After Machines: An Ecological Age of Space Exploration

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R. Armstrong (2014), JBIS, 67, pp.279-289

Refcode: 2014.67.279
Keywords: Assemblage, machines, dissipative structures, BŁtschli system, actant

This paper addresses the transition from an industrial to ecological age of space exploration through a novel technological platform characterised through the concept of `assemblage' [1]. While machines have transported us beyond Earth's atmosphere and have protected us from the vacuum of space, they do not directly sustain us. This paper takes an ecological, rather than an industrial approach, to space exploration and explores an alternative technological platform, referred to as an `assemblage', which may directly support living systems beyond Earth's specific chemistry and physics. The unique operating system of assemblage technology is discussed as a counterpoint to machines ≠ being composed of `agentised' matter, or actants [2] that are spontaneously assembled as a whole, form loose, reversible connections between each other, and confer the platform with environmental sensitivity, robustness and creativity. Applications of assemblage technologies are discussed in the context of space exploration with respect to ecopoiesis and their potential to construct `synthetic ecologies' in lifeless environments. It is proposed that assemblages therefore may provide a way to think about a technical system that transgresses modern distinctions between life and non-life. Since the design of space habitats has historically been linked with the ecological design of landscapes and buildings on earth [3], a new technological platform that facilitates the construction of material relationships between bodies, could also conceivably underpin a transition from the industrial exploration of space, to an ecological engagement with living beyond Earth's surface.

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