NASA faces controversy over the name Ultima Thule

This is a controversy that NASA did not see coming. The space agency’s probe New Horizons managed on January 1, 2019 the flyover of a small snow-shaped asteroid located 6.5 billion km from the Sun, a 31 km long astral body that the US Space Agency has chosen to nickname Ultima Thule. While many have celebrated this major feat, others on the hand have found controversy where there shouldn’t be none. NASA is now being critized for naming the asteroid Ultima Thule…

If NASA astronomers have chosen the name Ultima Thule, it is in reference to the island of Thule. Though, the mythical island has never been cartographed, it was mentioned in ancient times by the Greek explorer, Pytheas of Massalia. This piece of land from the extreme north (perhaps the Faroe Islands, between Iceland and Norway) has since become for the ancient writers the end of the known world.

Since then the island has become a powerful source of inspiration for countless authors, as the Belgian historian Monique Mund-Dopchie expounds in her essay The Survival of Literature of the Thule of Pytheas. Virgil and Seneca, for example, presented Thule as “a land of borders, an ultimate land”.

However, the controversy for NASA comes from the fact that Hitler and his henchmen have also used the mythical island to promote their Aryan supremacy ideology. The Nazis have in fact used the island – or the myth thereof – as the origin of the Indo-Europeans or Aryans. They described it as a mythical polar continent, which has since been engulfed.

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In fact, it was in 1917 that the far-right German adventurer Rudolf Glauer founded a “Thule society” whose emblem was a dagger surmounted by a swastika, in reference to this fantasy cradle of the Aryans. The society of Thule was later attended by some ideologues of the future Nazi party, as Alfred Rosenberg or the anti-Semitic writer Dietrich Eckart, who died in 1923 and who had a great influence on Hitler.

Now the question is: should this use of Ultima Thule have prevented NASA from using the name? During a press conference reported by Space.com, one of New Horizons’ prime contractors wanted to wring the controversy over the Space Agency’s choice: ”

I’ve said it a number of times, I think New Horizons is an example — one of the best examples in our time — of raw exploration, and the term Ultima Thule, which is very old, many centuries old, possibly over a thousand years old, is a wonderful name for exploration,” said Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute. “That’s why we chose it. I would say that just because some bad guys once liked that term, we’re not going to let them hijack it.”

What do you guys think?

Shakes Gilles

Editor of The Talking Democrat. He enjoys bike riding, kayaking and playing soccer. On a slow weekend, you'll find him with a book by the lake.