Eternity in low earth orbit: Icons on the international space station

Wendy Salmond, Justin Walsh, Alice Gorman

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    3 Citations (Scopus)
    21 Downloads (Pure)


    This paper investigates the material culture of icons on the International Space Station as part of a complex web of interactions between cosmonauts and the Russian Orthodox Church, reflecting contemporary terrestrial political and social affairs. An analysis of photographs from the International Space Station (ISS) demonstrated that a particular area of the Zvezda module is used for the display of icons, both Orthodox and secular, including the Mother of God of Kazan and Yuri Gagarin. The Orthodox icons are frequently sent to space and returned to Earth at the request of church clerics. In this process, the icons become part of an economy of belief that spans Earth and space. This practice stands in contrast to the prohibition against displaying political/religious imagery in the U.S.-controlled modules of ISS. The icons mark certain areas of ISS as bounded sacred spaces or hierotopies, separated from the limitless outer space beyond the space station walls.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number611
    Number of pages16
    Issue number11
    Publication statusPublished - 17 Nov 2020


    • Cosmonaut
    • Hierotopy
    • Iconography
    • International Space Station
    • Material culture
    • Sacred space


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