Botties not bodies: Producing analogs and robots for environments hostile to human life

Authors: Katherine Sammler*, California State University Maritime , Lily House-Peters, California State University Long Beach, Casey Lynch, University of Arizona
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Social Theory, Resources
Keywords: ocean, outer space, robots, analog, resources, extraction
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Truman, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Cold War-era Space Race had at one point included a race to the depths of the ocean as well. In the US, at the same time NASA was creating the infrastructure to put a man on the moon, the navy was constructing Sealabs (I-III), crewed underwater habitats to explore and dominate the sea. Outer space and ocean space-- or as some have called ‘inner space’ -- have long been imagined as analogs, mirroring each other as inscrutable frontiers. Regarded as empty spaces, unmanned technology remotely fills them with the ideology and material infrastructure of exploration and exploitation.

As follows, with the more accessible and economically viable materials on land depleted, many extractive industries have moved into more remote and difficult spaces. This includes prospecting the depths of the ocean, and even laying the groundwork for offplanet mining. The hostility of these environments to human bodies has ushered in a new wave of robotics for extreme conditions. For instance, Nautilus Minerals Inc, in developing its experimental seabed mining project in Papua New Guinea, has commissioned specially designed autonomous vehicles for the job. These Seafloor Production Tools are meant to animate soporific seafloors into lively and productive capital -- in the cold, dark, depths where only they can go. The challenges faced by such robotic systems are paralleled by those expected to undertake asteroid survey and excavation. The environments encountered are both mediated and reconfigured through robotics, generating knowledge of these worlds, even as they destroy them.

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