Understanding our changing relationship with space: An international political economy reading of space popularisation

Sarah Lieberman
2017 Space policy  
1 Understanding our changing relationship with space: an international political economy reading of space popularisation Introduction Outer space and the skies to which to turn our gaze, are as central to human existence as the earth upon which we stand. For millennia, we have imagined outer space, and drawn on space for artistic, cultural and religious inspiration. However, the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have altered our perception of space: outer space is no longer solely the remit
more » ... f myths, legends and changing religious beliefs. Mankind has been to space, has harnessed near outer space for popular usage and has turned the basis for mythology and mystery into an aspect of our earthbound existence. Indeed, space-activity not only forms the basis of much popular fiction, but also provides material for contemporary media events. The moon landings in the late 1960s and early 1970s saw the dawn of international, live televised broadcasting and secured the place of space-activity as an element of pop-culture. Moreover, the popular use of space exploration to sell products, and the ever-increasing use of downstream space technologies and space-based satellite communication tools means that space-activity is as ubiquitous to 20 th and 21 st centuries as the capitalist consumerism it relies on for continued funding and the products that space-activities promote and advertise. How we relate to outer space relies on dominant understandings which hinge on the knowledge to which we are exposed. Space-activity is no longer based only in 'science fiction', nor reserved for astronauts and astronomers. Access to the internet, television and inexpensive telescopic equipment, alongside engagement with the products of space technology, means that popular interaction with space is an ever evolving and growing phenomenon. Early interactions with space based religious festivals on the cycles of the moon: for example, early Christianity tied the Easter festival to the "Sunday following the full moon which coincided with, or fell next after, the vernal equinox" [1]. As space technology has increased, so too has our understanding of the realm beyond our own, and as technology has spread, so too has public engagement. Although we have looked to the skies since time immemorial, the twentieth century was as a watershed period for space engagement: outer space became a tool in the Cold War, and with that, a tool not only of military strength, but also of power through knowledge, ideals and dominant discourse. As such, notions of 2 outer space entered the lexicon of popular culture, featuring in art, music, film and the cultural sphere of the mid-twentieth century. The first moon landing in 1969 precipitated enormous global enthusiasm for space and its technologies. However, other events, wars, recessions and depressions have prevented both the continued excitement, and continued manned space flight to the moon; as Smith notes "By the end [of the Apollo moon landings in 1972]...recession was bearing down and a darker harsher world was emerging" [2]. However, despite the drop in public space fervour and indeed in conscious interest in space-going activity, public, albeit often unconscious, engagement with space has in fact increased exponentially with the increase in space based technologies such as the GPS network, satellite television, mobile phone use, widespread broadband availability, and use of mobile 3 and 4G internet services. This paper argues that although we have seen a drop in the pop-culture use of space as a topic of interest, we have not seen a drop in public engagement with space, or public usage of space based technologies: what we have seen is a shift in engagement with space from an ideals based knowledge structure to a production based knowledge structure. We argue that this may be termed a technological shift: from conscious engagement and discourse formation in the 1950s and 1960s, to an unconscious technological engagement in the 2000s and 2010s. Acknowledging that popular engagement with outer space has increased with the spread of spacebased technologies, this paper establishes a two-fold understanding of the term 'space popularisation', linked to the political-economic structures of knowledge, power and hegemonic dominance. First, this article notes that the popularisation of space can be discussed in terms of the use of space and space activity by authors, poets, artists, and musicians as inspiration: thus popularising the topic of space while enhancing the cultural and artistic sphere in terms of what we may term an aspect of the cultural or knowledge structure of power. Second, this paper will emphasise the ever increasing and enhanced use of space for everyday communications, and the 'popular' use of downstream space technologies as everyday products. The spread of space based communication products, we class as the spread of knowledge and production, forming part of the important power structures outlined by Susan Strange. This paper addresses theoretical debates based in the school of International Political Economy (IPE), using empirical discussion of space activity alongside theoretical debate, to analyse and examine both the issues of power and the global hegemonic knowledge structure, and the question of space activity, space use and popular engagement.
doi:10.1016/j.spacepol.2017.04.004 fatcat:hacztar3crcl3iez7h4gsdrwcq