Indigenous & Anticolonial Views of Human Activity in Space: Mars and Beyond


October 8, 2021
11:30am — 1:00pm ET

The Space Enabled research group will host Parvathy Prem, David Shane Lowry, Ren Freeman and Monica Vidaurri in a discussion of the exploration of Mars, astrobiology and interactions with potentially habitable environments, and our long-term futures in space with  respect to Anticolonialism and indigenous perspectives on human activity in space. The organizing team includes Prof Danielle Wood, Seamus Lombardo, Frank Tavares, and Pedro Reynolds-Cuéllar of Team Space Enabled in collaboration with Alvin Harvey of MIT's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

This is the third in a series of events on "Indigenous & Anticolonial Views of Human Activity in Space" hosted by the team. The first event in the series, held on May 14 was called "Panel Discussion with Dr. John Herrington: Indigenous & Anticolonial Views of Human Activity in Space;" the second event on August 13 was entitled, "Indigenous & Anticolonial Views of Human Activity in Space: Panel discussion on near-term issues of lunar exploration." Captioned videos of the previous events are available at the preceding links.


Name: Dr. Parvathy Prem 

Affiliation: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Bio: Dr. Parvathy Prem is a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, where her research focuses on using computational methods to study the environments of Solar System worlds with very thin (or barely there) atmospheres, and the stories that they have to tell. Current projects include investigating the origins of water on the Moon, and how spacecraft exhaust gases may temporarily change the lunar surface and exosphere. Dr. Prem is a member of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission’s science team, and a co-investigator on two teams of the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute. Parvathy was born in Kerala, India, and grew up in the UK and India. She holds a Ph.D. and M.S. from the University of Texas at Austin, and a B.Eng. from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, all in aerospace engineering.


parvathy prem

Name: David Shane Lowry

Affiliation: MIT History Department

Bio: David Shane Lowry is the Distinguished Fellow in Native American Studies. In this role, David is leading a new conversation at MIT about the responsibilities of MIT (and science/technology education, more generally) in the theft of American Indian land and the dismantling of American Indian health and community. Since 2013, David has lectured across the United States – roles in which he has become well versed in conversations at the intersection of race, (health) science & popular culture. His first book, titled Lumbee Pipelines (under contract with University of Nebraska Press), explores American Indian utilization of colonial conditions to create opportunities that are both uplifting and oppressive. His second book, titled Black Jesus, is an ethnography of Michael Jordan. It began when David realized that he and Jordan shared the same anthropology advisor at UNC … 23 years apart. David was an undergraduate at MIT. During those years, he led AISES (American Indian Science & Engineering Society) and OMESAC (the Office of Minority Education Student Advisory Committee). He is always looking for a pick-up basketball game. 


David Shane Lowry

Name: Monica Vidaurri

Affiliation: Stanford University

Bio: Monica Vidaurri (she/her) is a planetary science PhD student at Stanford University. Her undergraduate degrees are in biology and government and international politics with a concentration in law, philosophy, and governance. Originally from San Antonio, Texas, Monica has held positions in the federal government, non-profit sector, and as a university and NASA scientist. Monica’s astrobiology experiences include exoplanet observation and characterization, and planetary science. Her policy experiences lie in international politics, ethics, and space policy. The two fields meet at the intersection of the ethics and philosophy of exploration, and planetary protection, which fuels her passions in ensuring humanity adopts proactive, transparent, and ethical standards of space exploration, as well as bridging the gaps between the science world and the policy world. Monica is also a musician, and teaches high school and drum corps brass and visual ensembles. 


Monica Vidaurri

Name: Ren Freeman

Affiliation: Director of Indigenous Research Center, Salish Kootenai College

Bio: Ren Freeman, an Eastern Shoshone woman from the Wind River reservation in Wyoming, is a 4-fielded Indigenous Anthropologist who has a thirty-plus year career prior to returning to graduate school to finish her doctorate, at the University of Montana (UM). She is often seen traveling and “in the field" with her faithful companion, her Beagle-boy Foley. Ren is also a professor for UM, teaching a Core Required Anthropology course titled, Culture and Society with an emphasis on effects of Globalization on world cultures—this course has also been articulated within the UM International Development Studies program. Ren also designed and teaches a course for the UM Native Studies Program, from an Indigenous perspective, that surveys Oral and Written Traditions of Indigenous Peoples. She is a Sloan Indigenous Program scholar and her dissertation research seeks to Understand Impacts to Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) from use of remote sensing technologies and GIS within landscape archaeological surveys, and their influences on Indigenous Practitioner use of ITEK and also Tribal Leader decision making regarding cultural heritage and natural resource management. This study utilizes her interest and experience in designing and practicing research through the design and use of Indigenous Research Methodological (IRM) frames, that includes use and design of culture-based methods and also development and use of a congruent analytic tool referred to as Newe’ Reasoning. Through this work she looks at the question, Are Colonial Methodologies Migrating into off-earth Space. This question is related to another topic she explores through her work as Director of the Indigenous Research Center (IRC) for the Salish Kootenai College in Montana, which is: "IRMs and the Science of Being Off-Earth.” Her work with the IRC is funded through a generous grant from the National Science Foundation and enables the creation of a model of learning that situates IRMs in relation with STEM-based subjects and learning. Additionally, Ren is the President and Chair of the intercontinental American Indigenous Research Association (iAIRA) which has a global membership centered around development and use of IRM. 


Ren Freeman


All times are in Eastern Time.

Introductory Presentations from Panelists | 11:30 AM

Introductory presentations from speakers on their background and work.

Panel Discussion moderated by Dr. Danielle Wood | 12:00 PM

Discussion between panelists on topics of Mars exploration, astrobiology and interactions with potentially habitable environments with respect to anticolonialism and indigenous perspectives, moderated by Dr. Danielle Wood.

Audience Question and Answer Session | 12:30 PM

Audience members will have the chance to ask questions of the panelists, moderated by Dr. Danielle Wood.

Event Organizers

Dr. Danielle Wood - Space Enabled research group, MIT Media Lab and Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Bio: Professor Danielle Wood serves as an Assistant Professor in the Program in Media Arts & Sciences and holds a joint appointment in the Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Within the Media Lab, Prof. Wood leads the Space Enabled research group which seeks to advance justice in Earth's complex systems using designs enabled by space. Prof. Wood is a scholar of societal development with a background that includes satellite design, earth science applications, systems engineering, and technology policy. In her research, Prof. Wood applies these skills to design innovative systems that harness space technology to address development challenges around the world. Prior to serving as faculty at MIT, Professor Wood held positions at NASA Headquarters, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Aerospace Corporation, Johns Hopkins University, and the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs. Prof. Wood studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she earned a PhD in engineering systems, SM in aeronautics and astronautics, SM in technology policy, and SB in aerospace engineering.


Koji Furukawa

Alvin Harvey - Human Systems Lab,  Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics,  MIT

Bio:  Alvin Donel Harvey is a MIT PhD candidate in the Aeronautics and Astronautics department’s Human Systems Lab and a member of the Navajo Nation. He is of the Tó-baazhni'ázhi (Two Who Came To the Water) clan and born for the Honágháahnii (One-walks-around) clan. His current PhD research focuses on developing virtual reality systems for satellite constellation development, operation, and management; as well as developing methods of analyzing space technology as tool for tribal sovereignty. Prior work of Alvin includes research in partial gravity biomechanics and simulation, applied thermodynamics, and extensive historical research examining cases of conflict between Indigenous Nations and space agencies and entities. His current historical work also includes examining MIT’s ties to Indigenous land and lives through the Morrill Land Grant Acts, MIT’s relationship with its own Indigenous students, and its associations with local Indigenous Nations.

As the president of the MIT Native American Student Association he continues to be an advocate for Indigenous students at MIT, working together with MIT’s chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society to have MIT celebrate its first Indigenous Peoples’ Day, create an on-campus space for Indigenous students, and address historical concerns and conflicts between MIT and Indigenous people. He studied mechanical engineering at New Mexico State University (BS), while attaining his private pilot’s license, and Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT in the Human Systems Lab (SM ’20, PhD in progress). As Alvin continues his technical research he also continues to concentrate on advocating for Indigenous view points and space policy throughout the various space exploration fields.


Alvin Harvey

Frank Tavares - Space Enabled research group , MIT Media Lab

Bio:  Frank Tavares is a science writer joining the Space Enabled research group as an Affiliated Researcher, where they are thrilled to conduct research exploring an anti-colonial approach to space exploration, particularly in how to approach interactions with other planetary bodies. They have experience in science communications, astronomy, interactive and prose fiction, playwriting, and more. Working with an interdisciplinary group of scholars, they also were the lead author of “Ethical Exploration and the Role of Planetary Protection in Disrupting Colonial Practices,” a submission to the 2023-2032 Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey. Frank grew up in San Diego, CA and graduated from Amherst College in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Astronomy.


Kate Leary

Pedro Reynolds-Cuellar - Space Enabled research group, MIT Media Lab

Bio:  Pedro is a Doctoral Student based at the Space Enabled group in the MIT Media Lab and the Future Heritage Lab at the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology. He received his Bachelor’s of Sciences in Linguistics from the National University of Colombia, where he worked on articulatory phonetics, and signal processing. He did his masters with the Personal Robots group at the MIT Media Lab, where he focused on designing mechanisms to foster children's socio-emotional skills such as empathy, through interactions with social robots. Currently, he studies and documents ancestral technologies in Colombia, as well as the design practices that led to their existence. He uses insights from this work to propose design practices and philosophies that can lead to the development of more sustainable and just technologies.


Pedro Reynolds-Cuellar

Seamus Lombardo - Space Enabled research group, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, MIT

Bio:  Seamus Lombardo is an AeroAstro PhD student conducting research in Space Enabled. He is working on using remote sensing and integrated complex systems modeling to support sustainable development.

Seamus previously conducted research on spacesuit performance and received his Master's degree in AeroAstro from MIT in May, 2020. He received his BS in Aerospace Engineering from SUNY Buffalo in 2018. He has previously interned throughout the aerospace engineering industry at Millennium Space Systems, SpaceX, and NASA and was a program manager for the University at Buffalo Nanosatellite Lab.

Additionally, Seamus is active in politics and advocacy through his work with MIT Democrats, Bluebonnet Data, MITvote and the MIT Graduate Student Council's External Affairs Board.


Seamus Lombardo

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