Filipinos in Space

By Philippe Lazaro
In the summer of 2021, a new space race took off.

Unlike the Space Race of the 20th Century, which was largely viewed with amazement, the ventures into space were frequently seen with skepticism. As billionaires Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk took privately chartered trips beyond the atmosphere, these ventures garnered a lot of public backlash against these displays of extravagance. Especially following a year where a pandemic and numerous social tensions exacerbated inequalities among people around the world.

That same summer, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest and most comprehensive report on climate change, a report that could be best summarized in the words of UN Secretary General Antonio Gutierres as a “code red for humanity.” The report emphasized how climate change was rapidly intensifying as a result of human activities, how it will affect every region of the world, and how we were on pace to almost certainly exceed the 1.5º C threshold of global warming wherein many damages would be irreversible.

Much of these space ventures at least gave lip service to climate change as a motivator. “It's this tiny little fragile thing,” Bezos said about the Earth upon his return, “and as we move about the planet, we're damaging it.” Elon Musk has long talked about the colonization and terraformation of Mars as a goal, in anticipation of an uninhabitable Earth.

These ambitions often take for granted the value of the Earth we have, and overlook the potential of numerous available climate solutions, from ecosystem restoration to reimagining infrastructure. While these solutions may not have the extravagance of forming settlements on Mars, they do not come from the perspective of our planet being disposable. Even space enthusiasts like British astronaut Tim Peak expressed disappointment around space tourism turning space travel into a luxury. “I personally am a fan of using space for science and for the benefit of everybody back on Earth,” he commented.

To me, the thought of terraforming Mars, and the language we often use around it, carries strong notes of colonialism. Often we literally talk about colonizing Mars, in spite of all the damage colonization has created throughout our current world. In fact, it has very likely created the crisis we now seek an escape from.

All this made me think more deeply about space, space travel, and even our imagination around space. So many epic works of art and pop culture have been created around space and the future, and a future that involves humans in space. However, almost all of these works have been created by imagining human behavior, and historical things like colonization and imperialism and transposing them into space. Even works that critique these systems still do so through worlds built on those systems.

What would a decolonized vision of space and the future even look like? We have more limited examples of this.

This all reminds me of this James Baldwin quote, “some people wish to colonize the moon and others dance before it as an ancient friend.”

Perhaps there are other imaginations around space and the future that aren’t all about conquest. In fact, when I think through my shallow knowledge of Chinese scholarship and Islamic contributions to the world of math and astronomy I know there are other imaginations around space. It’s present in both myth and science. You just need to know where to look.

I decided to look back at something I’m more familiar with, my Filipino ancestry, in order to draw out a new imagination for the future. A decolonized vision for space.

This project is playfully titled, Filipinos in Space.

Philippe Lazaro is a climate communicator, a storyteller, and a visual artist. His work strives to promote justice, presence, and hope through a global perspective. As the Communications Manager for the nonprofit Plant With Purpose, he aims to promote rural community development through ecological and spiritual lenses. He also hosts the Grassroots Podcast where he seeks to refocus the climate conversation on the people and communities who are most affected by the crisis at hand. Philippe’s visual art is inspired by lessons from nature, travel, and human resilience. His multidisciplinary approach to storytelling has uncovered a broad array of subjects ranging from the proliferation of Thai cuisine internationally to the false promises of recycling programs. He lives in Southern California with his wife and kids.