Embattled Heavens.
The Militarization of Space in Science, Fiction, and Politics
Freie Universität Berlin
10–12 April 2014
For much of the twentieth century, outer space has been envisioned as not only a site of heavenly utopias, but also the ultimate battlefield. Concentrating on weapons, warfare and violence, this conference explores the military dimensions of astroculture in the period between 1942 and 1990. By highlighting the militarization of extraterrestrial frontiers and conquest in politics and popular culture alike, ‘Embattled Heavens’ addresses the complex processes that oscillate between peaceful and aggressive characteristics of human endeavors in outer space. While the Space Age is usually associated with Cold War history, this conference complicates established narratives by integrating Western European and global perspectives. Examining astropolitics, technoscientific practices and science fiction, our goal is to reconceptualize the history of outer space with a view towards its military dimensions.

Conference speakers include David Edgerton (King’s College London), Bernd Greiner (Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung), Michael J. Neufeld (National Air and Space Museum), Alex Roland (Duke University) and Michael Sheehan (Swansea University).


 THURSDAY, 10 April 2014 –

10:00 Introduction
Alexander C.T. Geppert, Daniel Brandau and Tilmann Siebeneichner (Berlin):
Heavenly Utopias and Ultimate Battlefields. The Dark Side of Global Astroculture

10:30 Feature Presentation I
Alex Roland (Durham): The Cold War in Space

11:45 Panel I: Angst
Chair: Markus Pöhlmann (Potsdam)
Chris Gainor (Sidney, CA): The Nuclear Roots of ICBMs
Greg Eghigian (Philadelphia): Flying Saucers, America, and the Specter of War in Postwar Germany, 1946–1960

14:00 Panel II: Territories
Chair: Katie Boyce-Jacino (Baltimore)
Dierk Spreen (Lüneburg): Global Security and Spatial Revolution
Danilo Flores (Berlin): Envisioning Infiltration. Epistemic Border Disputes of Militarized Astroculture

15:30 Panel III: Evolutions
Chair: Jana Bruggmann (Berlin)
Jordan Bimm (Toronto): Simulating Mars in the 1950s and the Military Origins of Astrobiology
Patrick Kilian (Zurich): Darwin vs. Cyborg. Cold War’s Struggle for Evolutionary Fitness in Space

17:00 Panel IV: Plots
Chair: Natalija Majsova (Ljubljana)
Jörg Hartmann (Karlsruhe): “Weltraumschiff I startet.” The Dual-Use of a Spaceflight-Science-Fiction-Film between Fact and Fiction, V-2 and Sputnik
Matthias Hurst (Berlin): “Die phantastischen Abenteuer des Raumschiffs Orion.” Defending Earth in a German Spaceship

– FRIDAY, 11 April 2014 –

09:00 Feature Presentation II
Michael Sheehan (Swansea): Star Wars – Mars against Venus. Strategy, Science Fiction, and Contrasting Visions of Space Security

Chair: Daniel Brandau (Berlin/Mainz)

10:15 Panel V: Infrastructures
Chair: Eva-Maria Silies (Berlin)
Regina Peldszus (Darmstadt): Architecture of Command. Dual-Use Legacy in Mission Control Centers of Civilian Space Operations
Isabell Schrickel (Lüneburg): The Geopolitics of Space Mirrors

11:45 Panel VI: Domination
Chair: Tilmann Siebeneichner (Berlin)
Cathleen Lewis (Washington, DC): Space Spies in the Open. Military Space Stations and Heroic Cosmonauts after the Moon Race, 1971–1975
Pawel Frelik (Lublin): War Play. Space Combat and Galactic Conquests in Arcade and Computer Games

14:00 Panel VII: Depictions
Chair: Tobias Becker (Berlin)
Colleen Anderson (Cambridge, MA): The Militarization of Outer Space in East and West German Satirical Cartoons, 1957–1989

Oliver Dunnett (Belfast): C. S. Lewis and the Moral Threat of Space Exploration

15:30 Panel VIII: Utopias
Chair: Thore Bjørnvig (Copenhagen)
Simon Spiegel (Zurich): Utopian Soldiers. Robert Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” as Utopian Novel
Philipp Theisohn (Zurich): The Suits of Invasion. Extra-Terrestrial Warfare and the ‘Clothing’ of the Body Politic in Twentieth-Century Fiction

– SATURDAY, 12 April 2014 –

09:00 Panel IX: Strategies
Chair: Kai-Uwe Schrogl (Paris)

Anthony W. Enns (Halifax): Satellites and Psychics. The Militarization of Outer and Inner Space
Diethard Sawicki (Paderborn): Heating up the Ionosphere and Owning the Weather? High Power Auroral Stimulation in Defense Scenarios and Conspiracy Theories

10:30 Panel X: Surveillance
Chair: Robert Poole (Manchester)
Patryk Wasiak (Wroclaw): Visual Imagery and the Public Life of Anti-Satellite Weapon Systems
Paul E. Ceruzzi (Washington, DC): The Global Positioning System. Military Origins, Civilian Application, and the Culture of Precise Positioning

13:00 Panel Discussion: Reconfigurations
Chair: Alexander C.T. Geppert (Berlin)
David Edgerton (London) / Bernd Greiner (Hamburg) / Michael J. Neufeld (Washington, DC)

16:00 End

Registration is required to attend the conference. For further information please contact Daniel Brandau and Tilmann Siebeneichner at [email protected] or visit http://www.heavens.geschkult.fu-berlin.de.



Deadline for proposals: 1 December 2013

For much of the twentieth century, outer space has been envisioned as not only a site of heavenly utopias, but also the ultimate battlefield. Science fact and science fiction celebrated visions of progress and renewal. Astrofuturists imagined a future in which the wonders of space exploration would unite humankind and eliminate violent conflict worldwide. Nonetheless, many of the projects and preoccupations central to Western space thought, such as the efforts to establish a military base on the moon, are testaments to the darker and more violent side of astroculture. Defense interests have historically been driving factors in the development of space technologies. Military and civilian aspects have, however, often been dealt with separately in debates about humanity’s widely anticipated future in the stars.

Concentrating on weapons, warfare, and violence, this conference examines the military dimensions of astroculture in the period between 1942 and 1990. While space history tends to distinguish between military and civilian aspects, this conference examines the ways in which both have been linked in the legitimization and popularization of spaceflight. By highlighting the militarization of extraterrestrial frontiers and conquest in politics and popular culture alike, ‘Embattled Heavens’ addresses the complex processes that oscillate between peaceful and aggressive characteristics of human endeavors in outer space. It aims to decentralize a historiography that often focuses on the two space superpowers, the US and the USSR. While the Space Age is usually associated with the Cold War, this conference complicates established narratives by integrating Western European and global perspectives. Examining astropolitics, technoscientific practices, and science fiction, our goal is to reconceptualize the history of outer space with a view toward its military dimensions.

The conference will be structured around the following five core themes: (1) ROCKETS AND DOMINATION looks at military spaceflight and its political applications from the V-2 rocket to satellite surveillance, problematizing the ‘dual use’ character of space technology. (2) HUMAN SPACEFLIGHT AND HEROIC UTOPIAS explores the interplay of romantic images and technoscientific narratives in legitimizing the development and use of space technology. (3) SPACE MACHINES emphasizes the collaborative role of both technology and human actors in developing ever-new capabilities of space assets and envisioning the possibilities for space-based wars. (4) BODIES IN SPACE focuses on agency and experience in relation to aspects of physical power and violent practices and the constant preoccupation with the possibilities of extraterrestrial life. (5) ENVISIONING SITES OF WAR examines the importance of visions articulated in science fiction and their influence on international politics, from Wernher von Braun’s space station scheme to Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars program, stressing the tensions between depictions of the heavens as a utopian site eliminating all future wars, and as a battlefield of cosmic dimensions.

Our approach is transdisciplinary, and we welcome proposals for twenty-minute presentations from scholars of all fields, including history, political science, science and technology studies, and cultural studies. Please submit an abstract of no more than 300 words together with a short CV (up to two pages) before 1 December 2013 to Daniel Brandau and Tilmann Siebeneichner at [email protected]. All lodging and meals during the conference will be covered. A limited number of grants will be given to contributors to cover their travel expenses.

Click here to download the Call for Papers as PDF.


“The Future in the Stars: European Astroculture and Extraterrestrial Life in the Twentieth Century”
Emmy Noether Research Group
Freie Universität Berlin
Koserstrasse 20
D-14195 Berlin
[email protected]

Conference Venue

Freie Universität Berlin
Henry Ford Building
Garystrasse 35
D-14195 Berlin