This project is mutiple, investigating specific time/space events of space science infrstructure impacting earth environments, communities, laws and politics within a broader timeline and spatial field of (neo)colonial projects and privitization of commons. These projects are in collaboration with fellow geographer Casey Lynch, University of Arizona.
Spaceport America and Offworld Access
Spaceport America, a spectacle to see with curvilinear geometry that itself looks like a spacecraft rising out of the desert near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, conveys a hope of the everyman astronaut. Yet this private-public project, spending over $200 million in state taxpayer money to build and with a $2.85 million projected operating budget for 2017, does not provide the vertical transport analog of an airport. As Virgin Galactic stalls in launching its astronomically-priced zero gravity music festival and commercial passenger flights, the facilities have been dusted off for educational rocketry club launches and Hollywood film backdrops while most public access to the grounds is restricted to expensive guided tours.
As with the Spaceport, access to outer space itself raises questions of public versus private ownership and exclusivity. With the withering role of nation states in offplanet activity, there are openings for outer space to become another site of capital accumulation or to manifest as envisioned by social movements such as the Association of Autonomous Astronauts. Given that dominion over outer space has previously been established on a ‘first come, first served’ basis based on national economic and technical superiority, how is access being contested by private and civic interests? This paper considers Spaceport America a site of competing state, corporate, and civil society interests negotiating tensions in the geophysical and technical, political economic, and cultural imaginaries of outer space access.
Colonial pasts and futures atop Hawaii’s highest mountains
Islands have long held the imaginations of continental populations as small, isolated, paradises. Colonizers and scientists alike have considered islands as blank slates, perfect laboratories (Matsuda 2007). This project investigates these island imaginaries through the colonial history of Hawaii and the contemporary scientific projects taking place on its sacred mountains. Recent controversies surrounding the construction of a new Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) atop Mauna Kea have sparked vigorous protest campaigns and legal battles. Some Native Hawaiian groups, land protectors, wish to protect this sacred site from further development, a peak with twelve existing telescope facilities already. Having been denied permission twice since 2015, the world’s largest telescope project made its way up to the Hawaii Supreme Court, which granted the TMT permits in July, 2017. However, opponents have pledged to appeal the ruling, feeling dismissed in the decision making process and that their Native sovereignty is being violated, reminiscent of historic colonial power relations felt by Hawaiians (Gagné 2012).
Nearby, on sister peak Mauna Loa, the other sky-high mountain of Hawaii, a NASA dome installation provides a training habitat for future astronauts. This undertaking is meant to study human behavior under extreme conditions of solitude. Trainees are secluded, only six people in the habitat dome for an eight month stretch. NASA supplies virtual reality (VR) goggles to offer astronauts relief from the monotonous, red, rocky rubble landscape. This island mountain is a laboratory, simulating the isolated and empty landscape of Mars, in preparation to colonize the planet. The New York Times has been documenting participent involvement with their own VR experience, where readers can join the astronaut trainees in the dome and their VR therapy through NYT VR. This virtual reality within a virtual reality is a layered, meta representation, a simulacrum (Deleuze 2004; Massumi 1987), a potential future colony habitation, located in a place of violent historical colonization.
This project will explore these themes – indigenous rights, colonization, island imaginaries, and science, knowledge, technology, power. This research will utilize theoretical approaches offered by island studies, colonial and indigenous studies, and science and technology studies literatures. Data collection will include a series of interviews conducted with land protectors, Hawaii’s Board of Land and Natural Resources and select scientists involved in these projects. The significance of this project lies in contributing to the growing field of island studies and critical social theory by analyzing the way western science infrastructure is contested by island sovereignty movements, as well as how persistent colonial island imaginaries contribute to the extraction of scientific knowledge through controversial power relations.
Chancellor’ s Office Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities Award (RSCA), CSU ($5,000).
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Matsuda, M.K. (2007). ‘This territory was not empty’: Pacific possibilities. Geographical Review, 97(2): 230 – 243.