2019 Sammler, K. Intimate outer space: Gravity, waste and the spatial orientation of bodies. Association of Pacific Coast Geographers. Flagstaff, AZ, 16–19 Oct.
TITLE: Intimate outer space: Gravity, waste and the spatial orientation of bodies
AUTHOR: Katherine G. Sammler, PhD, California State University Maritime
ABSTRACT: Discard studies scholars confront the materiality of waste and recognize that, particularly within the Anthropocene, there is no ‘away’ place for its disposal. The idea of our planet as a bounded sphere, containing the only livable habitat within an otherwise hostile universe is made urgent through emissions in the atmosphere and plastics in the water. However, human activities – including generating waste – extend beyond earth, up into orbit, and there is an emergence of scholars exploring the upper atmosphere and low earth orbit as a part of a global environment. While a new corporate space race is shifting space waste politics with reusable rockets and orbital debris recycling, utilizing a feminist geopolitics and political ecological approach requires a look beyond the national and corporate actors towards intimate, bodily scales.
Engaging the physiological feat of maintaining life in orbit draws attention to the invisible relationships between bodies, waste, and gravity. The engineered habitats required to support life in space are a microcosm of the urgent planetary concerns surrounding air and water resources, but also waste storage and elimination. Without strong gravitational fields, liquids coalesce at the location they are created, instead of flowing down and away. Such excesses disrupt the orderly engineered environments and minutely monitored bodies. This paper looks to use astronaut tears, space gynecology, zero-g surgery, and NASA’s “space poop challenge” to investigate the broader politics of waste, gravity, the spatial orientation of human and planetary bodies, and the risk posed by our inability to get away from our intimate waste.