REVIEW: “Negotiating the Values of Space Exploration” by Emma Frow

Review of Emma Frow, “Negotiating the Values of Space Exploration”, in Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures, edited by Ed Finn and Joey Eschrich, (Center for Science and Imagination, Arizona State University, 2017): 253-259 — Download here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

In this second non-fiction companion piece to Vandana Singh’s “Shikasta” (read the review), Frow focuses on the ways in which which personal narratives are essentially intertwined with the “facts” of science, even when these narratives tend to be lost in the academic (or journalistic) presentation of these scientific findings. This is where collections like the present one can play such an important role: Fiction is always eternally, inescapably personal.

Frow argues that recognising the central role that personal narratives play in science shines a line on a “critical topic” for future science:

how to orient our scientific investigations and expeditions so as to further our social and cultural values, alongside our scientific priorities (p. 253).

The desire to learn more about the universe, the desire to determine whether we are alone in it, the desire to find resources to exploit, the desire to build or augment a position of military power — these are all priorities that one might have in space exploration, and they are, quite naturally, often competing. One of the things Frow is keen to point out is that it isn’t enough to recognise that these end goals may be in conflict with each other; we must also understand that the ways in which we reach these goals can end up orthogonal. For instance:

Because the 2035 space mission being run by Chirag, Kranti, and Annie is motivated by a different set of core values from the space science establishment, they turn to a different model for funding their work: crowdfunding (p. 254)

On the flip side, the reasons we have for pursuing certain goals can in themselves shape those goals; and in discussing this we see Frow picking up a similar theme as Walker (read the review), namely, that how we search for life depends on how we define life.

Frow covers a lot of ground in this quite short article, but each point she makes is one worth making.