Spaceport America: Offworld Access & the Everyman Astronaut. AAG BOS 2017.

2017 Sammler, K. & Lynch, C. Spaceport America: Contested Offworld Access and the Everyman Astronaut. American Association of Geographers An- nual Meeting, Boston, MA, 5–9, Apr.


TITLE: Spaceport America: Contested Offworld Access and the Everyman Astronaut

AUTHORS: Katherine Sammler, California State University Maritime Academy; Casey Lynch, University of Arizona

ABSTRACT: 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.

KEYWORDS: Outer Space, Technology, Sovereignty

SESSION: Human Rights and Critical Geopolitics of Outer Space

ORGANIZERS: Julie Michelle Klinger & Daniel Bednar

Human endeavors are extending many of the most central issues in geography—property rights and enclosures; raced, classed, and gendered forms of inequality and social control; the politics of knowledge production; and questions of pollution and conservation, inter alia—to places beyond our terrestrial home. The engagement of off-Earth spaces by both academic geographers as well as by practitioners in the fields of aerospace engineering, communications, planetary exploration, and warfare (amongst others) take place within varied sets of discourses and values. To this point, outer space as both a place, and space, of human endeavor has yet to emerge as a major sub-field within geography, despite its importance in everyday life. In accordance with one of the major themes of this year’s AAG meeting, ‘Mainstreaming Human Rights in Geography and the AAG’, this session contributes to the continuing maturation of the field of Outer Space Geography by focusing on the intersection of the critical geopolitics of outer space and outer space-based technologies with human rights issues.


Julie Michelle Klinger, Environmental Justice and Outer Space

Oliver Dunnett, Arthur C Clarke and the Global Village – Satellites technologies and the developing world

Julie Saperstein, Opening the black box of outer space: the case of JASON-3

Katherine Genevieve Sammler, Spaceport America: Contested Offworld Access and the Everyman Astronaut

Daniel Bednar, Orbital Debris Governance and Narratives of Cause and Responsibility