coe think tank explores habitability

2020-21 COE Think Tank fellows (l to r): Victoria Smolkin, David Grinspoon, Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Antonio Machado-Allison, Helen Poulos, Martha Gilmore.

Each academic year, the COE gathers a small group of Wesleyan faculty members, a scholar of prominence from outside Wesleyan, and undergraduate students into a year-long academic think tank on a critical environmental issue. The aim of the COE Think Tank is not only to generate a deeper understanding of the thematic issue, but also to produce scholarly works that will influence national/international thinking and action on the issue. The Think Tank theme for 2020-21 is Habitability: Cosmological, Planetary & Ethical Perspectives.

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departure gates with asif siddiqi

Wesleyan’s College of the Environment and History Department invited Dr. Asif Siddiqi, Professor of History at Fordham University in New York, to host his talk, Departure Gates: Postcolonial Histories of Space on Earth, on March 2, 2021.

Siddiqi specializes in the history of science and technology, and is the author of The Red Rockets’ Glare: Spaceflight and the Soviet Imagination, 1857-1957 (Cambridge, 2010), among other works surrounding the history of Soviet space technology. His current research interests have expanded to include global histories of science and technology, particularly in South Asia and Africa. These themes in Siddiqi’s work are what led him to be invited to campus as a guest of the College of the Environment’s 2021 Think Tank. Associate Professor of History Victoria Smolkin, who introduced Siddiqi, described the focus of this year’s Think Tank as “habitability in a cosmological, planetary, and ethical perspective.”

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cops on mars with lucianne walkowicz

On December 8, 2020, the College of the Environment welcomed Lucianne Walkowicz, an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago and co-founder of the JustSpace Alliance, to host their lecture, Cops on Mars: Policing and Weaponization of Space–in the Imagination and Beyond. They were introduced by Professor Mary-Jane Rubenstein and Professor David Grinspoon, both of whom are fellows in this year’s COE Think Tank, which focuses on the theme of “Habitability.”

The law of space has long been governed by international treaties, most dating back to the mid 20th century. But as both private and governmental interest in and access to space expand, both national laws as well as actions (by nations or non-state actors), may outpace the provisions of these treaties. At the same time, many of the most futuristic visions involving space (e.g. large-scale Mars habitation) are currently well beyond the realm of feasibility or practical deployment for all interested parties. Because of this practical gap, space and the landscapes of other worlds serve mostly as a backdrop against which those interested project their ideas about the future. The placement of law enforcement (in various forms) and the military occurs broadly in these futuristic space settings, from imagination-based learning exercises with children to the concrete plans of governments, to design-focused “vision-building” projects that bridge speculation and practice. Given that there is no a priori reason to assume that law enforcement would need to be included in places where the law itself is mostly unestablished, the placement of police or military actions in space is primarily a vector for the perpetuation of these systems into the future–both in space, and on Earth.

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