graphical Image of Low Earth Orbit orbital debris around the earth

Two Approaches to ‘Space Junk’: “Cultural Heritage of Space Exploration” & “Orbital Wake of the Anthropocene”

January 17, 2015 - anthropocene / anthropology / archaeology / architecture / astro anthropology / capitalism / discard studies / geography / mapping / space / space studies / STS

NASA has an Orbital Debris Program Office dedicated to the question of space debris. The featured image for this post comes from this office, and is an image of debris in LEO. LEO “stands for low Earth orbit and is the region of space within 2,000 km of the Earth’s surface. It is the most concentrated area for orbital debris.” Much of the space science on orbital debris considers how to mitigate the problem, such as this proposal to remove orbital debris with lasers. However, there are other ways to approach the study of this debris. Below are two of the social scientific approaches that I’ve come across.

Archaeologist Alice Gorman looks at the material cultural aspect of ‘space junk’ as heritage sites. In her inspirational TEDx Sydney talk she encourages us to re-think space debris as part of our shared cultural heritage.

In this talk, Josh Lepawsky here at Memorial University (Geography) takes a different approach to orbital debris by exploring the discards of space science/exploration as a “wake of the anthropocene”.

For more on STS Discard studies here at Memorial University see also the new Waste and Science, Technology & Environment Hub.