Valentin Lebedev is a pioneer of space and earth science in Russia. He is also the first auto-ethnographer of inhabited outer space. While “on orbit” as a fieldworking cosmonaut in 1982, he produced a “thick description” diary detailing the intimate sociality and technoculture of the space complex Salyut-7. The diary reveals Lebedev’s increasingly strong connection to Earth and disdain for politicized Ground Control operations. From their perspectives, the authorizing force that mattered to the mission was ultimately “space-as-itself”: a “0-Gravity” environment both hostile to life as we know it and infinitely generative of it. Here, I take up Lebedev’s stated purpose for the diary of productively de-familiarizing (ostranenie) a spaceworld that publics may have thought they understood.
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Debbora Battalgia is Professor of Anthropology at Mount Holyoke College.