Table of Contents:


The lives and selected works of two of the most influential writers on outer space cultures in twentieth-century Britain, H G Wells and Olaf Stapledon, are the focus of Chapter 2. Approached through the framework of literary geographies, this chapter considers how the spaces of outer space have been inflected by the authorial experience of place and landscape, and how readers of science-fictional texts incorporated concepts of place into their understandings of outer space. Wells and Stapledon each made important contributions, in the era before the advent of spaceflight, to understanding outer space and humankind’s relation to the wider Universe. That these interventions came in fictional form does not diminish their importance -indeed, their narrative format ensured that their concepts of outer space reached as wide an audience as possible in the first decades of the twentieth century, when space exploration was not seen as a viable scientific concept by the vast majority of people. That is not to say that their stories were told in a context devoid of scientific understanding. Both authors were well-connected to some of the leading conceptual developments in the biological and physical sciences of their age, including evolutionism, planetary astronomy and the emerging field of astrophysics. Looking at some of their science-fictional accounts, therefore, highlights the ways in which these emergent fields of knowledge were understood and re-calibrated for audiences in the UK and further afield. The chapter argues that place was instrumental in Wells and Stapledon’s formulations of outer-space knowledge, whether referring to the ‘rooftop eyries’ in which Stapledon became accustomed to viewing the stars of the night sky, to the spaces of science in London’s South Kensington where Wells came to learn of the infinite multitude of strange implications for life in the cosmos that were, for him, a logical consequence of evolutionary theory. In looking at the reception of these authors’ key science-fictional texts, the chapter further seeks to elucidate the ways in which conceptions of outer space were understood by their audiences, and how readers in different places took different understandings away from these fantastical novels of early-twentieth-century speculative thought.

Chapter 3 turns attention to the paradigm-shifting technology of the rocket, how its potential for spaceflight was recognised by the British Interplanetary Society, and the ways in which it was understood in the emerging context of internationalism during the pre-war period. Having fed on the ideas of science fiction, not only of British writers like Wells and Stapledon, but also from a new wave of writers from America, enthusiasts like Philip Cleator and A M Low became influential in the establishment of the BIS in Liverpool in 1933, and in London by the end of the decade. Here, a combination of unique circumstances, personalities and places combined to cultivate national and international networks of astronautics, the new science of spaceflight that incorporated rocketry, space exploration and human survival in space. As such, the spaces of science in astronautics are examined, including the public houses and domestic residences that were instrumental in shaping this emergent field of knowledge, occurring outside of the official realms of science, and often scorned by established scientific bodies. Furthermore, the ways in which the BIS made connections internationally are explored, thinking through what it means for astronautics to be conceived as an international science, not just in a practical sense, but also conceptually. The chapter concludes by highlighting the culmination of the Society’s work in the pre-war period, the ‘BIS Space-Ship’, a design for a lunar rocket carrying three astronauts intended to land on the

Moon, undertake scientific explorations, and return safely to Earth. While plans such as these were arguably premature, they demonstrate the extent to which members of the BIS were committed to the idea of spaceflight, and the ways in which concepts of interplanetary exploration were connected to the enduring dream of human transcendence.

Chapter 4 draws from recent work in cultural geography, considering the ways in which imaginative representations and lived experience of outer-space phenomena were calibrated in popular culture in the postwar period. Four case studies are investigated: Firstly, the television serial Quatermass, specifically the three BBC series of the 1950s, The Quatermass Experiment, Quatermass II and Quatermass and the Pit. Here, while paying attention to the life-world of the screenwriter Nigel Kneale, amid broader social experiences of the Second World War, themes are identified that frame space exploration as an uncertain endeavour, eliciting expressions of fear, awe and the unknown. Similar concepts are approached in the second case study, which is the arrival of the UFO phenomenon in Britain. Here, the first UK government response to UFO sightings is examined, conducted in secret by members of the official 'Flying Saucer Working Party’ in 1950, while some of the popular aspects of the phenomenon are also examined, including the formation of the British UFO Research Association. It is suggested that UFO sightings became an integral part of post-war British cultures of outer space, notwithstanding debates about their veracity. One participant in such debates, the astronomer Patrick Moore, forms the nexus of the third case study, which examines Moore’s involvement with popular media in the 1950s and 1960s, specifically the BIS publication Spaceflight and the BBC television programme The Sky at Night. Together, these works helped to promote the science of outer space to a growing audience in the UK. The fourth and final case study in this chapter concerns the early science-fictional writings of Arthur C Clarke, who became one of Britain’s most prominent proponents of space exploration, was connected closely to the BIS, and was someone who worked across the two worlds of science fiction and astronautical theory in this period. In examining these case studies, this chapter argues that concepts of space and place were instrumental in understanding and communicating varied cultures of outer space in these contexts, including earthly, aerial, domestic and exploratory spaces.

Chapter 5 broadens the scale of analysis to consider the interactions between geopolitics and space exploration in Britain from the 1950s to the 1970s. This was a time, at the dawn of the Space Age, in which countries around the world were aligning themselves to join the ‘space race’ between the USA and USSR, including France, Italy, Canada and the UK. The theme of internationalism is returned to here, considering the ways in which the contradictions between nationalism and internationalism were played out with respect to plans for space exploration. The activities of the British Interplanetary Society are examined in this respect, considering the ways in which its members lobbied for a national space programme while taking stock of the UK’s shift in geopolitical status from Empire to Commonwealth. A connection to the brief but compelling cultural movement of New Elizabethanism is identified, incorporating the monarchy, aero-mobility and other exciting new technologies of twentieth-century modernity. Ultimately, though, this chapter argues that the UK’s material involvement in outer space at this time necessitated a careful calibration between American and European spheres of influence. This negotiation is examined through the case of Ariel 1 - Britain’s first satellite - and the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO). including the imaginative and material enrolment of the Woomera rocket range in South Australia. In examining multiple modes of representation, including photographic montages depicting international co-operation in space, one of Arthur C Clarke’s first novels, and media reports of Britain’s early involvement in the exploration of space and the upper atmosphere, the geopolitical aspects of outer space in the UK are examined.

Chapter 6 employs a further shift in scale to examine plans for interstellar exploration that were designed by a team in the British Interplanetary Society during the 1970s, while considering how certain geographical concepts of place and environment can be applied to outer space. 'Project Daedalus’ emerged during a period in which the new horizons of space exploration led to more detailed understandings of planets such as Mars and Jupiter, and at a time when social and economic uncertainty was increasingly evident in the UK and the Western world. Ostensibly engaging with 'Fermi’s Paradox’ of the existence (or otherwise) of alien life in the Universe, Project Daedalus comprised a detailed exposition of the problems, technologies and practicalities of interstellar travel, while also revealing some of the ways in which humankind’s place in the Solar System, as well as the wider cosmos, was anticipated. In selecting Barnard’s Star, one of the closest stars in the galaxy, as its destination, Project Daedalus also enrolled a broader discourse about scientific authority, the existence of other worlds outside the Solar System, and the constitution of interstellar space. By understanding the Solar System in environmental terms, the project involved detailed considerations of the immediate future of space exploration, with elaborate plans for mining the Jovian atmosphere becoming integral to its implementation. In such ways. Project Daedalus became more than a series of technical papers in the Interstellar Studies supplement of the BIS Journal, but it helped to frame the scientific community’s understandings of outer space, not just of our immediate cosmic environment, but with implications for the ways in which outer space is conceived on a galactic scale.

Chapter 7 examines three episodes in the recent history of British space exploration that have in various ways been connected to questions of nationalism: the story of Helen Sharman, the first Briton in space in 1991; the Beagle 2 Mars lander, whose mission culminated on Christmas Day 2003; and the expedition of Tim Peake to the International Space Station in 2015-16 with the European Space Agency. In recounting the narrative of Helen Sharman’s mission to the Mir space station, a range of social, cultural and political factors are seen to have come into play. Not only were representations of Sharman inflected by her mould-breaking status as a female astronaut/cosmonaut, but the mission was also characterised by tensions between the worlds of private and public finance in space exploration, the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union, and problematic archetypes of exploration in British culture. By contrast, Beagle 2, a robotic lander attached to the European Space Agency’s 'Mars Express’ space probe, was promoted with abandon in the British media by its creator Colin Pillinger. While the mission ultimately failed, interpreting the media narratives associated with Beagle 2 reveals much about the national (and nationalist) discourses that became enrolled in outer space culture in this period. The unlikely involvement of the rock band Blur and the celebrated artist Damien Hirst provides a window on the prevailing popular culture of turn-of-the-millennium Britain. The final case study, Tim Peake’s mission to the International Space Station, interprets the ways in nationalism was expressed in a variety of performative and symbolic ways, considering events such as the first spacewalk by a British astronaut, and Peake’s completion of the London Marathon in space. This chapter brings these three examples together to consider the role of nationalism in contemporary discourses of space exploration in the UK, in terms of its everyday, affective and performative aspects.

The concluding chapter. Chapter 8, reflects on the central research questions of this book, considering the ways in which cultural and political understandings of outer space emerged in Britain since the start of the twentieth century, and how these understandings are relevant in the twenty-first century. Highlighting the main findings of each chapter, a series of reciprocities is identified as key to understanding the geographies of outer space in this context; between science and the imagination. Earth and cosmos, explorative and contemplative modes of engagement. Two final case studies are presented that demonstrate how these themes are extended into the twenty-first century. These are, firstly, the establishment of new spacelaunch facilities in various parts of the UK, amid the commercialisation and militarisation of outer space, and. second, the conceptual art of Katie Paterson, which draws from the traditions of the sublime in Western culture to consider the nature of outer-space phenomena and the place of humankind in the cosmos. The chapter further reflects on the role of geography in understanding outer space, considering the spectrum of perspectives offered by geographical understandings, while drawing attention to potential new areas of research.


  • 1 Arthur C Clarke. ‘Sir Arthur C Clarke: 90th Birthday Reflections’, YouTube (9lh December 2007) [15th October 2019].
  • 2 This book primarily uses the term 'outer space’ to describe the realm beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, conventionally accepted as beginning at the Kârmân line of 100km above sea level. Other terms such as 'interplanetary space', ‘interstellar space’, ‘cosmos’, and ‘the heavens’ are used in specific contexts.

Denis Cosgrove. Geography and Vision (London: I В Tauris, 2008).

Steven J Dick, and Roger D Launius, eds., Societal Impact of Spaceflight (Washington DC: NASA, 2007); Martin Collins, Space Race-The US-USSR Competition to Reach the Moon (Washington DC: Smithsonian, 1999); Martin Parker and David Bell, eds. Space Travel and Culture: From Apollo to Space Tourism (Oxford: Blackwell. 2009).

Asif Siddiqi. The Red Rockets' Glare - Spaceflight and the Soviet Imagination. 1857-1957 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Fraser MacDonald. Escape from Earth - a Secret History of the Space Rocket (London: Profile, 2019); Frank Winter, Prelude to the Space Age - the Rocket Societies: 1924-1940 (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983).

Alexander Geppert, ed. Imagining Outer Space - European Astroculture in the Twentieth Century (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); Peter Redfield, Space in the Tropics - From convicts to rockets in French Guiana (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000).

Matthew Godwin, The Skylark Rocket - British Space Science and the European Space Research Organisation 1957-1972 (Paris: Beauchesne, 2007); Peter Morton, Fire across the Desert - Woomera and the Anglo-Australian Joint Project. 1946-1980 (AGPS: Canberra, 1989).

Oliver Dunnett and others, ‘Geographies of Outer Space: Progress and New Opportunities’, Progress in Human Geography. 43 (2019), 314-336.

Cosgrove, Geography and Vision (London: І В Tauris); Fraser MacDonald, ‘Anti-Astropolitik: Outer Space and the Orbit of Geography’, Progress in Human Geography. 31 (2007), 592-615; Jason Beery, ‘Terrestrial Geographies in and of Outer Space’, in The Palgrave Handbook of Society. Culture and Outer Space, ed. by Peter Dickens and James S Ormrod (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). 47-70.

Oliver Dunnett, ‘Outer Space’, in The SAGE Handbook of Historical Geography. Volume 2. ed. by Mona Domosh. Michael Heffernan and Charles W J Withers (London: SAGE, 2020), 661-679.

Peter Adey, Aerial Life: Spaces. Mobilities, Affects (Oxford: Wiley, 2010); Rachel Squire and Klaus Dodds ‘Introduction to the Special Issue: Subterranean Geopolitics’, Geopolitics (2019); Stuart Elden, ‘Secure the volume: vertical geopolitics and the depth of power’. Political Geography, 34 (2013), 35-51.

Oliver Dunnett. ‘Patrick Moore, Arthur C Clarke and "British Outer Space” in the Mid-Twentieth Century’, cultural geographies. 19 (2012), 505-522; Oliver Dunnett. ‘Geopolitical Cultures of Outer Space: The British Interplanetary Society, 1933-1965', Geopolitics. 22 (2017), 452-473 [Permission from SAGE and Taylor & Francis is gratefully acknowledged].

Oliver Dunnett, ‘C S Lewis and the Moral Threat of Space Exploration, 1938-1964'. in Militarizing Outer Space: Astroculture. Dystopia and the Cold War. ed. by Alexander Geppert. Tilmann Seiebeneichner and Daniel Brandau (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), 147-170; Oliver Dunnett, ‘Framing Landscape: Dan Dare, the Eagle and Post-War Culture in Britain', in Comic Book Geographies, ed. by Jason Dittmer (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2014), 27-40.

Jon Agar, Science and Spectacle - the Work of Jodrell Bank in Post- War British Culture (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1998); David Aubin, Charlotte Bigg, H Otto Sibum. eds. The Heavens on Earth - Observatories and Astronomy in Nineteenth-Century Science and Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >