Since the 1950s, views of Earth from above have been critiqued for provoking detachment from and decontextualization of human, terrestrial concerns. These critiques thus establish Earth's enveloping atmosphere as the ultimate context for meaningful and grounded accounts of humanness, and outer space as a site for abstract, generalizable knowledge. But in outer space, the explanatory work done by “context” is put in question, because spacefaring humans must attend to basic and constantly shifting conditions for life that lie beyond “context” on Earth, including breathing. Attention to humans in real and speculative space environments reveals context as a naturalizing device that establishes universal nature/culture distinctions through recourse to grounding terrestrial ontologies.
Earth's atmosphere as seen from the International Space Station, showing the India-Pakistan border. Photo: NASA