Tag: space

Podcast 67: Out of this world: environmental history of near-Earth space

space junk

Sphere of satellites and space junk
surrounding Earth. Image: NASA

Since the early days of the Space Age spent rocket stages, decommissioned satellites, and rubbish of all kinds have contaminated near-Earth space. At present more than 100 million pieces of human-made debris ranging in size from dead satellites to flecks of paint whiz around the Earth at incredibly fast speeds. This cloud of space junk poses a threat to our space infrastructure on which we now depend so much for navigation, communication, Earth surveillance, and scientific and industrial data collection, because even small fragments of a disintegrated spacecraft can seriously damage other satellites.

Does the creation of space debris mean that humanity has extended the “industrial sphere” into near-Earth space? Historian Lisa Ruth Rand, A PhD candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, discusses this question on episode 67 of Exploring Environmental History. She also examines why environmental historians should study the expansion of humanity beyond earth and other space environmental history related issues.

 

Further reading & resources

Lisa Ruth Rand, “Gravity, the Sequel: Why the Real Story Would Be on the Ground”, The Atlantic, 28 February 2014.

Lisa Ruth Rand, “How Apollo Astronauts Took Out the Trash. One small step for garbage. One giant leap for garbage-kind”, Popular Mechanics, 21 July 2015.

Website of Lisa Ruth Rand

Jan Oosthoek, “New horizons: space, a new frontier for environmental historians”, Environmental History Resources, 16 July 2015.

NASA Orbital Debris Program

Pyne, Steve. “Extreme Environments”, Environmental History 15 (2010) 3, 509-513.
 
Music credit
The Astronaut” by timberman, Available from ccMixter

 

New horizons: space, a new frontier for environmental historians

In recent years there has been a groundswell of the notion that we are now living in the Anthropocene, the age of man. This is based on strong evidence that humanity is now leaving a very detectable footprint in the earth geological record on a global scale. This includes the fall-out of the atomic tests of the 20th century, climate change is altering the chemical composition of the oceans, and we are shifting more material per year than all natural erosion processes combined. These human activities will leave a signal in the geological record of the planet and be there for millions of years.1

The Anthropocene is the culmination of millions of years of human expansion and increased technological prowess. Initially, the human species lived on the savannahs of East Africa, the original human environment, on which they had no detectable impact because of the low population numbers. Over time the human species migrated out of Africa and by about a thousand years ago they had invaded almost every biogeographical region of the globe, except for Antarctica. When entering new areas humans deliberately or by accident altered local environments to suit their needs. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution this process speeded up with the help of energy available in the form of fossil fuels, culminating in what many now regard as the Anthropocene.

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