Ever since NASA announced, “Mission Equity,” the more conservative media warned about the corruption of the space agency by identity politics. The National Review, for example, suggests that Mission Equity is “is not to explore space, land on Mars, or advance human understanding of the cosmos, but to promote woke identity politics.”
The Request for Information (RFI) that NASA released asking for ideas to help the space agency foster equity of opportunity and diversity seems innocuous enough. For one thing, the list of “disadvantaged” classes of people is breathtaking in its scope: “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.” One would be hard-pressed to find anyone who could not check at least one of those boxes.
Also, the RFI concludes: “Public input provided in response to this notice does not bind NASA to any further actions, to include publishing a formal response or agreement to initiate a recommended change. NASA will consider the feedback and make changes or process improvements at its sole discretion.”
The document sounds a lot like NASA is virtue signaling, attempting to appease some in the Biden White House by showing that it is serious about promoting diversity in its workforce and contractors. However, the National Review and others are well advised to worry that such efforts could careen into a full-blown Critical Race Theory (CRT) exercise and all that it would imply.
The Heritage Foundation has a good rundown about how CRT has devolved from an academic exercise in the role of race in American law and culture to an excuse to divide people by race. CRT seems to be used in government, in some corporations, and in some schools to label white people as oppressors (whether they know it or not) and people of color as victims (whether they acknowledge it or not).
The application of CRT has turned usually placid school board meetings into angry debates as outraged parents of all races demand that it not be taught. Some state governments are moving to ban the practice. CRT is regularly denounced and defended in Congress and on the media.
The New York Post describes what can happen to an organization where CRT is introduced. One of American’s biggest defense contractors has instituted a program that encourages its white employees to “decolonize” their bookshelves, identify their “privilege,” “deconstruct their identities,” and step aside in favor of other identity groups. White employees are given a list of things they must not say to their Black coworkers.
NASA was recently named the best place to work in the federal government by the Partnership for Public Service for the ninth consecutive year. The quickest way the end that streak would be for the space agency to treat its employees like the defense contractor is currently doing.
Truth to tell, NASA has promoted diversity as well as maintained excellence in its workforce for decades, ever since the space agency hired “Star Trek” actress Nichelle Nichols to recruit women and people of color in the 1970s. The recently named “Team Artemis” group of astronauts personifies both diversity and excellence. Any one of them is as qualified to walk on the moon as were Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
The group of African American mathematicians, depicted in the book and movie “Hidden Figures,” serves as an inspiration for their struggles to help Americans get into space and against racism in the early 1960s.
NASA’s overall mission is to explore the universe and to ferret out its scientific secrets. The space agency’s more specific task is to return Americans to the moon and eventually get them to Mars. Yes, the next moonwalkers will be a woman and a person of color. But plenty of spots will remain for people of all races and genders.
The worst thing that NASA could do is to go off mission and cause needless conflict by upending Martin Luther King’s plea to judge people not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Such a policy would alienate the people, upon whom NASA depends for support, and Congress, upon which it depends on funding.
Mark Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration entitled Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond,” and, most recently, “Why is America Going Back to the Moon?” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner. He is published in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Hill, USA Today, the LA Times, and the Washington Post, among other venues.