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Space in the TropicsFrom Convicts to Rockets in French Guiana$
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Peter Redfield

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780520219847

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520219847.001.0001

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A Gate to the Heavens

A Gate to the Heavens

(p.113) CHAPTER 5 A Gate to the Heavens
Space in the Tropics

Peter Redfield

University of California Press

This chapter highlights the fact that technologies associated with the exploration and commercialization of outer space have significantly transformed experiences of human space on a global scale, exemplified by the redefinition of the equator relative to rockets and satellite orbits. The case of Kourou and the Guiana Space Center both illustrate this point and describe its anthropological significance, serving as a reminder that technologies unfold between horizons of human history and geography, and amid narratives of human temporal location embedded in expressions such as “Space Age.” This discussion revolves around twin meanings of the term space, one physical and the other human. The Space Race and satellite technology grew with time, and the new configuration of technology and society described by the expression “Space Age” comes most clearly into focus when viewed through extremes. Later, the chapter brings attention to certain events where, amid the fireworks of American and Soviet competition for supremacy, the old center of Europe faded into the background. It also highlights the fact that a redefinition of the equator as a modern marker of the sky had technological consequences on the ground. In more recent decades, these facts of Space Age geography have not escaped the notice of certain states located deep in the tropics, and several of them (such as India, Brazil, and Papua New Guinea) have sought to capitalize on this new-found advantage of their geography.

Keywords:   Gate to Heavens, exploration, redefination of equator, space age, space center, satellites, rockets

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