Valerie Olson


On her book Into the Extreme: U.S. Environmental Systems and Politics beyond Earth

Cover Interview of June 24, 2018

A close-up

I hope the reader will thumb through the book and check out the images and illustrations. U.S. human spaceflight is both a civil and a military activity, which means that it produces images that are offered to the public at large as well as images that are kept secret. I included lots of fair access images that call attention to the stolidly technical and extravagantly creative spectrum of government environmental systems work.

While browsing through the book, I hope readers will also take a look at the quotes I got from the many people I worked with and interviewed. Spaceflight stories are usually focused on high-profile machines, astronauts, and events. As an ethnographer, I’m also interested in portraying the work of the spaceflight scientists, engineers, technicians, and student interns who show up at the gates of spaceflight centers every day.

I had, literally, thousands of images, to choose from and hundreds of pages of interviews and fieldwork notes to build this book from; I selected those that I felt would support my analytic goals, namely to call attention to the ways the contemporary solar system is being produced as a sociocultural, and political, environment. In this way, I situate space and spaceflight in the unfolding arenas of environmental history and politics.