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Lisa Ruth Rand, California Institute of Technology

Thu April 13th 2023, 4:30 - 6:00pm
History Room 307

Peripheral Infrastructure: Power, Sovereignty, and Decay in the Global Space Age

Artificial satellites support a multitude of technological systems on the ground below. The ancestors of today’s electronics-bearing behemoths took a variety of forms, from Sputnik’s polished orb to giant, inflatable “satelloons” to globe-circling belts of copper filaments. As the number of satellites proliferated, at a range of orbital altitudes and inclinations, specialist and mainstream communities around the world confronted new realities of environmental risk in outer space. Questions of how to protect Earth orbit from misuse by a tiny club of powerful spacefaring nations—and how to ensure fair access to a global natural resource—imbued early efforts to codify the international governance of outer space. By the 1970s, the first-come-first-served occupation of particularly valuable orbits spurred nations at the periphery of the central Cold War conflict to challenge the technopolitical status quo. This talk will examine acts of political resistance that shaped the satellite infrastructure, confronted geopolitical hegemonies, and contributed to the rise of a truly global Space Age.