It was promoted for World Science Festival ticket sales of $42@ as the “We Will Be Martians” event. But last night’s show once onstage at NYU’s Skirball Center was dished to the 400-500 people who’d sloshed through a nasty rainstorm to attend as “a hypothetical trip to Mars.”
The event, sponsored by John Templeton Foundation, came complete with Saturday matinee 3-D glasses. The audience would have to settle for a panel of lesser known NASA and NASA-affiliated experts, a current director of the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum as “captain” of the crew to Mars, and endure the grating voice of a has-been television newscaster as moderator of a voyage 2,000 times longer than that from Earth-to-Moon.
It was a chewing of fat comparable to one you might see on TV’s The View. Or in planning a trip to the Hamptons: What kind of food should we take? Who should we invite? What to wear? What’s the house like on Mars?
It is an understatement to say this gab session was a letdown following Martin Rees’s recent exacting presentation at Simons Foundation, where Rees referred to a post-human habitation of Mars.
So why the WSF cheap exercise and disturbing spectacle of lights, which sent me fleeing to a corner of the balcony for a top-down view? Just what was the subtext of “We Will Be Martians”?
There was no opportunity for the audience to ask such a question, no Q&A followed the 90-minute program. The panel simply walked off the stage.
But NASA and Templeton have been ramping up their collaboration in recent years. NASA has been trying to generate funding for its projects through Templeton’s outreach to religious groups—most visibly with the 2015-2017 NASA/Templeton/CTI inquiry into how religious groups would respond to the discovery of life in outer space.
It is unclear, by the way, how much of America still considers itself religious. Nevertheless, the WSF Martian event appears to be more of the same. A pitch for NASA funding sponsored by Templeton.
What percentage of the Skirball audience was religious? Curiously, that question was not part of the two-page survey handed to attendees at the entrance—compiled by Audience Research & Analysis, an organization that helps government agencies and cultural agencies to “move forward with decision research.”
But, AR&A did ask such provocative questions as (full form follows):
Are you male, female, transgender or gender nonconforming?
How old are you?
Are you Hispanic or Latino? (US residents only)
What race are you? (US residents only)
Is it important for humans to go to Mars?
WHAT WAS YOUR HOUSEHOLD INCOME LAST YEAR?
You could participate in a drawing to win 1 of 20 WSF T-shirts if you answered AR&A’s questions. . .
The quality of programming in recent years at WSF has been seriously compromised. Space exploration will not be advanced by serving the public cheap, sleazy science fiction and by sexual, racial, age and income profiling.