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Transgenders In Space

The awokening of NASA
Transgenders In Space

In a thread to another post, a reader commented:

I have followed NASA’s efforts recently, and it is no wonder why they are having trouble getting into space again. All of the videos they put out are soooo politically correct. They must overrepresent women, and pretend that all space achievements are done by women. When interviewing the teams that land a rover on Mars, women are over represented and you get the idea that women are doing all the serious work at NASA. This comes from the 8 years of the Obama administration. They are now one big Social Justice organization.

I don’t know about that; I don’t follow any of it. But the reader’s comment reminded me of  a letter I received earlier this summer from a reader who works at NASA (I checked out the reader’s background to see what s/he does at NASA). The reader said that NASA campuses (e.g., the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena) have been having Pride Month activities that seem silly, maybe, but haven’t touched on science. It was mostly stuff like this:

But one event — this one also, as it happens, at JPL — really concerned this reader, who wrote about a presentation by one Adriana Knouf. The reader writes of concern that wokeness is bleeding over into science in a detrimental way:

One would assume the Adriana is giving a talk to the San Francisco transcendental poets collective, but no, it’s at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
NASA has always been a progressive place; it comes with the territory of believing in the transcendence of Man through technology and scientific discovery—it’s NASA’s main tenet, really. But this? Science is compromised.
Here’s what transgendered Adriana Knouf’s presentation at JPL was about: “Imagining Transgender/Non-Binary People In Space”:

Abstract: As far as we know, there have been no transgender people in space. Yet transgender people—as well as others who engage in extensive body modification necessary for survival, such as disabled folx—might be the most suited for space travel given our somatic experiences of deep xenological transformations. Such transformations will likely be required for survival and thriving both in extraterrestrial as well as future terrestrial environments. Speaker and Xenologist Adriana Knouf will explore these issues through projects in her newly launched tranxxeno lab, a nomadic artistic research laboratory that investigates the productive entanglements between entities trans and xeno.

The first project, “TX-1”, launched fragments of Knouf’s hormone replacement medications to the International Space Station and marked the first-known time that elements of the transgender experience orbit the earth. “TX-1” ultimately safely returned to the surface of the earth. This was a symbolic exodus from a planet that is often inhospitable to us, yet its return was a sign of resilience. Knouf also started a new project, tentatively entitled “Xenological Entanglements: 001. Plurigenesiology”, that explores the production of exogenous estradiol in microgravity conditions. These projects lead us to consider the audacity of queer and transgender futures in space, questions of more-than-human enhancement that connect to the historical legacy of the cyborg. They are also part of Knouf’s research into xenology, or the study, analysis, and development of the strange, the alien, the other. Alongside these projects and concepts, she will also interweave important aspects of her experiences with queerness and transness that are fundamentally intertwined with her work.

Speaker Bio:

Adriana Knouf, Ph.D. (she/her/hers, sie/hir/hirs) works as a xenologist and as an artist-scientist-writer-designer-engineer. She engages with topics such as space art, satellites, radio transmission, non-human encounters, drone flight, queer and trans futurities, machine learning, the voice, and papermaking. She is the founding facilitator of the tranxxeno lab, a nomadic artistic research laboratory that promotes entanglements amongst entities trans and xeno.

Knouf is also an Assistant Professor of Art + Design at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. She is the author of “How Noise Matters to Finance” (2016) and numerous other journal articles, book chapters, and conference papers dealing with topics as varied as bioart, queer and trans existences, papermaking and electronics, weird temporalities, radio, and surveillance. She has been selected for a number of prestigious residencies, including a Biofriction residency (SI), participation in Field_Notes (FI), and a project at the Wave Farm (US). Her past work has been recognized by a number of awards, including as a prize winner in The Lake’s Works for Radio #4 (2020) and an Honorary Mention by Prix Ars Electronica in 2005.

Fascinating. So, fifty-one years after Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the moon, humanity has sent a transgendered person’s hormone replacement meds into space.

What does it mean that NASA hosts presentations by drag queens talking about their romps in the woods, and lectures from promoters of “entanglements amongst entities trans and xeno”? Serious question. One can easily imagine lectures about LGBT scientists and their lives and work, but this? What does it mean? I’m not asking rhetorically. Is there any deeper meaning to it? The reader said s/he is worried that the Knouf presentation compromises science. What do you think?

UPDATE: A reader points out that rocket scientist Jack Parsons, a founder of JPL, was a sex cultist and black magic practitioner who was involved in occult circles with L. Ron Hubbard.

UPDATE.2: A reader comments:

I work at JPL. All I will say is that there is relentless wokeness propaganda, be it in the form of emails (from JPL, NASA, and Caltech), posters, or lab-wide TV feeds. The people I work with are not overtly woke/leftist, but the people who send communiques are possessed by it. Clearly there are people here who are more focused on cultural revolution than on science and engineering.

Another reader said that yesterday, JPL’s administration sent this out:

Today I would like to outline the steps that JPL is taking related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. When we bring together people with diverse experiences and foster a culture of belonging, we sow the seeds of innovation, collaboration, and excellence. Research shows that having diverse teams not only empowers employees to reach their fullest potential, it also leads to better decision-making, increased creativity, and superior outcomes in team settings.

JPL leadership is committing to new actions that will shape the Lab of the future with teams that are representative of this nation’s diversity. These actions stem from recent productive conversations with members of the Executive Council, the Black Excellence Strategic Team (B.E.S.T.), the Employee Resource Group (ERG) Council, the Inclusion Advisory Committee (IAC), and allies across the Lab. It is important to acknowledge the efforts these groups have put into these recommendations, and we truly appreciate their partnership as we forge the path forward.

Here are 10 actions we will be taking:

  1. We will release internal demographic data that are similar to what other NASA and FFRDCs publish in their annual reports. We will continue to collect additional data that will help us measure our progress in all areas of diversity.
  2. We will make Unconscious Bias Training mandatory for all line managers, project managers, system managers, and product delivery managers, effective this year.
  3. We will offer a suite of courses focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion topics for employees to choose from each year. It will be mandatory for employees to engage in one of these courses each year.
  4. We will more widely implement Bystander Training and will strongly encourage all employees to engage with this course.
  5. We will implement an annual half-day of reflection on a non-RDO Friday for personal training, learning, and engagement. This will be charged to incidental time.
  6. We will convene town halls with JPL leadership and outside speakers in order to increase awareness and understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion concerns and actions. The next town hall will be Tuesday, July 14.
  7. We will facilitate “listening sessions” for employees to share, learn, and engage.
  8. We will curate the Inclusion website with a collection of resources about diversity, equity, and inclusion, available to all JPL employees.
  9. We will explore the best way to create and fund a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Office and supporting roles.
  10. We will continue to communicate to the Lab that retaliation, racial discrimination, microaggressions, or any form of reprisals will not be tolerated for those who participate in ERGs and related activities supporting social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion at the Lab, and/or in the scientific and technical communities with which we are engaged. Our Nondiscrimination and Equal Employment Opportunity policy can be found here.

In addition to these actions, I’d like to highlight our investments in several ongoing activities and initiatives – including, but not limited to, increasing our recruiting efforts and internships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority-serving institutions; continuing to work with Caltech on research fellowships; increasing outreach to local underserved high schools; and enhancing other recruiting, mentoring, and awareness efforts led by our HR and Education departments. You can find a list of these activities here: https://inclusion.jpl.nasa.gov/inclusion-jpl/.

Inclusion is a core value, and a diverse and equitable work environment are mission-critical at JPL. Just as we are fearless in doing the impossible, we must also be fearless in taking action, respecting our employees’ experiences, acknowledging their hurt, and being a catalyst for positive change. Thank you for joining us on this journey.

So now the people who are supposed to be getting us into space will have some of their bandwidth taken up watching out for microaggressions, acknowledging employees’ “hurt,” and taking forced “diversity, inclusion, and equity” courses. Great. “Bystander training” is training people to get involved when they see an aggression, or a microaggression, happening. JPL will be training its scientists and support staff to police each other. The insane thing is that managers who buy into this ideology really do believe it will improve the workplace. What it does, rather, is make people paranoid and neurotic. Ordinary human interactions become impossible.

In my case, in a newsroom where I once worked, I remarked that a Pakistani mob that burned down a Danish consulate over the Mohammed cartoons were “savages.” A black co-worker reported me to the boss for creating a “hostile work environment” for using that word to describe a berserk mob that burned down an embassy over a cartoon! And this mob wasn’t even black! I didn’t get sent to HR over that, but if I had, that would have been the end of me at that company; no way would a newspaper as risk-averse and as woke as that one have stood by me if I faced that kind of complaint. I was well aware after that incident that my black co-worker, with whom I had been friends for years — he was a nice guy, in fact — had the power to destroy my career on a whim. I avoided him after that, and had to fight the inner urge to hate him for what he had done, and the power he exercised over me. Every word I used within his hearing I weighed, wondering if he might consider the most innocent syllables as a racist microaggression. I never felt safe in that office again.

So this JPL managerial propaganda about all this new hyperawareness being a “catalyst for positive change” is bunk. It’s bunk everywhere it is asserted. It’s a catalyst for destroying esprit de corps in the workforce.

UPDATE.3: A new comment just appeared:

I am an engineer at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston attempting to develop new spacecraft. I don’t want to give details, but trust me when I say that I am intimately involved in the development and testing of our next generation human spacecraft. While I do see some “wokeness” where I work, I would say at this point it is mild and not something that impacts our day to day progress (or lack thereof). Our center is in a conservative region of a conservative state so that may have something to do with it, but really I don’t see overwhelming wokeness as even a minor problem at this time.

That said, our manned civilian space program is failing and I think may end in the next 10-15 years when the ISS inevitably becomes unmaintainable and uninhabitable due to age. I think our failures are not very much to do with wokeness but rather with a general loss of competence and real innovation in our engineering. The state of the art in aerospace has not advanced since probably the mid 70’s with the development of the Space Shuttle, and realistically, its peak was the mid/late 60s with Apollo (obviously) but also the DOD x-plane systems, and Concorde, which in their own ways pushed the envelope as much or even more than Apollo. I can only hope that on the military side our aerospace systems are moving along better, but I have my doubts.

Personally, I have become quite disillusioned in my job, because I feel that I spend 70-80% of my time on “make work”, basically proving that our systems satisfy an overwhelming number of inane requirements to a massive army of bureaucratic engineers in “quality” and “safety” organizations that far outnumber the productive engineers doing real development, test and operations. We are much too risk averse, but despite that often miss real risks due to increased reliance on automation and reduced operational skill of the controllers/pilots/astronauts. While not a NASA example, I think this “new” paradigm is perfectly illustrated in the 737 MAX debacle: a system designed by software-ish engineers that do not understand flying, ignored by Boeing management and the FAA, and flown by incompetent and poorly trained crews.

I stay because of the good pay and benefits, and I think that I do some good work, but I am very frustrated, and basically hoping to just tread water for the next 15 years until I can retire early and work full time in some kind of Christian service using my technical skills (I’m not much of a people person so traditional ministry does not really appeal to me).

Hope this helps explain some of our lack of progress in recent decades. Wokeness won’t by any means help, but so far I think our wounds are more self inflicted.

UPDATE.4: An engineer who grew up in a communist country e-mails just now. He has e-mailed me in the past to complain about the state of engineering and engineering education in the US. He said we are losing the ability to build things. He also told me recently that “soft totalitarianism” will not remain soft for long. He writes today:

 Your Updater #3 is overly optimistic and nice … and! I totally understand his dilemma.
Why am I saying that? As a followup on my soft vs hard email, I’d add this: as soon as we add rigorous diversity requirements to the already sorry state of science and engineering, bridges will start to collapse, planes will drop from the sky, people  will start dying on operating tables. Having a bridge land on your kid’s head will upset some people.
a) if this insanity is perpetrated by the woke capitalists only, they will be blamed and this will do them in (with some unpleasant effects for the minorities).
b) if the government (something that will emerge from the Trojan horse Biden) happens to be on the same page as the wokesters, the situation will be blamed on external actors – reactionaries,  saboteurs, diversants: the bridge collapsed because a white supremacist tampered with the black engineer’s design; the patient died because a white supremacist swapped the anesthetic for HCN, etc. This will be time to reassure the public decisively … show trials, kangaroo courts … you know, the whole shebang.
I really think that the soft stage — because it is based on lies — is, at best, a metastable state.
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