(A17)
Making Outer Space
Location Bowland North Seminar Room 23
Date and Start Time 26 Jul, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Valentina Marcheselli (University of Edinburgh) email
  • Deborah Scott (University of Edinburgh) email

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Short abstract

This panel aims to engage with the complex social dynamics through which Earth and Space are defined, enacted, and deployed in discourse and practice.

Long abstract

Outer space is increasingly a place of priority for public institutions and private enterprises all around the world. "Space" cannot be pinned down to one locality, nor it is simply Earth's antipode. Rather, the definition of outer space and its proper uses rests firmly on Earthly interests and politics.

Instead of treating Earth and Space as discrete entities and separate sites of human understanding, exploration and consumption, this panel aims to explore their entanglements and engage with the complex social dynamics through which Earth and Space are defined, enacted, and deployed in discourse and practice. Drawing on previous work in STS, anthropology, history, geography and cultural studies, this panel offers an opportunity for scholars to explore questions such as:

• How is outer space identified, studied and understood? How are distinctions between Outer Space and Earth made and held?

• How is space research managed, and what assumptions are embedded in these epistemic regimes?

• What is changing - or what alliances are sustained - in the culture, funding and narratives around aerospace industries?

• How are promises of repairing and caring for our wounded planet mirrored in discourses of outer space?

• How are outer space industries, law and policy, research, and imaginaries shifting to include nations that were formerly not space-faring?

• What possibilities are envisioned in future-related imaginaries about science? And what does it mean to be human and other-than-human in 'other-than-Earthly' futures? How are such relationships imagined, configured and engineered in space research?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Exoplanetology as "proximisation" policy

Author: Eve Seguin (Université du Québec à Montréal) email
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Short abstract

Combining the technical and scientific interests of several disciplines, exoplanet research turns out to be an exoplanet "proximisation" policy. Astronomy is thus a political endeavour in much the same way as 19th century microbiology.

Long abstract

The idea that planets exist outside our solar system dates back to 1584 when Giordano Bruno postulated that an infinite number of planets circle around their suns. After several false detections, the first exoplanetary system was confirmed in 1992. Thereafter, the search intensified and is highly successful with hundreds of exoplanets already confirmed and thousands awaiting confirmation.

Astronomers typically depict their search for exoplanets as a means to answers two questions. 1. What are the origins of life? 2. Is there life elsewhere? Exoplanets may seem to be as remote from any political agenda as they are from Earth, and exoplanet research may look like a pursuit of knowledge devoid of any practical implication. Things change when we acknowledge that exoplanetology lies at the intersection of several disciplines.

First, one significant feature of exoplanetology is that several planets have already been identified that share crucial features of the Earth, namely the size and orbiting zone. Such planets are of utmost importance for subcategories of researchers, especially radiobiologists. Secondly, exoplanets provide astronautical engineers and organizations with new and more challenging target destinations outside our solar system.

This paper will show that exoplanet research combines astronomers' scientific concerns with other technical and scientific interests. Our aim is to demonstrate that exoplanetology turns out to be an exoplanet "proximisation" policy, and that astronomy is a political endeavour in much the same way as 19th century microbiology (Latour, 1983, 1984).

Towards an anthropology of gravity: body and affect in the extra-terrestrial

Authors: Aaron Parkhurst (University College London) email
David Jeevendrampillai (University College London) email
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Short abstract

Borrowing from theories within Anthropology, experiments in human cognition, and published evidence from living aboard space-stations, this paper examines the force of Gravity as a profound nexus of social relations, working intimately between the human body and its ability to generate emotion.

Long abstract

The conditions of spaceflight have afforded humans the opportunity to question normative ways in which of human beings orient themselves. This paper argues that ethno-physical conditions of living can be better understood when they are contextualised by the underlying forces that operate subtly throughout them. It draws upon experiences in laboratories that study cognition and motor control in alternative gravitation environments, from artists who play with touch and emotion in microgravity conditions, and from Astronaut and Cosmonaut narratives aboard the MIR space-station to theorise how gravity offers a unique vantage point through which to consider the human body's relationship to emotion, cognition, and the curation of social relations. Drawing upon theorists in the Anthropology of the Body in Movement, it is posited that dynamically embodied action can be understood further through taking seriously the material and physical conditions in which these dynamics are performed.

Terracentric ontologies/epistemologies and the limits of thinking outside and beyond the Earth

Author: Craig Jones (Lancaster University) email
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Short abstract

Terracentrism has typically been applied within astrobiology yet is relevant to STS when considering the making of outer space. I attempt to extend the term to include our ontological and epistemological positionings in relation to outer space and query whether we can escape terracentrism.

Long abstract

Discussions of terracentric modes of thought have typically been applied within the field of astrobiology, referring to the various expectations of otherworldly life based solely upon what we know of life on Earth. However, this concept has purchase outside of astrobiology and can provide us with useful modes of thought when considering the 'making of outer space'. Indeed, Valentine (2017) uses the idea of outer space and the bodily relation to/in it to consider questions of humanness and being, troubling our understanding(s) of humanness and the manner(s) in which we relate to our environment(s). In a similar fashion, I seek to use the concept of terracentricity and apply it to our ontological and epistemological understanding(s)/relation(s) to outer space and consider what this means for debates on the construction of outer space.

This talk will attempt to extend the definition of terracentricity to include the process(es) through which one takes Earthbound (or Terran) experiences, expectations, and understandings and projects them onto thoughts of, and relations with, extraterrestrial bodies and phenomena (e.g. asteroids, other planets with different masses, atmospheres, and gravity). These considerations will engage with different imaginaries of outer space, asking whom they serve and the expectations they draw upon - from power relations, to the histories they draw upon - to examine the ontological and epistemological assumptions they make and to ultimately ask whether the way(s) in which we engage with and construct outer space can ever escape the trap of terracentrism?

Unearthing the Moon's secrets: science and extractivism in ESA's and NASA's lunar station concepts

Author: Tamara Alvarez (The New School ) email
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Short abstract

Drawing on ethnographic material gathered during a two-year fieldwork at ESA and international space organizations, this paper examines the uneasy marriage between scientists and extractive industries in the second race for the Moon.

Long abstract

In 2015 the European Space Agency's newly appointed Director General announced his ambition towards a Moon Village, a permanent base on the lunar south pole. Advocates insisted on the settlement's scientific promises, including the billion-year history of the Solar System that hides in the Moon's untouched geologic record, waiting to be unearthed. In the last two years, space mining companies' increased support of the concept has further encouraged the agency's research on extractive technologies, revealing important synergies between science and industry; however, some scientists —in particular, astronomers and astrobiologists— remain wary of companies' participation on the grounds of planetary protection. On the other side of the Atlantic, NASA too has set its sights on the Moon: after years of efforts towards a science-oriented Journey to Mars, under Trump NASA has veered moonwards —and profitwards. The leading candidate for next NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine, champions the establishment of an American-led mining-based cislunar economy, and a new concept —an orbital lunar station, or Deep Space Gateway— is being designed to facilitate, above all, commercial operations. How are scientists and industries co-constituting the ways in which ESA's and NASA's concepts are coming into being? In what ways is a logic of extraction, at play in both for-profit and scientific activities, shaping these visions? Drawing on ethnographic material gathered during two years of fieldwork at ESA and international space organizations, this paper examines the uneasy marriage between scientists and extractive industries in the second race for the Moon.

On the social afterlife of space-junk

Author: Valentina Marcheselli (University of Edinburgh) email
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Short abstract

This paper looks into the monitoring and tracking of orbital debris in order to map out some of the new political, economic and technologically mediated relationships coalesced around the growing pollution of the imagined boundary between Earth and space.

Long abstract

Since the late 1950s, Earth's orbit has been populated by an ever increasing number of artificial objects. This imaginary interface between our planet and outer space is crossed, more and more often, by spacecraft operated for a number of different but intertwined purposes (scientific, commercial, military). Despite their functioning is limited to a finite timeframe, their orbital motion, requiring no extra energy to be preserved, keeps on for what seems an endless time. This multitude of artificial objects - from non-functional spacecraft to abandoned launch vehicle stages, or fragmentation debris - both envelopes the planet and stretches human presence into space.

Rhetorics of space exploration often present imaginaries in which improved technological capabilities offer solutions to some of the major environmental issues confronted on Earth. Optimal recycling of resources or the terraforming of desert planets are only a few examples in which promises about outer space futures resemble environmental utopias. What can be considered the first stage of human permanent expansion into space shows in fact a different scenario, which does not break up completely with Earthly logics of power, despite offering an opportunity to challenge and rethink them.

Space debris is not simply meandering material scattered across a void space. On the contrary, the negotiation of responsibilities, the implementations of monitoring and tracking systems, and the assessment of risks connected to the continuous re-entry on Earth's atmosphere allow the mapping of new subjectivities and new forms of sociality which are often neglected in triumphalist rhetoric of space exploration.

Space tourism: a case of novel needs

Author: Harro van Lente (Maastricht University) email
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Short abstract

In this paper I will investigate the contested case of space tourism and the various ways in which new needs are mobilized. Struggles for the prospective market for space tourism bring forth particular visions of the future of space tourism and of novel needs.

Long abstract

STS has challenged the standard notion that technology is developed to fulfil pre-given needs. Empirical studies show that when technologies are promised, developed and used, many things change in the same movement, including needs and, eventually, rights, when new needs have become self-evident. The malleability of needs raises intriguing questions about how novelty and needs are co-produced and whether such changes can be anticipated. Also, when needs are not pre-given, but dependent upon socio-technical configurations, and, in fact, both cause and effect of technological change, the question emerges what desirable directions are. In this paper I will investigate the contested case of space tourism and the various ways in which new needs are mobilized. Space tourism is not yet seen as a need, but that may change in due course. Several operators now offer space travel for private persons, or, at least, promise to organize such travels on a regular basis in the near future, with dropping costs. In their attempts to define and inhabit the prospective market for space tourism, these operators bring forth particular visions of the future of space tourism and why people would need it. In this case study I will investigate the unfolding of needs and the mobilization of publics in space tourism. Data are drawn from newspaper articles (2010-2017), websites of operators, popular books on space travel and governmental documents.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.