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A Feminine Space Policy?
Dwayne Day says that this is what we seem to have.
It's an interesting thesis, I guess, from a sociological standpoint, but I'm not sure how relevant it is to those of us trying to influence things for the better (i.e., in the direction of vastly larger numbers of people in space).
As I wrote to him when I saw a draft of this a couple weeks ago:
While "colonization" is clearly politically incorrect these days, I don't think that leadership is, and there would have been no (or at least no more than he received anyway) negative repercussions from its usage.
Of course, I think that this is all orthogonal to our actual future in space, since regardless of the presidential justifications for it, government space programs are doomed to mediocrity by their nature, and we'll have a sufficiently robust private sector in the next couple decades such that NASA will become superfluous.
As Dwayne notes in comments here, he expanded on this topic quite a bit in comments over at Jeff Foust's place a few days ago.
I should also note that the discussion took an interesting side turn when the question was asked "What is exploration?" particularly as opposed to "science." This is a very key question on which current policy rests, and I'm going to give it some thought, and its potential implications in a future post.Posted by Rand Simberg at April 14, 2004 10:25 PM
Private sector space will flourish once private sector demand becomes sufficiently tangible. Not before. Too many private sector space guys (IMHO) seem to want Uncle Sam to give permission and subsidies - - kind of a "Mother May I" mentality.
This is why I believe immediate deployment of a privately funded space hotel is an excellent idea. Use one ISS module (ISS-Zarya or Zvedza or Unity) plus one TransHab plus one multi-port docking module.
Use Proton or Delta IV or shuttle-C to lift it to orbit.
Fund it with name rights and advertising revenue.
IMHO, Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton etc. . . would fall all over themselves for the publicity of having the first space hotel within their franchise.
Then Starsem can sell Soyuz until Space-X man-rates Falcon V. In any event this gives the alt-space people somewhere to go.
Why wait for US tax law reform?
Incorporate the space hotel operating entity at Isle of Man or the Cayman Islands. If the private space busines model works from a business perspective, then there already are ways to legally avoid (not evade, avoid) federal income tax.Posted by Bill White at April 15, 2004 09:33 AM
On the topic of language used to promote space development. It is important to think about for the following reasons:
The wrong language can alienate otherwise neutral parties and make them actively hostile. Zubrin's colonizing, manifest destiny script is highly offensive to certain PC, intellectual types and will have the effect of putting them squarely against Mars "settlement".
The right language, on the otherhand can add support. Imagery of progress, exploration, united action for common benefit and the beauty of planets seen from space are much more likely to convince people of the worthyness of space travel.
Why not use language and imagery in a positive way to increase awareness of space as a place for people to visit?
--FredPosted by Fred K at April 15, 2004 10:47 AM
I engaged in a discussion of my piece on www.spacepolitics.com. You can find some wordy wordsmithing there.
A note: I did not claim that we have a "feminine" space policy. What I claimed is that the issues and the rhetoric of civil space policy have changed over the years and they have incorporated what I called "feminine" traits--and I make no claim that this is good or bad, merely that it has happened. There are many ways to label this. One could say that the current space policy rhetoric is now "politically correct" because it has eliminated words like "manned" and "colonize" and "conquer." I'm not really interested in the polemics of the argument, merely in noting that a change has taken place and we should think about it. (I'm big on thinking about things.)
This is true. I remember reading about the first Mars Society conference where there was apparently a big argument over the language.
I have also recently noted that when I saw Zubrin speak about Mars a few months ago his language was more muted than when he spoke about it at a conference at George Washington University in 2001. I don't know if this was on purpose or just a coincidence, but Zubrin seemed to tone it down a bit.
I also vaguely remember a description, possibly in Joel Achenbach's book on extraterrestrial life and our fascination with it, where Zubrin got involved in a minor incident at the first Mars Society conference. It was during a session about terraforming Mars. One of the male speakers was all in favor of it, making Mars green. A female member of the audience objected, saying that Mars should be preserved as the red planet. The male speaker then used an old joke as an analogy, where a man propositions a woman and first offers her a million dollars and she says she will think about it. He then offers her a dollar and she gets all indignant and asks "What kind of woman do you think I am?" His reply: "We already know what kind of woman you are, all we are arguing about now is the price." In other words, if you are going to alter part of Mars' environment, why not alter all of it?
After he said this, the woman stormed out of the room, insulted. Zubrin then apparently ran after her to smooth things over and say that the speaker did not mean to insult her. (He did the right thing and I should make it clear that I've never seen any indications of Zubrin being a chauvinist.) The lesson here is that language is loaded and people will take it personally even when it is not meant that way. If this man had been replying to a question from another man and used the same joke, it is doubtful that the women in the room would have been offended. It was, after all, simply an analogy. But the woman obviously felt that it was directed at her.
Jeff also wrote:
Yes, this is true. As I noted in the essay, language changes in order to expand its appeal to other constituencies. "Masculine" language about conquering planets, beating the commies, or things like that, is going to antagonize some people. So the space policy leaders picked different language to try and expand their support base, which was already naturally shrinking.
Dwayne's last point is interesting and I think indicates that his essay has been mistitled. What we're looking at here is less a "feminizing" of space policy than a "feminizing" of the marketing of space policy. Mind, I think that people who get turned off by phrases like "manifest destiny" need to get a life. However if a difference of phrasing will soothe them and bring them over, then I'm all for it. The rest of us know that it's all about "conquest" and all those other icky, manly things (g).Posted by Mark R. Whittington at April 15, 2004 02:31 PM
"What we're looking at here is less a "feminizing" of space policy than a "feminizing" of the marketing of space policy."
But the problem with this is that it is not simply the rhetoric that has changed, but the goals themselves.
It used to be sufficient to say that we were going to the moon to beat the Russians. Then it was sufficient to say that we were flying the space shuttle or building the space station to maintain US technological leadership.
We reached points where these justifications were not sufficient anymore and then the justification became that we were doing space to inspire kids. So it's not just a language thing, it's something more.
Rereading what I wrote above I realize I didn't make my point very well.
What I'm trying to point out is that "leadership" is both a goal and a justification. "Inspiring kids" is also a goal and justification. It's not simply marketing; something more is going on here.Posted by Dwayne A. Day at April 15, 2004 04:37 PM
I have to disagree with that last point from Dwayne. "Inspiring kids" is a feel good phrase that political marketers love. But how is it measured? And what, exactly, is so inspirational about space that should get the kids excited? For some it must be all the icky, manly things that Dwayne suggests are being eschewed. For others, something else.
I also notice that there is both a justification and a goal shaping up that wasn't extant even a few years ago. That is facilitating private business. I'm not sure whether that is "masculine" or "feminine" or maybe both, but it is something to think about.Posted by Mark R. Whittington at April 15, 2004 07:32 PM
"I also notice that there is both a justification and a goal shaping up that wasn't extant even a few years ago. That is facilitating private business."
Bingo! And what is a major part of facilitating private business? Marketing to customers and investors. Women make the majority of purchases in a given household. Savvy marketers (business people) know this and play to that reality.
Women have a large influence in the economy, social trends and politics. Could it be that some are prospecting for replacements for the "naturally shrinking" old support base?Posted by Jeff Arnall at April 15, 2004 08:56 PM
" "Inspiring kids" is a feel good phrase that political marketers love. But how is it measured?"
How was "leadership" measured? Number of shuttle flights compared to number of Soyuz flights in a year? Number of man-hours (person-hours?) in space? Just because something is hard to measure, or because nobody chooses to really measure it, does not mean that it is not real.
It could be a sloppy or stupid goal to have, but I still think that there is something more to it than _simply_ rhetoric. Look at all the schools that the NASA administrator visits and look at how much NASA brags that its website has been hit this year. Some people in leadership believe in this goal.
"And what, exactly, is so inspirational about space that should get the kids excited?"
I think this is an important question. It could also be rephrased several ways, such as why is space more inspirational than, say, major league sports or Hollywood stardom? Or, isn't it easier to inspire kids to certain careers by simply offering them college tuition?
I have seen a little bit of panic in this discussion recently at conferences and public discussions. There is a shortage of engineers in general and aerospace engineers in specific. Speakers keep complaining that students are going into other things, like biogen or information technology or even dot.coms. So they justify the new space vision as necessary to lure people back into aerospace engineering. I think there is a big disconnect between goals and outcomes here, but my primary point is that people are making these claims without examining them.
"I also notice that there is both a justification and a goal shaping up that wasn't extant even a few years ago. That is facilitating private business. I'm not sure whether that is "masculine" or "feminine" or maybe both, but it is something to think about."
This is a good observation. But we should also examine how new this is. Supporting commercial endeavors has long been a part of the civil space program, at least in name. If you look back to the early justifications for the space station, they were talking about making amazing crystals so that commercial industry could take over and make billions. Charlie Walker flew in space three times conducting private industry experiments. There was some kind of industrial policy involved. Yes, I know that a million people will instantly jump in and say that NASA never really meant it, or that they messed it all up. But a private industry component was there in some form.
I think the current discussions of how to get private industry involved and propsering are different, but we should try to discern how they are different.
Dwayne Day wisely reports:
I'm glad people still in the industry are finally noting the obvious. Now what they need to start doing is asking questions and listening to the answers.
It might help if O'Keefe et al., instead of wowing 10-12 year olds in middle schools, sat down and talked to high school seniors and undergraduates -- especially undergraduates who had quit science and engineering, especially aerospace. That's an easy group to find. If possible they could try tracking down adults who had at one time been part of aerospace and asking them why they no longer were.
I have a few ideas. But it would be better for the people giving these talks to find out by asking people.Posted by Chuck Divine at April 16, 2004 10:33 AM
"It might help if O'Keefe et al., instead of wowing 10-12 year olds in middle schools, sat down and talked to high school seniors and undergraduates -- especially undergraduates who had quit science and engineering, especially aerospace."
About a year or so ago I saw an interview in Space News with, I think, General Lord of Space Command (It would make a great comic book title, huh?)
He made an astute observation of the obvious: kids love space up until around age 14, at which point they lose interest. He asked why. I don't know. I think he's absolutely right. I remember that when I was in my later teens very few of my friends found space interesting at all. And this was not simply because of what the US was doing in space. They just did not care.Posted by Dwayne A. Day at April 16, 2004 10:57 AM
Up to 14?
And he doesn't know why?
You're putting me on.
It really is time for people in aerospace to find me a job. How about something like NASA Associate Administrator of the Blindingly Obvious?
Lots of people with axes to grind have managed to obscure the fact that real adulthood (biological and psychological) starts around age 14 in this country. No, these young people aren't terribly good at being adults as yet. But they are starting to think as adults and have adult physiologies. There are huge differences between adults and children. The most obvious are the beginnings of sexual maturity. There are many, many others.
I could go on for hours. I'm the only person I've ever met who, before they finally tired of academia, managed to do graduate work in physics and social psychology. I've forgotten more about human psychology than, it seems, most tech types have ever learned.
I've got to stop now. Else I might start banging my head against my keyboard.
"No, these young people aren't terribly good at being adults as yet. But they are starting to think as adults and have adult physiologies."
But does that really explain it? Lots of people believe childish things long after they've ceased being children. You're claiming that they lose interest merely because they've matured. So an interest in space, by your definition, is immature?Posted by Dwayne A. Day at April 16, 2004 03:40 PM
The reason many children stop being interested in space as they achieve puberty is obvious. For the past thirty years, human space travel has meant traveling in circles in low Earth orbit. And since the space age began forty years ago, space travel has been reserved for the privledged few. If the President's initiative succeeds in expanding the venue of space travel to beyond Low Earth Orbit *and* expands the opportunities for people to go, then there will be more reasons to get excited as children grow up.Posted by Mark R. Whittington at April 17, 2004 10:58 PM
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