A Political History of “Spaceship Earth”: from Cold War to geoengineering
In a dialogue with a former space engineer from the Ariane program, Sebastian Grevsmühl explains how, with the closure of the Earth through the explorations of the last unknown territories during the 19th and the early 20th century, the exploratory focus moved up towards the sky and space and, subsequently, back to the view of the Earth from up there. Obviously, technologies like photography, balloons, airplanes and rockets also played a crucial role in this evolution. With the space era in full bloom in the 1960s, the idea of the spaceship Earth – our home planet seen as a very large dome-shaped vessel within a controlled atmosphere – became a leading political metaphor, used in the many discourses and manipulated both by political establishments and counterculture. Today, as the international debates about climate change and the ways to confront it are in full swing, this kind of spaceship earthism is coming back. A concept that is not far from the geo-engineering dreams of taking over the atmosphere through technical means. But, as Sebastian Grevsmühl points out, programs like these, besides the doubtfulness of their possible success, carry one main problem: they try to remove political decision processes by leaving all to design and engineering.
- Sebastian Grevsmühl
Musée de l’Homme, Paris
is a researcher in science and environmental history at the university Pierre et Marie Curie, specializing in the study of visual cultures and metaphors in science. He holds that the metaphorical reimagining of our planet as a “Spaceship Earth” was of doubtful utility to the environmental movement.