­er to home so maybe the reper­cus­sions of that will be lesser. 

And there are also dif­fer­ent lay­ers to that ques­tion. I would say that the moon makes a lot of sense to try tech­nolo­gies, habi­tat, and a num­ber of things. As far as why Mars, then you go back maybe to the astro­bi­ol­o­gy ques­tion. And Mars is real­ly about you know, this con­nec­tion that we seem to have…you know, we have had for so long. Mars makes human­i­ty dream. It was first the lit­tle green men, which turns out they are not there. The canals of Mars, etc. Why? Because when you are look­ing at the land­scape of Mars, you don’t need to invent any vocab­u­lary to describe the land­scapes. You have moun­tains, you have sun­set, you have sun­ris­es, you have val­leys, you have polar caps, and dunes, and wind. This is how we describe Earth. It’s Earth that’s dry now on and less alive than we are. We don’t know if there is life, actu­al­ly, out there. But the fact is that ear­ly Mars was fair­ly close—was not the same, but fair­ly close to what we know ear­ly Earth was. And if there is life some­where in the solar sys­tem that’s close to what we are, at least in the­o­ry Mars would be the place. And there is some­thing that I real­ly like that I repeat all the time. There is some­thing spe­cial about Mars. And I still as an astro­bi­ol­o­gist, don’t know if there is real­ly a line between pre­bi­ot­ic chem­istry and life. I real­ly think there is a transition.

But what I know is that our plan­et is so dynam­ic that what­ev­er hap­pens between those two states of mat­ter and some­thing else is not record­ed any­more on our plan­et. It’s gone. Erosion. It’s plate tec­ton­ics. This record is gone. Which means that if we want to under­stand how life start­ed, what’s the process, we are not going to find it nec­es­sar­i­ly on our own plan­et. So now you have to imag­ine being an orphan and try­ing to fig­ure out who your par­ents are. They are gone, alright? So where do you go to? You go to your next of kin—an aunt, an uncle or you know, some­body close to you. Mars is that. And there is not a plate tec­ton­ic. The ero­sion is less. Geological activ­i­ty is less­er on Mars, too. And there are very very very old rocks on Mars that are still exposed at the sur­face. Just because of pansper­mia, because of plan­e­tary exchange, there is a good chance that the same mate­r­i­al that cre­at­ed life on Earth may be some­where on Mars. And it may be that Mars is going to be the place that gives us a response to you know, how life—our own life—formed, how we got start­ed, who we are. 

So, this is what’s spe­cial about Mars. This is the why behind Mars. This is the why behind at least the astro­bi­ol­o­gy part of it. As for the human part of it I think this is the—our old sto­ry of explain­ing from going to a rock to the next rock, to the next con­ti­nent, to the next ocean. It hap­pens so that the next rock is 50 mil­lion miles away from here.

Walkowicz: So I know we prob­a­bly have oth­er ques­tions, but we have a break in the after­noon and a recep­tion fol­low­ing this, and I don’t want to get us off track. But I want to thank all of our pan­elists again.