Brock experts say Artemis mission overshadows climate, biodiversity loss and equity concerns on Earth

EXPERT ADVISORY: 28 November 2022 – R0132

NASA’s Artemis mission is expected to reach its farthest distance from Earth – nearly 270,000 miles – on Monday, Nov. 28.

The uncrewed Orion spacecraft is conducting a range of activities to prepare for an expected crewed mission in 2024 or 2025, with the end goal of humans returning to the moon sometime after.

While such missions capture the imagination and interest, more thought should be given about how we live on Earth, say two Brock University researchers.

Associate Professor of Communication, Popular Culture and Film Jennifer Ellen Good says the “romantic space exploration story” surrounding the Artemis mission is compelling, particularly NASA’s description of the “scientific discovery, economic benefits, and inspiration for a new generation of explorers.”

For instance, she notes how space missions often look for signs of life on the moon or Mars, yet we ignore the quantity and quality of life on Earth.

“Scientists estimate that only 10 to 20 percent of Earth’s species have been formally identified,” says Good. “And we also know that as the Earth exploration lags, species are becoming extinct at an alarming rate.

“In the last 10 years, more than 450 species were declared extinct, but space travel is more exciting than Earth exploration,” she says.

The “distracting,” romantic space travel narrative deflects attention away from Earth’s urgent needs and what must be done now to address the climate emergency and extensive habitat loss, she says.

“The space exploration story can distract us from climate change’s devastating effects but also the horrible inequality that those who emit the least climate change gasses can suffer the most,” says Good. She notes that while the recent COP 27 “Loss and Damage Fund” is important, the failure to commit to phasing out fossil fuels is devastating.

Artemis’ launch and future ones are literally adding fuel to the fire, says Good.

“Indeed, the space exploration and scientific discovery story can even distract us from the reality of the space program’s massive climate change gas emissions – and we know very little about the impact of those gasses in higher atmospheric levels,” she notes.

The worsening of climate change is also of concern to Professor of Biology Liette Vasseur.

“To be able to launch these spaceships, a large amount of greenhouse gas emissions is produced, from the building of these rockets to their launching,” says Vasseur, who is UNESCO Chair on Community Sustainability: From Local to Global.

“For sure, Artemis’ mission is quite interesting scientifically speaking,” she says.

But, Vasseur cautions, if the missions go beyond scientific research to pave the way for ‘space tourism’ or the exploitation of resources on other planets, such activities could have destructive impacts on Earth and beyond.

Vasseur is also concerned about the deepening of inequalities on Earth, not only in terms of involvement in space exploration but also funding that could be used to improve human wellbeing in several least developed countries as well as the protection of Earth’s diverse ecosystems.

“As only a few countries can participate in the Artemis missions, it brings up issues of inequity, whereby a lot of money is diverted to the missions and the multitude of other spacecrafts instead of helping deal with floods in Pakistan, famine in Africa, and other suffering as well as conservation of our own planet’s natural resources,” she says.

“Exploiting other planets will also only be accessible to the richest countries and large corporations, thus exacerbating further inequalities in this world,” she says.

Vasseur studies community-based ecosystem management, conservation, climate change adaptation and resilience, and sustainable agriculture and rural communities in Canada and abroad.

Good researches, writes and teaches about the role communication plays in how people relate to the environment, exploring themes of climate change, materialism, eco-spirituality and media/digital literacy.

For more information or for assistance arranging interviews:

* Doug Hunt, Communications and Media Relations Specialist, Brock University or 905-941-6209

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