Rodin L. Technological Determinism Goes Aloft: Notes on the Human – Machine Issue in Outer Space Exploration

DOI: https://doi.org/10.15688/lp.jvolsu.2019.4.2

Lika Rodin

PhD, Lecturer, School of Health Sciences, University of Skövde,

G-hus, Box 408, 54128 Skövde, Sweden

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https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7118-5581


Abstract. The future of space exploration is unimaginable without broadening the role of technology. Already, the necessity of manned space expeditions is becoming increasingly problematized. This study looks at the role of technology and human – machine relationships unfolding within national space programs through the lens of the 'soft' version of technological determinism suggested by Albert Borgmann. This theoretical tradition recognizes, without neglecting human agency, the shaping effect of technology on human organization, prosperity and actions as well as on individuals' relationships with the self and other. The commodification of technology – economic and ethical – is viewed to be the effects of technological expansion. Ethical commodification is characterized by disattachment of the individual from the natural surrounding and from the self. In the field of space exploration, ethical commodification is associated with the process of automation that developed differently in distinctive national contexts. Thus, if the history of American spaceflight is characterized by the initial struggle against automation, seen to be a means of disempowering astronauts as a professional group, the Russian space program favoured automation from the very beginning. In both contexts, however, automation eventually established itself and continues to shape contemporary perceptions on spaceflight. The accumulated experiences of man-machine interactions are useful for understanding ethical commodification as a social phenomenon. Drawing on the autobiographical narratives of Soviet / Russian cosmonauts, I specify the ways in which ethical commodification of hardware and software manifested itself in spaceflight and how it could be diverted. In conclusion, a perspective that resists alienation is suggested for the enterprise of space exploration at large.
Key words: space exploration, automatization, commodification, human – machine interactions, ethical commodification.

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Technological Determinism Goes Aloft: Notes on the Human – Machine Issue in Outer Space Exploration by Rodin L. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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