On the afternoon of Saturday, May 30, 2020, the world watched two moments write themselves into history: Black Lives Matter protests spread from Minneapolis to across the country and around the world and SpaceX’s Crew Demo-2 launched into space.
For those who don’t know, SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corp.), is an aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company founded by tech-mogul Elon Musk, in 2002. Musk’s goal for SpaceX is to create more affordable (relatively speaking) commercial flights to space in order to eventually colonize Mars and advance towards becoming a multi-planetary species. SpaceX got their big break in 2009, however, when NASA announced that they would be suspending their space shuttle program that had been sending astronauts directly to orbit since 1961 and to the International Space Station (ISS) since 1998. Since then, American astronauts such as, Christina Koch and Nick Hague could only access space through the Russian space program and by flying on the Russian Soyuz vehicle which costs the U.S. $80 million per seat. Musk, recognizing that SpaceX could be the venue that revitalizes a space shuttle program that sends astronauts to orbit from the US again, decided to develop early versions of SpaceX’s main rocket (Falcon) and main space vehicle (Dragon) by transporting cargo for NASA to the ISS. Over those 11 years in particular, Musk has created something truly incredible (other than Tesla): Falcon 9, the two-phase rocket used to push the space vehicle into orbit, and Crew Dragon, the space vehicle that can fit up to seven passengers to take to and from Earth’s orbit, making it capable of soon becoming the first private space vehicle to transport humans to and from the ISS (at the foreseeable staggering price of $200,000–$2,000,000 per mission).
After years of planning and testing to go to orbit, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley did something prolific last week; they become the first astronauts to enter the International Space station on a commercialized space vehicle, opening doors for the future space opportunities that humans will have.
As I watched the clock get closer and closer to launch time, I noticed that CNN correspondents struggled with shifting the focus from the protests to the launch, and created a split-screen on their program that allowed viewers to follow both happenings in realtime. With my eyes glued to the TV and sitting on the edge of my seat, I kept thinking to myself: How could anyone be in their right mind to go go to space right now knowing that the world is almost up in flames? Historical protests in response to one of the most blatant videos of police brutality and the build up of anger that reacted to generations of systemic racism and brutal force, ensuing across the country during all during a global pandemic where the extremely contagious virus spreads through droplets in the air.
Juxtaposing these two events on the TV screen in front of me and in the making of monumental in history, I wondered: What does this all mean for humanity right now?
Later that day I realized that it means that change is coming and people are looking for the future.
On the SpaceX website, Elon Musk’s mission for SpaceX supports this:
“You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great — and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.”
And like Musk and his vision for “spacefaring civilization,” protesters from all walks of life, races, and beliefs have gathered together in all states — as well as around the world — to demonstrate that they want the future, so badly, to better than the past. They don’t want their Black relatives, friends, peers, and colleagues to be treated unfairly and to suffer from the force of racism and hate. They want this idealistic future so bad that they are willing to continue the revolution for change, even if that puts them at risk for a disease that is easily spread in large groups and through close contact. They have claimed this version of their future and have united in the streets — and let’s not forget, on social media, in order to make their presence known. Black Lives Matter protesters want to be among the stars which means respecting and valuing each other regardless of the color of their skin.
What captivates me about space explorations, however, is that space is undeniably an equal playing field. For example, many accounts from astronauts who have visited space reflect the occurrence of the “overview effect” which is a psychological shift that happens when astronauts are so far away from Earth, and looking out of the window at the massive blue orb that shines below them, that they feel a strong connection to humanity and understand that we are all intrinsically united through this planet that we call home. Bob Behnken said that Earth is “our shared place in this universe” and that “as we go through things like the pandemic or we see the challenges across our nation or across the world, we recognize that we all face them together.”
Although in distinct ways, SpaceX founder Elon Musk, the astronauts Behnken and Hurley, and the entire team at NASA supporting them as well as the Black Lives Matter protesters and believers understand that we are united through our shared kinship of being human and living on planet Earth. Because of this, both groups have a very clear vision of improving the livelihood and future reach of humanity. In their ideals, the Black Lives Matter protests are as much of a remarkable exploration of our human capabilities as the SpaceX Crew Demo-2 is. Both explorations believe in the future and want to make it better than the past. Inciting change, in these ways, will put us on track to fundamentally understand our roles and purposes as humans. That being said, at this revolutionary era in history, we must recognize how incredible it is for humanity to be both launching into space and demanding our human rights for equality.