Space for Sale: The Territorialization of Outer Space

Folio Journal 2
University of Johannesburg (FADA)
September 2020

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This peer-reviewed article for Folio Journal is concerned with the increased rhetoric around the territorialization and colonization of outer space, particularly by private companies. I investigate the processes through which the space of outer space is being restructured by the requirements and demands of capital. Brief extracts follow:

“In asserting the rights for US citizens to own asteroids and mine their resources, the country has made it legal for its citizens to claim celestial bodies as their property. While this may not yet be technologically possible, it opens the door to an asteroid mining space race and for corporations to reap the benefits of new territories of extraction. These actions enliven the memory of the Doctrine of Discovery that was broadly used by colonial European monarchies from the fifteenth to late-eighteenth centuries, and later by the US undersecretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, to lay claim to ‘uninhabited’ non-Christian lands. These lands were, of course, inhabited by indigenous peoples, who were significantly disenfranchised and marginalised as a result. While Earth’s local space neighbourhood is not inhabited territory – as far as we know – the Act positions and recasts aspects of our cosmos as forms of territory, which are deemed available for occupation under the auspices of discovery.”

“Photographs and a live feed taken from cameras mounted to the Tesla Roadster streamed images of a spaceman driving a convertible in the vacuum of space. A jarring juxtaposition, the images personalised the experience. Many people can relate to the experience of driving a car and could now imagine driving their cars in space. The act was a coup for SpaceX in recasting space, much like maps of Mars and mid-century astronomical artists, as a place accessible to human references, and the desires, dreams and aspirations that these references construct. SpaceX took a new, but identifiable, technology, the electric car, and forced an association between the vehicle and space in the same manner that Innes’s painting achieved in the mid-nineteenth-century: technology and a romanticised context are blended into a comprehensible and accessible reality. Unlike the impersonal, yet commonly anthropomorphised and highly functional rovers, the Roadster symbolically celebrates common American – and congruently capitalist – values of liberty, freedom and achievement.”