While outer space is often described as the final frontier, we know more about the surface of our Moon than we do our sea floors. Yet, the differences are diminishing in the way our seas and our universe are explored, governed and used. Both sea and space geographies go beyond the traditional definition of geography as ‘earth-writing’ and focus on land through the landscapes they are encompassing.
Exploration of our oceans and space have seen similar challenges for humans; as environments we do not and cannot naturally thrive in. Both require oxygen supplies, specialist equipment and technology – increasingly robots are used in both – to create an environment in which humans can explore them. A submarine creator even himself likens them to spaceships. The exploration of both is also heavily gender-biased, with men leading the way in initial efforts to explore both, and continuing to be the majority in both fields.
Both environments have increasingly looked to private rather than state-funded projects, with Elon Musk’s SpaceX pioneering in this for space exploration. While sea exploration was originally state-dominated for the purposes of warfare and territory gain, private actors soon followed, and billionaire Ray Dalio’s OceanX project aims to do what SpaceX is doing, but in our seas.
The idea of understanding these environments in order to understand our life on land, on planet Earth, is central to their exploration. We are told lessons can be learnt from the environments of planets, and from sea-living creatures. Both sea and space are also increasingly touted as potential living spaces for the inhabitants of Earth, should climate change or another disaster necessitate it. Underwater living is a key tenet of many utopian visions of living, seen as a safe place, while space exploration celebrates finding far-off planets most similar to Earth, while the media disseminate this by telling us how long it would take to get there; feeding imaginations with the idea of living on other planets as a reality.
Oli Mould speaks of themes to explore when looking at space geographically, themes which parallel those on the topic of seas. The ‘zoning of the solar system’ reflects the political efforts to zone our seas, leading from ‘the geopolitics of claiming near space’ – the governance of our oceans and of space both still raise questions. While the governance of our seas is already set out in law unlike space, contests still arise and questions still remain, with the South China Sea and China’s artificial islands there but one such example.
The parallels between the politics and the geographies of our oceans and of space can learn from each other, in the same way technologies developed and improved for both through learning from each other, as sea and space exploration become ever more similar.