The US Biden-Harris administration is investing in addressing the lack of diversity and inclusion in space.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced on April 9 that its new Artemis program will land the first person of color on the moon and the first woman and the next man on the lunar south pole by 2024.
The only people who touched the moon’s surface in 1972 were white men. No humans have ever visited the lunar south pole before, according to CNN.
The missions will be possible thanks to President Joe Biden’s 2022 budget request recently submitted to Congress. The budget calls $24.7 billion in funding for NASA, a more than 6% increase from 2020.
The increase in funding demonstrates the Biden administration’s commitment to NASA’s efforts and successes despite the COVID-19 pandemic, NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk said in a statement.
"The president's discretionary request increases NASA's ability to better understand Earth and further monitor and predict the impacts of climate change,” Jurczyk added.
The new funding will also provide NASA with the resources to advance the US’ Moon to Mars space exploration plan while providing new funding for the agency’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) outreach in underserved communities, he explained.
"Women and people of color represent a significant contributing portion of all facets of NASA's workforce,” Bhavya Lal, acting NASA chief of staff, told CNN.
The Artemis mission, named after the Greek moon goddess and the twin sister of the god Apollo, introduced 18 astronauts in December 2020, including several people of color and nine women. Two others astronauts are yet to be announced.
The last two national astronaut classes have included the highest percentage of women in history, Lal added. Women accounted for 50% of the national class in 2013 and 45% of the 2017 class. Today, people of color make up a quarter of NASA’s astronaut corps.
While space exploration has seen an increase in diversity, STEM overall remains fraught with inequality. The United Institute for Statistics reported less than 30% of the world’s researchers working in science are women. Researchers have attributed the lack of representation of Black people in the planetary sciences to the lack of a supportive environment and financial challenges in pursuing degrees in both subjects. People of color only accounted for 9% of STEM faculty members in 2017.
"So much of what NASA does is inspire the next generation, but in order to be successful in that inspiration, we have to continue to be leaders when it comes to diversity and equity,” Lal said.