NASA announced Monday that it is embarking on a new “mission” to erase racism within its ranks and create “equity” within the space program, triggering a wave of criticism on social media that blasted the agency for its new commitment to “critical space theory.”
NASA’s “Mission Equity” is being tagged as “a comprehensive effort to assess expansion and modification of agency programs, procurements, grants, and policies, and examine what potential barriers and challenges exist for communities that are historically underrepresented and underserved.”
“NASA is a 21st-century agency with 22nd-century goals. To be successful, it’s critical that NASA takes a comprehensive approach to address the challenges to equity we see today,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement posted to the agency’s website. “The agency’s new Mission Equity is a bold and necessary challenge for NASA to ensure our programs are accessible to all Americans and, especially, those living in historically underserved communities across the country. Because when NASA opens doors to talent previously left untapped, the universe is the limit.”
In line with the mission’s goals, NASA released a public request for information, titled Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities in NASA Programs, Contracts, and Grants, seeking feedback on “potential barriers” to minority involvement in the country’s space program, and asking for suggestions on how NASA can better pursue an agenda that includes both racial and “environmental justice.”
They are particularly interested in comments from “Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.”
Critics quickly took to social media to blast the program, noting that NASA would likely be better served by seeking out recruits who are at the top of their fields, rather than those who “check boxes.”
“Do you think astronauts risking their lives and waiting to blast off are wondering whether there was enough equity amongst the people who built the rocket? How about just have required standards that anyone can work toward meeting. If you need more, try blind job interviews,” one commentator noted.
At least one Twitter critic even labeled the program, “critical space theory.”
Others pointed out that NASA controls how it doles out funding it receives from the federal government, making NASA solely responsible for policing equity within its own ranks.
“NASA controls all access to their programs,” one critic noted. “Since I assume NASA has no racial, gender, or similar “barriers” in place, everyone already has equal access. Now instead of wasting taxpayer money on this ‘effort’, you can spend it on science and exploration as intended.”
NASA, though, has largely farmed out its more ambitious exploration programs to private corporations. In April, the agency announced that it had selected SpaceX — not an internal team — to pilot the next American astronauts to the moon.
“NASA is getting ready to send astronauts to explore more of the Moon as part of the Artemis program, and the agency has selected SpaceX to continue development of the first commercial human lander that will safely carry the next two American astronauts to the lunar surface. At least one of those astronauts will make history as the first woman on the Moon. Another goal of the Artemis program includes landing the first person of color on the lunar surface,” NASA said.