Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

The Matter of Media in Outer Space: Technologies of Cosmobiopolitics

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

The Matter of Media in Outer Space: Technologies of Cosmobiopolitics

Article excerpt


Media technologies are steadily populating outer space--satellites and their debris clutter earth's orbital regions, robotic rovers are surveying Mars, exploratory probes are appraising moons, planets and asteroids in our solar system and further still. Drawing together a range of these earth-born human-made devices, this paper reframes them as an object of critical inquiry into the human 'mediatic' condition. These technologies occupy outer space as extraterrestrial footprints of global capitalism, and they provide the vital infrastructure for its 'high-tech' pursuit of power, knowledge and wealth. Yet, their presence in space exerts its own material and social effects, unsettling strategic attempts to control the productive ambits of life, thus complicating what is at stake in the purview of biopolitical governance. Extending Michel Foucault's concept of biopolitics into outer space, this paper explores the ways in which human relations with space-based media apparatus reinforce new approaches to the governance of life and the living, shaping the horizon of the 'cosmobiopolitical' on and beyond the globe.


Media technologies, outer space, biopolitics, satellites, space debris, interplanetary Internet


The momentum of technological progress has reached a stage in which advanced media apparatus is not only increasingly surrounding us here on earth, but is also steadily populating space beyond the globe. Beginning with Sputnik in 1957, thousands of satellites have been launched into earth's orbital space to facilitate imaging, mapping, remote sensing, navigation, communication, surveillance and a range of other mediation practices. They have been accompanied by nearly a hundred space telescopes deployed for astronomical observations. Various spacecraft have been directed to flyby and orbit the celestial bodies in our solar system and monitor planets, moons and asteroids. Four robotic rovers have successfully surveyed Mars and several landers have made their explorative descents onto the Moon and Venus. Deep space probes have been dispatched out into the Milky Way to appraise its galactic expanses; two Pioneer spacecraft have passed beyond the borders of our solar system and in 2016 Voyager 2 will follow Voyager 1 and enter the unknowns of interstellar space. Over the years, many of these devices have ceased to operate and their remnants now accumulate into deposits of technological waste that remain in their extraterrestrial wake. However, a myriad other space technologies are currently being developed such as an Interplanetary Internet, a World Space Observatory and a Mars Gravity Biosatellite to uphold the media infrastructure and practices that humans have begun to implement in outer space.

Although they are to be found thousands and millions of kilometres away from the globe, these earth-born, human-made technologies are intimately tied to the gravities of their terrestrial origin. They are an integral part of global media capital, inseparable from the material and social contexts that frame them as technical objects, epistemic registers, indexes of governance and modes of cultural expression. Thrust into space to follow directives, conduct exploratory measurements and assessments, collect information and relay it to their reception nodes, they constitute an extra-planetary limb of the technological platform that sustains the human pursuit of power, knowledge and wealth. Their design and construction is an outcome of the substantial investments of military-industrial complexes in techno-scientific innovation. Their missions are propelled by the ever-increasing demands for mediation systems and services with which to expedite the production and circulation of information, images and data that are considered crucial for securing the interests of the world's governments, markets and communities. Despite their remote position, these technologies are closely interlinked with terrestrial space through the streams of signals that they exchange with their ground control and whose content is then embedded into the foundations of politics, economy, science, arts and everyday life. …

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