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Astroaesthetics: Performance and the Rise of Interplanetary Culture


Recent years have seen an increase in extraterrestrial exploration projects. What was once a series of competing displays of Cold War political and military might between the US and the USSR has now re-emerged with international collaborations and fresh contestants that range from newly developed, government-based Space programmes to a growing list of private and corporate investors and entrepreneurs. Historically, performances and performative actions and utterances have been important instruments for the representation and politicization of outer-Space discovery and exploration. An inevitable corollary of the recent developments of Space exploration, therefore, is that diverse performances and performatives in and about Space are also flourishing. Their multiplicity reflects the complexity of contemporary geopolitics as well as the forms that these performances may take, including extreme sports, theatre, music videos, social-media interactions and experimental performance. The increase in expressive possibilities calls for a mode of critical attention that addresses them in their scientific, geopolitical and formal particularity.

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1 Although the more common term in the sciences is ‘outer space’, I have decided to use ‘Space’ as way of signalling one of the main arguments in current debates about the historic periodization of extraterrestrial exploration. This focuses on the determination of the Cosmos as a bordered territory, as informed by military assumptions that shaped the first historic exercises on the topic. In other words, by capitalizing Space, I am suggesting a conceptual equivalence with the Cosmos at large.

2 Turkina, Olesya, Space Soviet Dogs (London: Fuel Design, 2014), p. 98 .

3 Astropolitics, The International Journal of Space Politics & Policy, at, accessed 29 June 2016. Dick, Steven J. and Launius, Roger D., eds., Societal Impacts of Spaceflight (Washington, DC: NASA, 2007). Bormann, Natalie and Sheehan, Michael, eds., Securing Outer Space (New York: Routledge, 2009). Bell, David and Parker, Martin, eds., Space Travel and Culture: From Apollo to Space Tourism (Maldon, MA: Blackwell, 2009). Geppert, Alexander, Imagining Outer Space: European Astroculture in the Twentieth Century (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). Dickens, Peter and Ormrod, James, eds., Palgrave Handbook of Society, Culture and Outer Space (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

4 Patersen, Stephen, Space-Age Aesthetics: Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein, and the Postwar European Avant Garde (Pennsylvania: Penn State University Press, 2009). Nicola Triscott, ‘Transmissions from the Noosphere: Contemporary Art and Outer Space’, in Dickens and Ormrod, Palgrave Handbook of Society, Culture and Outer Space, pp. 488–529.

5 ‘Space Station Research Experiments’, NASA, 28 April 2016, at, last accessed 23 June 2016.

6 Capt. Joseph W. Kittinger Jr, ‘Inside the Original Space Dive: Joseph Kittinger on 1960 Record Jump’, National Geographic, 9 October 2012, at, accessed 24 May 2016.

7 Eustace shared his experience in a TedTalk conducted in September 2015. ‘I Leapt from the Stratosphere. Here's How I Did It’, YouTube, 28 September 2015, at, accessed 11 May 2016.

8 Ryan, Craig, Pre-astronauts, Manned Ballooning on the Threshold of Space (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2003), p. xi.

9 Stratocat, 16 February 2016, at, accessed 24 May 2016.

10 Arendt, Hannah, The Human Condition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998), p. 1 .

11 Arendt, The Human Condition, p. 2.

12 See ‘Human Research Program’, NASA, 28 May 2016, at, accessed 18 June 2016.

13 J. A. L. Sterling, ‘Space Copyright Law: The New Dimension’, 15 December 2008, at, p. 2, accessed 18 June 2016.

14 Ibid., pp. 23–4.

15 Ibid., p. 3.

16 The ISS document of official agreement is available online: ‘SPACE STATION: Agreement Between the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and OTHER GOVERNMENTS’, plus signatory pages, at, accessed 18 June 2016.

17 Ó Tuathail, Gerard, Critical Geopolitics (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 26 .

18 Havercroft, Jonathan and Duvall, Raymond, ‘Critical Astropolitics: The Geopolitics of Space Control and the Transformation of State Sovereignty’, in Bormann, Natalie and Sheehan, Michael, Securing Outer Space (New York: Routledge, 2009), pp. 4258.

19 Jade Rabbit, ‘Announcement of Technological Failure’, Weibo, 25 January 2014, at, accessed 11 May 2016. I thank Liting Tan, Dr Alvin Lim and Xianghui Tan for their kind help in translating this text.

20 As Kevin Polpetter from the UCLA Institute of Global Conflict and Cooperation put it in testimony at the US–China Economic and Security Review hearing on China's Space and Counterspace programmes on 18 February 2015: ‘At its current trajectory, China's space program, even if not the equal of the U.S. space program, will at some point be good enough to adequately support modern military operations, compete commercially, and deliver political gains that will serve its broader strategic interest of again being a major power more in control of its own destiny’. For the complete minutes of the hearing see ‘Hearing before the U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission’, 18 February 2015, at, accessed 12 May 2016.

21 Villareal, Alberto, Desierto Bajo la Escenografía Lunar (Mexico City: TeatroSinParedes, 2012).

22 The fact that Villareal's main character is a girl suggests an inquiry into gendered dimensions of the production of knowledge about Space. A relevant entry point to the conversation about Space and gender in the current astropolitical climate could be a study of the group of scientists who made the Indian mission Mangalyaan possible. Mangalyaan is India's first interplanetary mission, and placed the cheapest satellite ever in orbit around Mars in September 2014. On the day the mission accomplished its orbit around Mars, an image of members of this group of scientists, all of them women dressed in saris, quickly circulated around the planet. Against the image of the typical white male scientist with spectacles, these Indian scientists suggest a compelling contrast.

23 I have deliberately selected Independece Day in order to signal the debate about race and Space that has found salient examples in Gilroy's, Paul Between Camps: Nations, Cultures and the Allure of Race (London: Penguin, 2000); and the more recent Anderson, Reynaldo and Jones, Charles E., eds., Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-blackness (London: Lexington Books, 2015).

24 ‘Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies’, at, pp. 13–14, accessed 15 June 2016.

25 See ‘Luxembourg to Support Space Mining’, BBC News, 3 February 2016, at, accessed 18 June 2016. General Howell M. Estes III et al., US Space Command: Vision for 2020 (USA: US Air Force, 1997), p.4 . This document is available online at, accessed 30 June 2016.

26 Jill Stuart, ‘Unbounding Sovereignity, Territory and the State in Outer Space: Two Approaches’, in Bormann and Sheehan, Securing Outer Space, pp. 8–23, here p. 19.

27 ‘About Mars One’, at, accessed 23 June 2016.

28 In October 2014, two PhD students at MIT published an independent report in which they outlined their diagnosis of MarsOne's plans to colonize Mars. The report did a close inspection of the technology as well as other simpler factors such as food rations. It concluded that based on the publicly displayed information the project was far from attainable. The report gained traction some months later, when the same students confronted MarsOne's CEO, Bas Lansdorp, during the latter's presentation at the Mars Society Conference on 13 August 2015. Since then, their report has been published and is freely available at Sydney Do, Andrew Owens, Koki Ho, Samuel Schreiner and Olivier de Weck, ‘An Independent Assessment of the Technical Feasibility of the Mars One Mission Plan: Updated Analysis’, Acta Astronautica, 120 (March-April 2016), pp. 192-228, at, accessed 10 May 2016.

29 NASA's Journey to Mars’, October 2015, at, pp. 1–35, accessed 18 June 2016. Mike Wall, ‘Now Is the Time to Colonize Mars, Elon Musk Says’, 16 December 2015, at, accessed 18 June 2016.

30 Angela Plohman, ‘RIXC (the Centre for New Media Culture): Acoustic Space Research Lab and Program’, Langlois Foundation, 2001, at, accessed 26 May 2016.

31 Radio Astronomy, at, accessed 10 May 2016.

32 Author interview with Honor Harger, ArtScience Musuem, Singapore, 30 May 2016.

33 Ibid.

34 Radio Astronomy.

35 ‘What Are Gravitational Waves?’, LIGO, at, accessed 9 May 2016.

36 ‘Introduction to LIGO & Gravitational Waves’, LIGO, at, accessed 9 May 2016.

37 Natalie Bormann, ‘The Lost Dimension? A Spatial Reading of US Weaponization of Space’, in Bormann and Sheehan, Securing Outer Space, pp. 76–90.

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Theatre Research International
  • ISSN: 0307-8833
  • EISSN: 1474-0672
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