Building pathways for indigenous lunar science in Hawaiʻi

To improve participation and representation of Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in planetary science, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa researchers will soon begin a project titled Ka mālamalama o ka mahina: Building pathways for indigenous lunar science in Hawaiʻi. The $150,000, two-year project is funded through a NASA Office of STEM Engagement program, Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) for American Indian and Alaska Native STEM Engagement (MAIANSE), which serves Native American and Indigenous communities.

“Since the Apollo era, Hawai‘i has had an important role in lunar exploration and science,” said Emily Costello, lead investigator on the project and postdoctoral researcher in the Hawai‘i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) at the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST). “Hawaiian basalts are often used as an analog for moon rocks and the moonwalkers of the Apollo missions were trained in Hawai‘i. However, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have not been able to adequately share that history. With this project, we hope to build bridges, provide opportunities to participate in cutting-edge lunar science, and help to remedy this disconnect.”

The new project relies on collaboration between planetary scientists at UH Mānoa and HONUA Scholars, an organization founded to support Indigenous Hawaiians in college and graduate school enrollment and to empower Indigenous Hawaiians to become leaders in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). 

“With this program, we want to create a space for Indigenous youth to experience what planetary science has to offer, as well as carve out a space for their voices to be heard,” said Chiara Ferrari-Wong, collaborator on the project and doctoral candidate at HIGP. “We are so excited to collaborate with our friends at HONUA Scholars for this project, and work together to create a pathway that uplifts and supports Indigenous students.”

Lunar skylight research illuminates pathway

Participating Native Hawaiian undergraduate and high school students will be connected with and supported by scientists at UH Mānoa to pursue innovative lunar science projects. Their work will contribute to understanding the present state of the lunar soil in regions around lunar lava tube skylights—pits on the Moon where lava tubes are thought to have collapsed. These features present a unique view of layering of basalt and have also been identified as locations for future human exploration and shelter.

“I am particularly excited because this funding supports indigenous students presenting their work at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas, every year,” said Costello. “The students will have the opportunity to meet possible future collaborators and mentors and everyone at the conference will benefit from these students’ voices.”

Preparing for a monumental return to the moon

Through MAIANSE CONNECT, NASA is supporting proposals centered on the weaving of indigenous knowledge with NASA missions and which address the needs of indigenous communities to be served in culturally relevant and respectful ways. The effort is part of NASA’s preparation for the return to the Moon around 2025, when they aim to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon

“Reaching students with authentic STEM experiences and opportunities is an investment in the workforce we’ll need to meet our nation’s goals in space today, and in the future,” said Mike Kincaid, associate administrator for the Office of STEM Engagement at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “It’s vital we continue to collaborate with educational institutions and support their efforts to bring the excitement of NASA’s missions to the students in their communities.”

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