The Atlantic

No One Should ‘Colonize’ Space

Invoking language such as “manifest destiny” sends a signal about who belongs in America’s future in space and who doesn’t.
Source: MANDEL NGAN / AFP / Getty

American presidents, when they talk about the country’s space program, often reach for grandiose terms. John F. Kennedy spoke of setting sail on a new sea, and Lyndon B. Johnson of “space pioneers” bound for a “glorious New World.” George H. W. Bush likened space missions to Christopher Columbus’s voyage across the Atlantic, and George W. Bush harkened back to the expedition of Lewis and Clark. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama talked of exploring the next frontier.

Donald Trump, too, has picked up this theme of American expansionism, and pushed it even further. “In reaffirming our heritage as a free nation, we must remember that America has always been a frontier nation. Now we must embrace the next frontier: America’s manifest destiny in the stars,” Trump said earlier this year, during his State of the Union address. This summer, after the first American astronauts to fly on a SpaceX capsule launched to the International Space Station, the White House’s Twitter account cheered Americans as those “who pursued our Manifest Destiny”—capital M, capital D—“into the stars.”

In mentioning manifest destiny, Trump has resurrected an

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