2018 Sammler, K. Meta Earth, virtual Mars: Science and colonialism on Hawaiian mountains tops. Islands of the World XVI. Frisian Islands, The Netherlands, 10-14 Jun.
Islands have long held the imaginations of continental populations as small, isolated, paradises. Colonialists and scientists alike have considered islands as blank slates, perfect laboratories (Matsuda 2007). Recent controversies surrounding the construction of a new Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) atop Mauna Kea have sparked vigorous protest campaigns and legal battles. Indigenous Hawaiians wish to protect this sacred site from further development, a peak with twelve existing telescope facilities already. The Hawaii Supreme Court granted the TMT permits in July, 2017. However, opponents have pledged to appeal the ruling as a violation of their Indigenous sovereignty, reminiscent of historic colonial power relations (Gagné 2012).
Nearby, on sister peak Mauna Loa, the other sky-high mountain of Hawaii, a NASA dome installation provides a training habitat for future astronauts. This undertaking, meant to study human behavior under extreme conditions of solitude, supplies virtual reality (VR) goggles to offer astronauts relief from the monotonous, red, rocky rubble landscape. This island mountain is a laboratory, simulating the isolated and empty landscape of Mars, in preparation to colonize the planet. The New York Times has been documenting these experiences with their own VR experience, where readers can join the astronaut trainees in the dome and their VR therapy through NYT VR. This virtual reality within a virtual reality is a layered, meta representation, a simulacrum (Deleuze 2004; Massumi 1987).
This research will utilize island studies and critical social theory to analyze how infrastructures employed by Western science is contested by Indigenous sovereign movements, as well as how persistent colonial island imaginaries contribute to the extraction of scientific knowledge through controversial power relations.