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Great Moment Theory, Representation, and Role Models

Loren Grush wrote a really nice piece over at The Verge, about the cognitive dissonance of DM-2:

At 9:30AM ET on Tuesday, three American astronauts symbolically rang the Nasdaq opening bell from space — a celebration of SpaceX’s historic launch that sent astronauts into orbit three days prior. The short ceremony played out live on the Nasdaq’s giant screen in Times Square, with various NASA personnel clapping as one astronaut clanged a bell on the International Space Station.

The video glowed over the same streets where, in the days and nights before, thousands of demonstrators had gathered nearby to protest systemic racism and police brutality against black Americans.

NASA astronauts ringing the opening bell is always going to be weird, but it’s especially tone deaf during nationwide protests of racism, an ongoing pandemic, and a widespread economic downturn.

It also seems quite certain that Great Moment Theory—the theory of an astonishing achievement uniting everyone across the country in a single moment—is rarely if ever true in the moment, and we tend to write those stories looking back from decades in the future.

Though NASA and its projects provide a source of hope through scientific advancement and inspiration, those things can often feel unreachable to many of us. However, the platform it provides for representation and for role models to step forward into the public eye is hugely important.

The joint NASA/SpaceX launch webcast was hosted by, among many others, SpaceX engineer (and frequent SpaceX webcast host) Lauren Lyons and beloved NASA astronaut Leland Melvin (who you probably remember as the astronaut with the dogs in his photo).

Lauren’s part in the webcast, in particular, led to what is probably the most wonderful video I’ve ever seen posted to Twitter—4 year old Ryan being thrilled to see someone who looks like her explaining spacecraft to millions of people. And Lauren responded!

The next flight of Dragon 2 will be carrying 4 crew members for an extended stay at ISS. Among them is Victor Glover, who quickly became my favorite active astronaut at the crew assignment announcement back in 2018. He’s got an incredible story so far, was contagiously ecstatic at the crew assignment event, and I cannot wait for his flight to the ISS, where he’ll be the first black astronaut to fly as a long-duration member of an ISS Expedition.