MSc Environmental Governance

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Environmental Governance and Geographies of Outer Space

Course unit fact file
Unit code GEOG60982
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The increasing role of outer space technologies in our lives, the diversity of human activity in outer space and the central role that it now plays within culture and politics are important concerns for human geographers, and in recent years there has been a wealth of research on outer space to which geographers have made critical contributions (Dunnett et al., 2019). 

This optional unit introduces the principles of, and debates surrounding, environmental and geographic research on outer space through a series of lectures and supporting seminar discussions. You will participate in and experience academic research seminars on cutting-edge environmental and geographical research projects on live policy issues being undertaken across myriad empirical and theoretical contexts. This introduction to the environmental governance and geographies of outer space will be supported by seminar-based discussions led by the unit convenor. You will develop a working understanding of the concepts, theories, methods and debates that cross-cut geographical research on outer space.  


  • To introduce students to geographic research on outer space across the breadth of the discipline 
  • To identify key environmental concerns associated with human and robotic use of outer space 
  • To question established approaches to regulating human and robotic use of outer space in relation to the environment, from market based to non-market based approaches 
  • To analyse some of the key environmental governance and practical challenges of space exploration and the constraints encountered by relevant stakeholders as they operate across a range of sectors and outer space locations 
  • To learn from real-world practitioners and liaise with external organisations on live environmental policy issues relevant to outer space governance of earth’s orbits, the moon, planets and other bodies throughout our solar system 
  • To reflect on disciplinary methods and concepts used in the study of outer space and to develop grounded critiques of their appropriate usage


Week 1:  Introduction: Outer Space matters! (Dr. Craig Thomas)

Week 2:  Extraglobal governance (Dr. Craig Thomas)

Week 3:  The Environmental Geopolitics of outer space (Dr. Craig. Thomas)

Week 4: Planetary environmentalism

Week 5: Human visions of possibility and dystopia (Dr. Craig Thomas)

Week 6: Study week

Week 7: Extra-terrestrial geomorphology (Dr. Abi Stone)

Week 8: Study week and Easter break

Week 9: Space, the final frontier: extra-terrestrial rare earth mining (Dr. Craig Thomas)

Week 10: Green space: How off-world construction technologies could promote sustainable development on Earth (Dr. Aled Roberts)

Week 11: Earth Observation: challenges, opportunities and the role of the worldwide space agencies (Dr Polyanna da Conceição Bispo)

Week 12: Indigenous Astronomy (Dr Ali Browne with Noonger Elder or Scientist TBC)

Teaching and learning methods

Lecture slides will be shared through Blackboard using Voice Thread, which allows you to add comments to the slides.

Organisation, feedback and discussion for the first assessment and the group presentation will be facilitated through Blackboard using Piazza.

1 x Workshop will engage with virtual reality representations of the Earth from Space using virtual reality headsets. This is an optional workshop.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Identify the core concepts applied in research on the environmental governance and geographies of outer space across the breadth of the discipline
  • Articulate key debates on outer space governance using geographic concepts to academic and lay audiences

Intellectual skills

  • Critically assess the theories, methods, outcomes and wider significance of contemporary geographic research on outer space
  • Apply environmental geographical frameworks to debates and issues in outer space governance
  • To critically evaluate the role of states, international institutions and civil society in achieving or constraining effective outer space governance

Practical skills

  • Develop and articulate clear, structured and reasoned arguments in both written and oral contexts
  • Disseminate academic ideas to non-academic audiences through updating Wikipedia pages on a geographic concept used in research on outer space or applying a geographical perspective to an outer space policy or treaty
  • To evaluate the efficacy of governance structures and formulate considered proposals for reform

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • To facilitate the development of transferable academic skills including the ability to conduct independent research, the ability to communicate ideas effectively, both verbally and in writing, and the ability to present planned research to an audience of peers
  • Communicate inter-personally
  • Motivate and self-direct their learning

Assessment methods

1. Wikipedia contribution (33%; 1000 words) — Feedback on Turnitin, Week 8

This assignment requires students to either write their own Wikipedia entry or contribute to an existing Wikipedia entry on a topic related to the module. It will require skills in critical thinking, analysis and evaluation of a major theoretical area that compares, contrasts or elaborates on the frameworks and ideas laid out in the course. It also requires a brief commentary on why you chose that topic, how you changed the page (and why), and what you learnt about Wikipedia in general.

2. Group presentation (formative; 10 mins, with 5 mins questions)  — Feedback over email

In week 8 you will give a group presentation (with 8 slides) that identifies and addresses an issue in outer space governance and proposes an innovative solution. This is a formative exercise. The emphasis will be on the analysis of the problem identified and initiative of the solution offered.

3. Essay (67%; 2000 words) — Feedback on Blackboard, 2nd June

You have a choice of 4 coursework essay questions. You can apply your chosen question to any outer-space locales or places, or any examples of environmental governance in outer space. The essay will require skills in critical thinking, analysis and evaluation of a major theoretical area that compares contrasts or elaborates on the frameworks and ideas laid out in the course.

Feedback methods

Turnitin (Blackboard) will be used to provide feedback to students for for the assessed components. Email will be used to provide feedback to the students for the formative presentation. Students will have the opportunity to provide feedback to the lecturers and course coordinator using Piazza (accessible on Blackboard).

Recommended reading

  • Beery, J. (2012) State, capital and spaceships: A terrestrial geography of space tourism. Geoforum 43(1): 25–34.
  • Beery, J. (2016) Unearthing global natures: Outer space and scalar politics. Political Geography 55: 92–101.
  • Castree, N., Demeritt, D., Liverman, D., and Rhoads, B. (2016) A Companion to Environmental Geography. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Cosgrove, D. (1994) Contested Global Visions: One-World, Whole-Earth, and the Apollo Space Photographs. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 84(2): 270–294.
  • Craddock, R. A. (2011) Aeolian processes on the terrestrial planets: Recent observations and future focus. Progress in Physical Geography: Earth and Environment 36(1): 110–124.
  • Dittmer, J. N. (2007) Colonialism and Place Creation in Mars Pathfinder Media Coverage. Geographical Review 97(1): 112–130.
  • Dunnett, O., Maclaren, A. S., Klinger, J., Lane, K. M. D., and Sage, D. (2019) Geographies of outer space: Progress and new opportunities. Progress in Human Geography 43(2): 314–336.
  • Klinger, J. M. (2018) Rare Earth Frontiers: From Terrestrial Subsoils to Lunar Landscapes. (Illustrated edition.). Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Klinger, J. M. (2019) Environmental Geopolitics and Outer Space. Geopolitics 0(0): 1–38.
  • Klinger, J. M. (2020) Critical Geopolitics of Outer Space. Geopolitics 0(0): 1–5.
  • Lane, K. M. D. (2010) Geographies of Mars: Seeing and Knowing the Red Planet. (Illustrated edition.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • MacDonald, F. (2007) Anti-Astropolitik — outer space and the orbit of geography. Progress in Human Geography 31(5): 592–615.
  • Messeri, L. (2016) Placing Outer Space: An Earthly Ethnography of Other Worlds. (Illustrated edition.). Durham: Duke University Press Books.
  • Ormrod, J. S. (2013) Beyond World Risk Society? A Critique of Ulrich Beck’s World Risk Society Thesis as a Framework for Understanding Risk Associated with Human Activity in Outer Space. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 31(4): 727–744.
  • Sammler, K. G., and Lynch, C. R. (2021) Spaceport America: Contested Offworld Access and the Everyman Astronaut. Geopolitics 26(3): 704–728.
  • Turner, M. 2017. Political Ecology III: The Commons and Commoning. Progress in Human Geography 41 (6): 795-802.
  • United Nations (1967) Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies
  • United Nations (1984) Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 12
Practical classes & workshops 2
Independent study hours
Independent study 136

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Craig Thomas Unit coordinator

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