NASA recently commissioned a few new graphics to pay tribute to past voyages and fill the pages of their 2016 calendar. The visuals, which are fictional ads for space tours, are bold, colorful, and are either purposefully or accidentally homage to some of the space-themed album covers that were popular in America in the 1980s. Think, French electronica band Didier Marouani & Space’s Best of Space album artwork or Electric Light Orchestra’s album cover for Time. Hell, during my stint as an alt-hiphop act I incorporated some intergalactic imagery of my own when I was trying to brand. But that’s because as a millennial kid, I grew up in a golden era of space mania that arguably never ended.
So why did NASA’s eye-popping faux adverts for interplanetary tourism put a damper on my day? It’s because while I was looking at them I realized that I’m a little surprised that we never got there, that’s why. We never went Deep Space Nine like the galactic gangsters were meant to be, and it might be because we can’t get to that point without sorting things out on Earth. Worse, if we left Earth tomorrow we’d be taking all our inherent and inherited baggage right along with us.
Hollywood has been fueling a space craze for decades, presenting us with dazzling tales of a life beyond this planet. Though, I will say in defense of movie makers everywhere the movies that have come out in the last decade reflect our collective understanding that there’s no way to avoid taking our class and caste bullshit with us–no matter where we end up docking our spacecrafts—because social and political unrest, poverty, and a number of other societal problems are still rampant in even the most developed places on Earth. Movies like the fast-paced yet predictable film Elysium is a perfect example. In it, the wealthy have a chance to journey to a man-made, gargantuan spacecraft wherein they have every luxury, while the working class mire in the muck until they burn out on Earth. The hero of the film is Matt Damon, the people left on earth are black, brown, or racially ambiguous, and the whole damn thing is an allegory for U.S. immigration policy much in the way that Dune is an allegory for way America vied to control most of the Middle East’s oil toward the end of the twentieth century. And don’t get me started on Avatar.
My point is, we can barely fathom a future that colonialism and bad capitalism won’t bleed into because it’s all we fucking know. Moreover, we refuse to make the connection between the modern barbarism that the darkest part of our human ids have produced with the reasons we can’t solve the equations we need to launch us further into the unknown. Nevertheless, we did fund expeditions and get excited about the notion of space exploration at one time. Unfortunately, after our race to beat our Soviet comrades to the moon was over, the public zeal for space seemed to gradually wane, despite what was on the silver screen. Once again, we redirected our funds and focus inward and decided that blowing each other to smithereens is a more accessible source of amusement. Bummer. I remember watching all the Star Trek episodes when I was little and reading Frank Herbert’s installments of Dune when I was in high school. All of it was so exciting I became a hardcore astrophile. I just knew that space exploration would boom in my lifetime and that when it did it would kick major ass. Only, it didn’t—at least, not in the way I’d hoped it would.
My mom voiced my sentiments perfectly when we were watching YouTube videos of people riding hoverboards.
“Why don’t they just call them ‘hands-free segways.’ That’s clearly what they are,” Mom scoffed. She then went on to say how she really thought cars would be flying by the time she reached her fifties. All the cool shows and movies about space that came out pointed to the era we’re living in now as a sort of ‘super future’ in which we’d have completely automated lives with flying cars and the ability to visit other planets in the same way we currently visit other countries. And my father’s influence didn’t help. He was the tenor saxophonist in the avant-garde jazz band, Sun Ra Arkestrah for most of his life and they were totally obsessed with all things intergalactic. The band would don extravagant, glittery headdresses and costumes in an attempt to create a visual for what they imagined black folk would look like if we ever made it off this rock to a silvery, safe oasis beyond the moon. (SPOILER ALERT: We would look cool as fuck, as per usual.) Mom loved that sort of stuff too, and showed me the band’s short film Space is the Place whenever I’d sit still enough to watch it when I was little.
Anyway, when she saw me raise an eyebrow at her rant about us still being mere earth dwellers she also added that she “knew we weren’t getting anywhere by the time she’d reached her late thirties” but it “at least would’ve been nice.”
It would indeed have been nice. And the good thing is I’m sure we’re not that far off. I’m sure that for the right amount of money any blue-blooded oligarch could likely set off to picnic on the Red Planet today. I get that. What I’m more disappointed in is the fact that we can’t sort out basic shit here before we do. And that’s what was going on in my head as I sat staring at NASA’s concepts for space tourism ads. I also thought of my Nana, who died at 104. She lived to see so many things. It would’ve kicked ass for her to have seen the first black president and toured the closest planets in her lifetime, but I guess one out of two ain’t bad. Still, I can picture her standing in front of a massive bay window on a grey star ship, her hair the color of moon dust as she peered at Earth from a place she could never have imagined in all her years.
Like my mother said, it would’ve been nice.
Instead, she passed away from pneumonia after a short stay in a rehabilitation center she was staying in to recover from a minor knee injury. Because we haven’t solved elder care oversight yet. Or global warming, clean water, and–let’s face it–human fucking decency. I suppose if we learned how to better to each other, we’d cooperate on another level and close the global gap in STEM. Because brilliant minds can’t join the think tank if they’re hungry, right? Hell, I can barely get through Monday mornings without shoving a fistful of carbs into my dainty face. Anyway, I truly believe that there’s probably some kid right now with the perfect space craft design locked in his nutrient-starved brain who’s probably not going to have access to a place where he can flourish and bring that dream to fruition. But even if that kid bossed up in true Slumdog Millionaire style and went on to create something that would have us whizzing around in the air like the dad from the Jetsons, how could we possibly acclimate ourselves to new planets and non-humanoids without a grasp on humanity ourselves? We can’t. At least, not yet.
“The sun and the moon run on their fixed courses (exactly) calculated with measured out stages for each… And the heaven He has raised high, and He has set up the Balance. In order that you may not transgress balance.”—Surah Rahman, Qur’an. <—God telling us to get our ish together before we break barriers and that sort of junk.
P.S. If you’re offended by the tidbit of Qur’an I used to round out the end of this article, go sit on your bigoted thumb somewhere, because you’re clearly part of the problem.