Friday, January 31, 2020

Australian space icon: Mr Squiggle, the Man from the Moon


The impact of the Space Age was not just in science and technology - it was also in popular and everyday culture. If you were a kid growing up in Australia from the 1960s until the the 1990s, you would have been familiar with a children's television icon: Mr Squiggle, the Man from the Moon. Mr Squiggle is a huge part of Australian television history, but I'm more interested in what the programme says about how space travel was perceived in the 1960s and after.

Squiggle basics

This is Mr Squiggle's theme tune:
Here's Mr Squiggle
With lots of fun for everyone
Here's Mr Squiggle, sing a happy tune
You can see we're as happy as can be
Mr Squiggle, the man from the Moon.


Mr Squiggle was the brainchild of political cartoonist and puppeteer Norman Hetherington. The pencil-nosed puppet's television debut was in 1959. At first Mr Squiggle was part of a six week stint on the Children's TV Club on the ABC, but soon gained his own stand-alone programme. Margaret, who married Norman in 1958, wrote the scripts for the show while Norman performed all the character voices. (Note that while Norman has his own Wikipedia page, Margaret doesn't).

Children would send in their 'squiggles', and Mr Squiggle used his pencil nose to make them into pictures, accompanied by a female sidekick. Other characters included Bill Steamshovel, Gus the snail, Merv Wallop and his nephew Wayne, Reg Linchpin, Doormat, the grumpy Rocket and a talking Blackboard.

Mr Squiggle lived at 93 Crater Crescent on the Moon and travelled to Earth every week in his rocket or by going for a 'space-walk'. He could also break out into gravity-defying 'space-walks' spontaneously in the middle of shows. Sometimes, if Rocket was very grumpy, Mr Squiggle would use an umbrella for the descent. 

The action takes place in a very ordinary, regular backyard, with gum trees, in the fictional location of Bandywallop. (The Collins dictionary defines Bandywallop as 'Australian informal: noun. An imaginary town, far from civilization'). There's a rainwater tank where Bill Steamshovel hangs out, and old, weathered yards surrounded by bush. I guess part of the appeal of Mr Squiggle, as we got so much US and UK children's television, was that it was set in Australia with Australian accents and culture. 

Mr Squiggle's female sidekicks were:
The science fiction writer Terry Dowling was a resident guest on Mr Squiggle, from 1979 to 1982. He wrote songs and performed them on the programme with his guitar.  Comedian and radio personality Mikey Robins played Reg Linchpin for a year in 1989-1990. The programme ended in 1999. 

Two books were spin-offs from the series. Margaret Hetherington wrote them, and Norman did the illustrations. They were Mr Squiggle and the Great Moon Robbery (1980) and Mr Squiggle and the Preposterous Purple Crocodile (1992). There was also a colouring book in 1989 - Mr Squiggle and His Rocket Activity Book

Bradshaw, Richard 2010 Eulogy for Norman Hetherington 1921 - 2010. OPEN: Oz Puppetry Email Newsletter Issue 11

Gorman, A.C. 2018 Gravity's playground: dreams of spaceflight and the rocket park in Australian culture. In Darran Jordan and Rocco Bosco, ed. Defining the Fringe of Contemporary Australian Archaeology. Pyramidiots, Paranoia and the Paranormal. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 92-107.

Gorman, A.C. 2011 The sky is falling: how Skylab became an Australian icon. Journal of Australian Studies 35(4):529-546

Jones, Melissa 1989 Mr Squiggle chalks up 30 years. The Australian Women's Weekly p 65 (reproduced at http://members.optusnet.com.au/kringunny/squiggle.htm)

Solman, Peter 2010 Norman Hetherington Remembered. A personal recollection by Peter Soloman. OPEN: Oz Puppetry Email Newsletter Issue 11

Wilkins, Richard 2011 Black Ties, Red Carpets, Green Rooms. Chatswood: New Holland

Wilson, Peter J. and Geoffrey Milne 2004 The Space Between: The Art of Puppetry and Visual Theatre in Australia. Sydney: Currency Press




Friday, December 27, 2019

Stone Age to Space Age in 1960s and 70s American sitcoms

One weekend I was idling at home watching cheesy American sitcoms from the 1960s and 1970s, and I chanced across a very interesting episode of The Brady Bunch. I was arrested by a theme that I've written about often before: the trope which places the 'Stone Age' and the 'Space Age' in opposition. The Brady Bunch was a pretty unlikely place to stumble across a critique of this, but stranger things have happened.


This led me to recall a double episode of my favourite Space Age sitcom, I Dream of Jeannie, set in Hawai'i. I watched this again just as I was beginning to feel my way around my space research over a decade ago, and it's been in the back of my mind ever since. Its themes are similar to the Brady Bunch episodes, and it's interesting to see how they appear to the contemporary eye.

From buffalo to blast-off

In the Brady Bunch episode Grand Canyon or Bust (1971), Cindy and Bobby wander off during a family holiday and get lost. They meet Jimmy, a Hopi boy who has run away from his grandfather.

This is in the midst of the Apollo human spaceflight program: Apollo 14 had been launched in January 1971, and Apollo 15 in July.
Cindy and Bobby meet Jimmy

In the third episode of this story arc, The Brady Braves, Mr Brady rescues the three children. Jimmy says he loves his grandfather, but ran away because his grandfather talked about the past all the time. He says, 'Mr Brady, I'm tired of being an injun [sic]. I want to be an astronaut'. In his mind, the two are mutually exclusive. The 'Stone Age' cannot meet the 'Space Age'. 

When he is reunited with his grandfather, the grandfather says to Mr Brady, "He thinks because I speak of buffalo, I don't understand blast-offs". There are generational dilemmas in this phrase. The implication is that knowledge is lost in simply three generations between the grandparents and grandchildren. The youngsters don't want to know their heritage; the connection between the past and the future is not obvious to them. The grandfather thinks differently, however: for him the buffalo (a term commonly used for North American bison), a species which had been decimated by European invasion, is still the present, not the past. The buffalo symbolises the impacts of colonialism which young Jimmy wants to forget, but the grandfather sees the connections between the 'Space Age' and 'Stone Age'.

Later there's a ceremony in which the Brady Bunch are inducted as members of the tribe and given new names. There is an exchange of values flowing between past and present, invader and vanquished. Of course none of this is as fluffy and light in reality as in Brady Bunch world, but the episodes attempt to break down the idea that there should be a division between buffalo and blast-off - the Hopi boy can have his American Dream without giving up his heritage. It's a hopeful message about the reconciliation between Stone and Space Ages.

'Pity the Indians of Outer Space'

There's quite a few stories of American Indian reactions to the Apollo missions. They centre around the themes of Indigenous knowledge vs 'scientific' knowledge.

In series of stories (I heard one account first-hand from a US anthropologist), American Indian people tell anthropologists who ask their opinion of the Apollo lunar landings that they already knew the Moon was just a grey dusty rock. There was no need to spend billions on a mission to find out what was already known!

Another set of stories has a tribe sending a message to the lunar inhabitants, or the lunar spirits, to watch out for the visitors. They will only steal their land, or ruin the environment as Europeans have on Earth (eg Young 1983: 273).

These stories place Indigenous knowledge and scientific knowledge in opposition, and are told with the intention of mocking Western science - but the 'superstitious' knowledge of the First Nations people is also satirised. The 'Stone Age' and 'Space Age' still define the encounter. Like all good urban legends, the stories stop short of telling you what happened next. The conflict is not resolved but left hanging in the air.

As Young (1983:274) argues, however, these are different registers of knowledge. Although they are juxtaposed in the metaphor, they are not commensurate. Each requires a different class of action. And First Nations people are not, by these stories, positioned as the first astronauts. They are still excluded. The Space Age is seen as unnecessary for them.

I dream of a terra nullius

There's an interesting parallel in the on-location Hawai'ian episodes of I Dream of Jeannie, which are basically US propaganda to justify the illegal annexation of the islands. Hawai'i was an independent sovereign kingdom until the monarch, Queen Liliuokalani, was overthrown by an American conspiracy in 1893. In the 1960s, an independence movement was emerging in Hawaii just at the time when tourism was becoming a big industry. The IDOJ episodes represented space as soft diplomacy.

Hawaii was quite an important place in the US space program. NASA built a tracking station on the island of Kauai, in Koke'e State Park, in 1961 to support their first human spaceflight program, Project Mercury. The station went on to support Gemini and Apollo. Neil Armstrong himself was posted to the Kauai tracking station in 1965 when he was the CAPCOM (capsule commander) for Gemini 3. It's now called the Koke'e Park Geophysical Observatory.

The tracking station on Kauai in 1965. Image credit: NASA
The returning Apollo astronauts dropped into the sea; and the Pearl Harbour naval base, near Honolulu, was where the recovery fleet was stationed. (You might remember that astronaut Tony Nelson finds Jeannie's bottle on a tropical beach with palm trees when he steps out of his capsule). The Apollo 11-14 crew were quarantined in Honolulu.

NASA also used the stark volcanic landscapes of Hawaii to familiarise the Apollo 11 astronauts with lunar geology. In January 1965, the crew traipsed over terrain shaped by lava in training exercises, including a hike to the summit of the Mauna Loa volcano.


But of course, these uniquely Hawai'ian landscapes were not a terra nullius, the legal fiction of a land belonging to no-one. They were only a lunar analogue if you stripped away all history and culture; reduced them to a narrow geology where people had never set foot before.

'Oh, you don't think he's serious about this invasion business, do you?'

Oh, you don't think he's serious about that That invasion business, do you?

Read more: https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/view_episode_scripts.php?tv-show=i-dream-of-jeannie-1965&episode=s03e15
Oh, you don't think he's serious about that That invasion business, do you?

Read more: https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/view_episode_scripts.php?tv-show=i-dream-of-jeannie-1965&episode=s03e15
In Jeannie Goes to Honolulu (December 19, 1967), Tony and his comedic sidekick Major Roger Healey are on a 'working holiday' in Hawai'i when Jeannie joins them. The second part is The Battle of Waikiki (January 2, 1968). Tony expresses the desire to meet King Kamehameha, who founded the Kingdom of Hawai'i in 1810, and of course Jeannie summons him up.

Tony and Roger chat to King Kamehameha in downtown Honolulu.
Image courtesy of Sitcomsonline
The script is so entangled with colonial metaphors it would take a whole essay to pull them apart.  I'm not going to do it now! But there are some key points. Famously, Kamehameha was in power when Captain Cook came through and 'discovered' the islands in 1778.  There's a whole narrative of space exploration which co-opts the colonisation of the Pacific by intrepid seafarers, followed by the European colonial voyages, into a supposed universal human 'urge to explore' which leads to space. Thus Hawai'i's subjugation by the US is subsumed into an arc of inevitability. The connections in this narrative are so strongly embedded in space culture that the Apollo Lunar Surface Journals were created in emulation of Cook's journals during his Pacific voyages.

Part of the humour resides in King Kamehameha's reactions to modern technology. 'He has a chance to see what civilization has done for his country' says Roger. The king surveys the office buildings, hotels, sidewalks and motorcycles, but he's not impressed. He insists that they are removed. The astronauts are confused. Isn't it obvious that this is better? 'He's got to be made to see that civilization has helped, and the progress that's been made here', Tony says.

Once again, Indigenous knowledge and western scientific knowledge are brought face to face. Kamehameha performs a dance and causes it to rain (with intervention from Jeannie). Dr Bellows sees an opportunity:
Dr Bellows: Don't you realize if he went to Washington with us, have you any idea what it would mean? 
Tony:  It would certainly shake up the boys in meteorology.
Dr Bellows: Well I think so! Predicting the weather is one thing, but making the weather? Why, we're just beginning to experiment!
Interestingly, Dr Bellows prefigures the current trend to incorporate Indigenous knowledge in land management. Of course, the joke's on him: as Tony points out, no-one would believe him about the rainmaking.

The King is in no mood to be trifled with, and proposes to raise an army to take back the islands. But the only canoes he can find are rented at $2.00 an hour to tourists, and the only spears are souvenirs for purchase in the hotel gift shop. His soldiers are the staff at the 'Living Hawai'i' museum.

While King Kamehameha plans his moves, the NASA staff all head off for a grand luau with roasted pigs and tropical fruits. Kamehameha's attack is interpreted as a performance and his army desert to participate in the luau. The King gives up in disgust.

By the end of the program, he has been brought to heel. 'I do not understand your way of life but my people seem happy. Perhaps this progress is good for them', he says. 'You make sure your civilization take care of my people.' An interesting statement in light of the social divisions unremarked upon in the episode: the local Hawai'ians are employed to serve food, sell souvenirs, hire out war canoes to white American military personnel and tourists looking for authentic tiki culture.

And so by the end of the episode, all conflict is resolved neatly, delivering political stability in advance of the Apollo 11 mission.

Conclusions

The episodes are both blunt instruments and nuanced in ways you don't expect. The Brady Bunch episode has so many cliches and stereotypes, and yet it is basically promoting the idea that the Stone Age and Space Age are not opposed: the young Hopi boy CAN become an astronaut. The buffalo and blast-off can co-exist, neither erasing the other.

The Battle of Waikiki is a reverie on the continuity of colonial manliness, a theme analysed by Anne McClintock in Imperial Leather. King Kamehameha conquered and united the Hawai'ian islands, just like the astronauts are going to conquer space. And like the cannibal mythos, the astronauts have absorbed some of King Kamehameha's heroic qualities. They become his symbolic heirs in conquest. In doing so, they retrospectively bestow value on Indigenous cultures, which are not excluded but incorporated into the narrative while staying firmly fixed in the past.

Hawai'i is still a battleground of Stone Age/Space Age values. It's the location of the Hi-SEAS (Hawai'i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) habitat, meant to simulate the experience of isolation on a long-duration space mission to Mars. The colonial refiguring of the landscape has morphed with changing USA space aspirations.

More recently, there has been controversy about the construction of a new telescope on the mountain of Mauna Kea.  The easy resort of placing 'Stone Age' in the past while 'Space Age' represents the future is being challenged by protectors resisting a manifestation of colonialism masked in science. It's complex and I don't pretend to understand enough about the issues to explain them here. One commentator, however, has called the protests 'one of the largest uprisings of Native Hawaiians in modern history'.

There are no Indigenous people in space, I have heard stated many times. Space is up for grabs with clean hands as no humans will be displaced, alienated, subjected to genocide. Space is the colonialist's wet dream.

But I would argue that it's a false framing to say that the lack of space Indigenes creates a carte blanche, a tabula rasa, a terra nullius. It's just that we don't recognise how deeply space is now inscribed with white, male, capitalist and colonialist values, as these are the default, invisible to the scientific and military cadres of which the space community is mainly composed. But because these things are defined by what they exclude, the exclusions are already present. You need a different perspective to perceive their power.



References
McClintock, Anne 1995 Imperial Leather. Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York: Routledge

Young, Jane 1983 'Pity the Indians of outer space': Native American views of the space program. Western Folklore 46(4):269-279



Saturday, September 07, 2019

Words and poems by women in Dr Space Junk vs the Universe.

In my book Dr Space Junk vs the Universe: Archaeology and the Future, I start every chapter with a poem or a quote by a woman. This was something I decided to do very early on in the writing process.

There were poems and poets I already knew I wanted to include, such as the inspiring Christine Rueter (@Tychogirl). For other chapters, I had to do a lot of research to find the right fit. This, as you can imagine, was an incredibly rewarding process as I trawled through the internet poetry archive, discovering wonderful works and poets I had never come across before. There were some interesting Twitter conversations which led me to all kinds of beautiful writing. So much amazing poetry! I would have used them all if I could. (I'm very open to offers from a publisher to edit a book of women's space poetry....)

Then began the process of gaining permission to use the quotes. This came as a shock to me, as it's generally not necessary in academic writing. As my book was a regular bookshop book expected to make money, I had to negotiate copyright clearance. Sadly some did not come through in time and I had to find alternatives. Of that, more later.

Here are the poems/quotes as featured in the book, links to their full version, and a little explanation of what they mean for me.

Introduction: Looking Up, Looking Down
I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination.

From Ursula K Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness, 1969
Ursula K. Le Guin.
Image Credit: Dana Gluckstein / MPTV Images

The Left Hand of Darkness
is a justly renowned novel by the great master of science fiction. She explores the impacts of sex and gender on human social systems by imagining a society where neither exists as we understand it. It's what good science fiction should be: something that gives us insight into the other, and in doing so invites reflection on the causes and consequences of our own social being.

The quote implies that facts are not enough to tell a story, and facts themselves are dependent on context. I felt this was a fitting way to open the book, as I did not want to talk just about facts. I wanted it to be about the things that usually get left out of space narratives - feelings and emotions, social context, and the everyday.



Chapter 1: How I became a space archaeologist

And I am as far as an infinite alphabet
made from yellow stars and ice,
and you are as far as the nails of the dead man,
as far as a sailor can see at midnight
when he’s drunk and the moon is an empty cup,
and I am as far as invention and you are as far as memory.

Excerpt from Susan Stewart, Yellow Stars and Ice, 1982.

Susan Stewart.
Image credit: https://poets.org/poet/susan-stewart

I love this poem because it's about the distance between things that can't be measured. It seems to capture a paradox of space for me. Space can't be characterised by just numbers; its vast distances can be both infinite and intimate at the same time.

I love the juxtapostion of invention and memory. This reminds me of the Platonic theory of anamnesis: that all knowledge is just remembering what we already knew before our current embodiment.

It also reminds me of the story of little yellow droplets of frozen urine from the Mir space station, which sometimes became embedded in the windows of the US space shuttle.

It's a magical incantation too, with shades of the tarot in the empty cup, the dead man, the Moon. Perhaps I need to go back and read the rest of the poem in this light.


Chapter 2: Journey into Space

Our trajectory
the nautilus shell curved path
away from our home.

Poem by Christine Rueter, Our Trajectory, 2015

Christine Rueter. Image Credit: @tychogirl
I've been inspired by Christine Rueter's poetry and artworks ever since I met her on Twitter, and she is unfailingly generous in giving me permission to use her work. I first started to think about shell-and-space metaphors when I read Gaston Bachelard's Poetics of Space (1958). I had kind of hoped that the Poetics of Space would have a lot more of outer space in it than it did, but in fact outer space is folded into and interleaved with inner space if you look for it in this work.

The nautilus shell in Christine's poem is a curve both inwards and outwards. Home is the planet Earth, but also the home where I start this autobiographical chapter. The nautilus shell is the curves of orbit, the journey not to centre of Earth, vide Jules Verne, but into the infinite expanse of outer space.


Chapter 3: Space Archaeology Begins on Earth

This morning this planet is covered by winds and blue.
This morning this planet glows with dustless perfect light,
enough that I can see one million sharp leaves
from where I stand. I walk on this planet, its hard-packed

dirt and prickling grass, and I don’t fall off. I come down
soft if I choose, hard if I choose. I never float away.
Sometimes I want to be weightless on this planet, and so ...

Excerpt from Catherine Pierce, Planet, 2017.

Catherine Pierce. Image Credit: Brooklyn Poets

In the previous chapter I had talked of the moment of getting my first glasses, at age 11, and the sudden revelation that the species of bird could be identified visually while they were in flight. The other revelation was leaves on trees, which suddenly became individual and distinct. I remember so well wearing my new glasses on the drive home from Albury, the town where the nearest optometrist was, with this new vision: marvelling at all that had previously been hidden from me.

In recent years I've become more and more interested in dust (lunar, cosmic, interplanetary), and the 'dustless light' is a contrast to, for example, zodiacal light, which is the sun's rays reflected from the particles of dust between the planets. This dust is left over, they say, from the formation of the solar system.

I interpret the 'come down soft if I choose, hard if I choose' as a statement about how gravity is experienced. It's not just an abstract quality, and equation, a way to characterise different motions and places in space. It's also something all living things interact with. Pierce reminds us that we are not helpless victims of gravity. We can choose - sometimes at least - how to engage with it. Later in the book I pickup the theme of gravity in more detail. 


Chapter 4: Junkyard Earth

Strange flashes of radiation
zip through your ghost eyes
on this frenzied carousel
hurtling round Earth.
You wonder if radar will pick
you up as a spectral shadow
or dark mass. An unexplained
phenomenon cataloged and
monitored in the wasteland flux
where blackness leans into the soul.

Excerpt from Marina Lee Sable, Space Junk, 2010. 

Space junk. Image credit: University of Miami

In the book I'm trying to convey the message that junk is never just junk: how we classify it says something about our values. This excerpt speaks about the general invisibility of space junk and its ghostly qualities. It's a visual picture of what's above our heads - a high speed whirling carousel of dark objects which you can only see when they catch the sunlight. Apart from these moments, they are in darkness and beyond human senses.

Dead satellites have been called zombies. They are not buried, they don't stay put, they move. But they have no direction; there's no-one home inside. Sable evokes a colourless wasteland populated by shadowy beings whizzing frantically without purpose: damned, condemned to orbit, their soullessness threatening our souls. Space is haunted by the ghosts our past.


Chapter 5: Shadows on the Moon

The grey unknown
was acceptable for so long
but then we got close
and color leaked in

Poem by Christine Rueter, Color leaked in, 2015

Goethe's theory of colours. Image credit: unknown.
I chose this poem because it contrasts our vision of the Moon from a distance, where it appears a relentless grey, and the experience of it close up when humans finally walked there on the Apollo missions of the 1960s. There is the scientific observation of light and shadow, and then there is the embodied experience. As a former painter, I've long been intrigued by Goethe's colour theory; and although it has been heavily criticised, I think his exploration of coloured shadows has something to offer the way we understand colour on other worlds, in other atmospheres. Astronaut Alan Bean devoted his post-Apollo life to painting the colours he saw on the Moon: mauves, yellows, greens, hidden in the shadows. You can see his paintings here.

I do hope Christine publishes a book of her poetry and artworks, because it would be truly beautiful and I would buy many copies to give to my friends.


Chapter 6: The edge of known space

Black upon black, the fissure in the ice,
The outer rim where you passed
Once, but not twice.

Excerpt from Alice Gorman, Eurydyssey,  2018.

Glidden Fresh Hyacinth.
Image credit: Encycolorpedia

Originally I had wanted to use a quote from HD's Eurydice, a poem that pierces you to the core. You can find the full text here. However, I didn't get permission to use it in time. This left me with a dilemma. My publisher suggested finding another poem; but in the diminishing time I had left to both find one and obtain permission, it was a tall order. I was stymied, my beautiful scheme of women's words about to become unravelled.

I asked my esteemed colleague Dr Lynley Wallis for advice. Her answer was: why not write one yourself? But I'm not a poet, I replied. So? she said. I thought about it for a little while, and then thought, what have I got to lose?  I can at least have a go. It doesn't matter if it's crap, it need never see the light of day....

So this is my effort above. The conceit is that it's from a longer poem - it's just that I haven't written the rest yet! I called it Eurydyssey to reference the inspiration of HD's Eurydice, and as a play on the Odyssey, as this chapter was about far-voyaging spacecraft. 

While I wanted to make it a homage to Eurydice, I also had to avoid the risk of plagiarism. There had recently been a massive plagiarism scandal in the poetry world, and many people were discussing the issues around writing something 'after', or 'in the style of', a poem or poet. My three meagre lines were inspired by a verse in HD's Eurydice:

What had my face to offer 
but reflex of the earth, 
hyacinth colour 
caught from the raw fissure in the rock 
where the light struck

In my mental vision of this verse, there is a vivid streak of blue contrasted to the dull brown fissure in the rock. I feel this to be a primeval Earth, like the rock is new, but what lies beneath it is far, far older.

The fissure in my version has riven the icy surface of Pluto, and the outer rim is the circumference of a hypothetical sphere around the planet which the New Horizons deep space probe entered briefly, before flying past - visiting only once. The rhyme of ice, twice, was unintended, but when I had written it, I thought why not?

I begged my publishers for honest feedback - would I embarrass myself by using this feeble effort? Is it ACTUALLY a poem or just some words flung together? They assured me they would never let that happen, so I was very brave and put it in the book. Now I just have to think of how to write the rest of it.


Chapter 7: Whose space is it anyway?

08 morning star song, Venus rising                         comet dust string 
to a lorikeet dawn, ironwood fire cracking, reverberation of the verse
stringybark                             sugarbag                           lines of song


Excerpt from Meredi Ortega, ‘Liner Notes, Voyager Golden Record', 2013

Meredi Ortega.
Image credit: Red Room Poetry
Meredi Ortega won the 2013 Australian Poetry Science Poetry competition with this beautiful work about the Voyager Golden Records. While so much has been written about the Golden Records, including Carl Sagan's 1979 Murmurs of Earth, and you can find the full playlist on the JPL website, one thing the records lacked was an actual cardboard sleeve with the customary liner notes.

A few years back I was researching the Aboriginal music on the records, a fascinating trail which led me to the original tapes in the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. In the book, I wanted to write about how Indigenous culture intersected with space industry, a perspective I felt was often lacking in the space world. This seemed like an appropriate place to use the part of Ortega's liner notes which refer to the music, two tiny bits of longer songs by the Yolgnu musicians Djawa, Mudpo and Waliparu. The verse is so evocative of Australian smells and sounds.

Chapter 8: Future Archaeology

The wider our universe becomes due to science, and the furthest we go – we think we go so far when we go to the Moon – the nearer we need to come to the centre of ourselves in order to interpret this world, in order to find values, in order to give our lives meaning. 
Excerpt from speech by Anais Nin, Hampshire College, 1972

As an undergraduate university student, I came across the work of Anais Nin and loved it. I too kept diaries, and her early diaries in particular spoke to me. They were about the life of the mind, emotions, senses, reactions, and navigating the world as a young woman. I felt that she should be in my book somehow.

Nin is a controversial figure in literary history, often overshadowed by her lover and friend Henry Miller. I'm pretty sure, though, that she is more read these days than he is. Recently I returned to her novels, and I'm blown away all over again by how she uses language to capture such fine shades of experience. Through her words you catch a glimpse of a sensory universe like no other.

This quote comes from a speech she gave at Hampshire College in the US in 1972. It captures one of the themes of Chapter 8, about how outer space is entangled with everyday space, and its emotional resonances.

This is the full speech:




In the course of writing the book, I also realised that I needed to read more work by women in general. But that's a story for another time.






Sunday, August 11, 2019

An archaeological perspective on orbital stratigraphy

One of the things I've been thinking about for a while is the the structure of the archaeological record of Earth orbit - all the spacecraft that have been launched over the last 60 years, and their decay products, fragments and molecules of Earth-manufactured materials. Something people ask me occasionally is how you can do archaeology when there is no stratigraphy. In terrestrial archaeology, everything eventually falls to the ground and becomes buried as winds, water and human activities erode higher places and move the sediment to lower places. Generally, the deeper you dig, the older the remains that you find.

This isn't how it works in Earth orbit. Everything's falling, for sure - but a large proportion of stuff never reaches the ground. It's all up there, the new mixed up with the old, the functioning with the defunct, the living with the dead. It's not a mirror of stratigraphy on Earth. The lower something is says nothing about how recent it is.

With one exception - everything in geostationary orbit is younger than 1963, when Syncom 3 became the first satellite to successfully reach this critical orbit, the importance of which for telecommunications had been predicted since the early 20th century. This is just seven years after the first satellite though - not very long. And there's only about 40 satellites left in orbit which date from this period.

Multigravity environments

It's more useful not to think of Earth as the standard, but as a special case in a solar system comprising many different levels of gravity and many different ways of experiencing it. For example, when we talk of microgravity in Earth orbit, it's not really that there is no gravity. The Earth is still there, pulling everything towards it as usual. It's the acceleration of falling towards it that creates the sensation of microgravity. You can experience the same thing in a droptower ride at an amusement part or the zero-gravity 'Vomit Comet'. You don't even have to leave Earth to have different gravity experiences!

The nature of the archaeological record varies according to the gravity you're in. In full Earth gravity, a powerful attractor, things fall. In Earth orbit, things float but can get pulled back to Earth by atmospheric drag. On the Moon, things fall, but more slowly, and less energy is needed to throw them up into orbit. At the five Lagrange points in the Earth-Moon-Sun system, things bounce around. (Indeed, just recently, they have been shown to be massive dust traps).

Lagrange points in the Earth-Moon-Sun system. Image credit: NASA


I prefer to conceptualise the way artefacts respond to variable gravity environments as a dynamical system. This is a visual, mathematical way of representing how objects move over time when certain boundary conditions are set. Objects are the recipients of energy through various sources, and gravity determines how much energy the objects need to move. The dynamical system is a map of places where objects end up as they lose energy - the process of entropy. Effectively, such a map is also an archaeological plan of a site or the surface of an excavation unit. (Now I wonder if we should be regarding our plans as frozen moments in a dynamical system, just one that is generally moving a lot more slowly than orbit. So the critical difference between the two regimes is not speed, but time).

These places are points of stable or unstable equilibrium. When an object falls to the ground, it's in a stable equilibrium place of low energy. To get off the ground, energy has to be added. The energy might come from someone kicking it, or a stream of water which moves it on. The Lagrange points include both stable (L4 and L5) and unstable equilibria (L1, L2 and L3). Unstable equilibrium is like balancing an egg on its pointy end: you can do it, but it's going to fall over pretty quickly. (Also, it helps if the egg is hard-boiled). Using this as a framework, Earth and Earth orbit are not completely different places with different rules, but places within the same system with different amounts of energy.

It also helps to visualise this as an Einsteinian gravity well. The bottoms of the wells are points of low energy and stable equilibrium.

A 2-D slice of a gravitational force vector field (left) is interchangeable with a 3-D gravity well (right), with the z-axis showing energy (potential). Image courtesy of Invent2HelpAll

How junk disperses, or a taphonomy of orbit

In fact, the stratigraphy of space junk does include a terrestrial component. The lowest point of energy in the orbital dynamical system is the surface of Earth: an orbit of zero apogee and perigee. The atmosphere is a barrier or boundary between different gravity regimes, as space objects can bounce off its upper surface, and those that get pulled into it tend to incinerate. However, some spacecraft parts are made of materials like stainless steel and titanium alloys, which have high melting temperatures. Other parts may have carbon-carbon insulation which provides some protection from temperature extremes. Sometimes these components scream at high speed into the atmosphere, with their flesh burning, and fall with a smoking thud to the surface. The so-called 'space balls', titanium pressure vessels, are one of the most common spacecraft parts to survive re-entry. These spheres are the best gravity travellers; they get to come back.

Of course little of the spacecraft is likely to remain in orbit after the main body has re-entered - perhaps some molecules or broken-off bits. When we find the space balls or other Earthbound space junk, it's most likely that this is all that remains of the spacecraft. They've fallen to the point of lowest energy. This includes the spacecraft graveyard at the bottom of the ocean. Earth orbit is bookended by graveyards, if you take into account the graveyard orbit a few hundred kilometres above the geostationary ring. This is where old GEO satellites go to rest in their undead way, as they can still drift down and across the orbits of living satellites.

In general the the structure of space junk is not vertical layers as we're accustomed to in archaeology. Instead, spacecraft decay fragments have an elliptical or cloud geometry. When a spacecraft is whole, all its components are on the one orbital trajectory. Now imagine a solar panel detaching from the main body. Initially, its speed and orbit will be pretty much the same as the main body. But as time passes, the orbits will diverge. If the panel is tracked by one of the Earth-based telescopes, then we will have all the data about it's orbit into the past and will be able to trace it back to the original spacecraft - as long as we keep tracking it.

If a spacecraft explodes, the debris initially forms a cloud around it. The cloud travels together for a little while and then the individual pieces, all with their own weight, size, shape and velocities, start to disperse. If you look at the orbital tracks of Fengyun 1C, the Chinese satellite which was the target of a test missile shot in 2007, the debris rapidly moves apart and starts to spread out as you see here:

Image result for fengyun 1c
Fengyun 1C debris evolution. Image by Karl Tate @space.com

Position in orbit is described using a set of six equations devised by Johannes Kepler. Usually what people use, however, is Two-Line Elements - a bit like Eastings and Northings. The position is simplified into two strings of numbers. But because of the non-linear unpredictability of orbits, the reliability of the TLEs diminishes pretty fast. After 30 days you can't be sure that the TLE will accurately predict where something is. What this means in practice is that objects have to be continually watched or tracked to know where they are. This is called persistent observation and it's not generally something archaeologists worry about on Earth. However, artefacts on the surface do move around, although very slowly. You can record a concentration of stone artefacts on the surface, but if you revisit the same site a year later, half of them might be missing. Some have worked their way underground; some are covered by vegetation; others have moved under the influence of wind, water, animal movement or land use and industrial activities. Ten years into the future, there may be nothing to see. So perhaps I should apply the principle of persistent observation to terrestrial archaeology after all...

Objects in space are, of course, moving at incredibly high speeds - an average of 7-8 km per second. It's not that objects within archaeological deposits don't move; soils can act as liquids over a long time period, with a gravity-driven convection that gradually makes artefacts rise higher in the profile. Sometimes objects rise to the surface like a fish and get stranded there. Others, like stone tools with narrow sharp edges, slip back in for re-circulation. This is something archaeologists are very interested in as it says something about the integrity of the site and the relationship between objects. We're looking to that relationship to try and work out the human behavioural correlates, so we need to understand how the relationships decay over time due to natural or cultural factors, such as water movement or scavenger activity.

It's the relationship that matters

Both inside Earth and in orbit, the way the relationships between objects within a space evolves over time is critical to working out the human behavioural component. Looking at how the space debris environment evolves, it seems that after a certain amount of time it would be impossible to reconstruct the orbital path and work out what spacecraft a piece of junk came from, if you did not already have tracking records. Let's imagine the scenario of a future human archaeologist after the records have vanished (we can't assume they will survive in their current form) or even an alien archaeologist looking at space debris to get a handle on Earth culture. They will initially use materials and style to identify which space objects belong in the same time frame or to the same culture. They'll also have to work out what differences are due to style, and which to function.

Effectively, orbital archaeologists of the future will be 'recapitulating' a period of terrestrial archaeology before there was absolute dating, when similarities in style were used to posit chronological and social relationships. This period of investigation is known as culture history, and it worked on a number of premises. The first was the definition of culture, which as V. Gordon Childe phrased it, was a consistently occurring suite of artefact types, features and structures that you could attribute to an ethnic group. The second was the assumption that things change over time, coming in and out of fashion. Graphs of the frequency of occurrence of different artefacts types or styles resembled battleship curves, as they were known. Something starts out at a low frequency, then its numbers increase as it becomes popular. Soon the next big thing starts to supersede it and the frequency declines until no-one makes or uses the object any more. This is pretty much what happens in the fashion industry. Using changing frequencies to date an object is called seriation.

Because atmospheric drag pulls objects out of Low Earth Orbit all the time, things that survive there will be those with the greatest numbers, eg rocket bodies. This makes it a matter of sampling. Future archaeologists may not find the rare satellites as easily as the common ones. It's like the famous section in Kent G. Flannery's The Early Mesoamerican Village, a classic of the 1960s-1970s movement known as the New Archeology. A Real Mesoamerican Archaeologist laughs about another's failure to find the city of Teotihuacan using a particular sampling strategy. The Skeptical Graduate Student explains that this is not the purpose of a sampling strategy - and that the sample should produce results in proportion to what exists in the entire population of artefacts.

In another post I'll consider whether we can apply absolute dating techniques to space junk in orbit.


Topological stratigraphy

Terrestrial stratigraphy is locally linear and Euclidean, but orbits are non-linear and non-Euclidean. At larger scales, space is better described as the topological object called a manifold. Stratigraphy might simply be the wrong concept to describe the structure of orbiting objects. What kind of word would we use instead? Perhaps gravigraphy - written in gravity? Or orbitography, which is 'the determination and positioning of satellite orbits by a form of geodesy'?

Visualisations of space junk show Earth surrounded by white dots, like a cloud of silent bees. If you took Earth out of the middle, you would have a donut shape or torus where geostationary satellites are concentrated, and perhaps a series of intersecting tori for low to medium Earth orbit satellites. This is in stark contrast to terrestrial stratigraphy, which is conceptualised in a box-shape (even though Earth is spherical). Objects in this gravitationally-constrained tori move on elliptical paths inside the shape.

Let's put Earth back in. If we sliced a wedge vertically through through this cloud or swam, and froze the objects within it, what would we see? At the outer edge, the graveyard orbit, there'd be a thin smattering of defunct satellites. They are all dead. Below it, in the GEO range, there is thick ring of living and dead satellites. The 'type fossil' of this layer is the winged bird.

Then there is a sparse background scatter of satellites and junk until we hit the navigation satellites in the Medium Earth Orbit range. The US GPS network orbit at around 20, 000 km.

In LEO, we get the highest density of rocket bodies as well as satellites. There is a more diverse size range, from ENVISAT, the International Space Station, to cubesats and nanosats. There is the sparsest smattering of organic material.

There's a dead zone from LEO to the height of the tallest building or structure on Earth. Birds and aeroplanes fly at different altitudes, but they don't stay there or live there. There are gases, clouds, dusts.

On the surface of Earth, the ancient is mixed up with the modern. I suppose it is more like orbit than we might think, the living and the dead jostling side by side. Organic material is dense. Movement is slow. The deeper you go under the surface, the older things become. In this subterranean sphere, everything human is dead.

In all of these layers, the past and the present are mixed up to different degrees. The closer to the present you get, the higher and deeper human culture goes. Mines and building foundations cut into the dead deep past and overlay it with modern material. This is the variable borderland between the Pleistocene, Holocene and Anthropocene, a diachronous boundary that archaeologist Matt Edgeworth and his co-authors (2015) have discussed in an insightful paper (see below).

What is a place in orbit?

I'm relatedly curious about the concepts of setting or site in the orbital environment. Here, a 'place' is really a set of equations that defines the way an object moves - not just now but in the past and into the future. Place is a prediction, effectively. Place is movement, not stasis.

Could an orbital pathway, in and of itself, have heritage significance? Could it be 'preserved', and what would be the relationship between a culturally significant trajectory and the equations that define it? Could those equations, in and of themselves, also be considered culturally or archaeologically significant?

Perhaps in the future, there will be markers along the orbits of significant spacecraft that are not longer there, alerting anyone/thing who approaches that they are at a heritage orbit. Perhaps certain orbits - like Vanguard 1's - could be registered as significant so that nobody can launch something into the same orbit. An orbit has economic significance - so why not heritage significance too?

I think I have a lot further to go in this line of thinking. But it's a start anyway.


References

Matt Edgeworth, Dan deB Richter, Colin Waters, Peter Haff, Cath Neal, and Simon James Price 2015 Diachronous beginnings of the Anthropocene: the lower bounding surface of anthropogenic deposits.  The Anthropocene Review 2(1):33-58

Flannery, Kent G. (ed) 1976 The Early Mesoamerican Village. Academic Press


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Cat-Women of the Moon: ideas of space travel in the 1950s.

Introduction

No woman has yet set foot on the Moon in reality; but in science fiction there have been plenty of female lunar explorers.

This 1953 black-and-white science fiction classic is credited with introducing the genre of female-only enclaves in space. It starred Marie Windsor as astronaut Helen Salinger, Carol Brewster as Alpha, leader of the cat-women, and Susan Morrow as Lambda.

The remaining cat-women were played by the Hollywood Cover Girls: Betty Arlen, Suzann Alexander, Roxann Delman, Ellye Marshall and Judy Walsh. The Hollywood Cover Girls seem to have been a vaudeville act.

I'm interested in this film for how it represents views of space and space travel in the early 1950s, four years before the launch of the first object into Earth orbit, and fifteen before humans really landed on the Moon. And also ,because cat-women.

Why must we wait?

The movie opens with with a thrilling declaration. The Freudian symbols in this passage are not subtle.
The eternal wonders of space and time, the faraway mysteries and dreams of other worlds, other life, the stars, the planets. Man [sic] has been face to face with them for centuries, yet is barely able to penetrate their unknown secrets. Some time, some day, the barrier will be pierced. Why must we wait? Why not now?
The scene then cuts away to a pale rocket ascending vertically - a very visual reinforcement of the symbolism! The rocket appears to have been launched from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, and this is certainly where their mission control is. In the early 1950s, White Sands was one of just a few locations in the world where rockets could be launched into space.

Surely it can't be just me who sees the resemblance.

The propulsion method isn't entirely clear, but it has an 'atom chamber' and some kind of acid fuel.  At this time, there was a lot of interest in nuclear-powered rockets. The US Atomic Energy Commission (remember there was no NASA in those days) started developing a Nuclear Thermal Rocket in 1955. While we've gone on to have numerous nuclear-powered spacecraft, this method has not been used for Earth-to-space rocket propulsion, although it seems that there is renewed interest in this technology at the moment.

'White Sands calling Moon Rocket 4 Code 63. Can you hear us?', says mission control. Looking through the window to the outside, the crew see raw space - an inky blackness dotted with stars.

This is not a stunt!

Helen is the navigation officer. Upon waking up from the sleep of launch (they recline on banana lounges), her first action is to take a comb and hand-mirror from a drawer. 'Remember', says the manly blond captain Laird, 'this is a scientific expedition and NOT a stunt!', looking very pointedly at Helen combing her hair. This implies that her presence is regarded by some as gimmicky - that is, she doesn't belong there, and was only included for the sake of publicity.

Helen of Troy?
So much to pick apart here! There's the implication that a woman couldn't have got there for her skills alone; that science and femininity are opposed (so Helen should be 'one of the boys' and pay no attention to her appearance). These were certainly issues later in the rocky road to US women getting access to space. In 1978, when they were finally admitted to NASA's astronaut programme, the lads obligingly made a make-up kit for the girls. Even in space we have to be beautiful! But like, not too much, or you can't be taken seriously as a scientist.....

Public consumption and commercial space

Laird makes their first report to White Sands. 'Over and out', he says. 'Wait a minute, commander', says White Sands. 'There's a world full of people listening in. Are you alright - could we have a few words from the crew?' 'No!' says Laird, but Helen persuades him to let them talk to the people of Earth. This foreshadows an important part of the Apollo missions, and later the International Space Station - engagement with the public. The television broadcast of the Apollo 11 landing has become legendary. However, it wasn't a priority for NASA in the planning, as cameras would add weight, and the filming was a whole work sequence that would take up time. In 'Cat-Women' we see a similar tension between satisfying the public curiosity and getting on with the job.

Each of the crew introduces themselves and speaks a few words for the radio audience. The engineer Walt Walters is exercised by the opportunities for a space side-hustle. When he talks to Earth, he seizes his chance. 'We're humming along folks!' he says. 'That new lubrication by the Delphite Oil Company sure turned the trick. [off air] That plug ought to make a couple of grand, huh?' This stunt establishes Walt's character as a venal money-grubber and also introduces a new theme into the film: the commercial exploitation of space. I think it's very interesting that this aspect of space - making profit from it - is evident even before the launch of the first satellite.

Finally they arrive! As the navigator, Helen chooses the landing site. To the surprise of the other crew, it's on the dark side of the Moon. Unbeknownst to them, the cat-women have telepathically guided her here.

Walters is still on the take: prior to their moonwalk, he pulls out a box. 'What are those?' asks radio operator Doug. 'First letters from the Moon; I've even got my own cancellation stamp. Ought to be worth a couple of hundred bucks apiece'. This amused me no end, as there's a long and slightly bizarre relationship between space and philately. In 1972, the Apollo 15 astronauts took unauthorised postal covers with them for later sale. It turned into a scandal, with much discussion about whether astronauts should seek to personally profit from their profession. You can read more about the incident here.

Where does a city end?

Doug has a sign from the Los Angeles Police Department that he wants to leave on the surface of the Moon. Note that this is a local symbol, not a national one: there is no US flag proposed here. The sign says "Los Angeles City Limits". It's not explained, but the visual reference is clear. The placement of this sign on the Moon extends the limits of the city of Los Angeles into space, making the Moon part of its geography. There's obviously a humorous element to this, but it's also serious: a territorial claim, the extension of a terrestrial jurisdiction. In 1953, you could technically make a territorial claim in space, as there were no international conventions forbidding it. The Outer Space Treaty was not signed into being until 1967.

I thought I had better look into the US concept of city limits, which I have to confess I've only paid attention to before in the context of the Tina Turner dance classic 'Nutbush City Limits'. This is an American local government concept. The area within the city limits is governed by the Mayor of Los Angeles and the City Council, who provide services and collect tax. The city limits, however, can extend over county lines.

Why Los Angeles, though? In the early 1950s, White Sands was a focus of military space activity, but Los Angeles was the centre of aerospace industry, with CalTech in nearby Pasadena. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory was established in 1944 and became a key institution in developing space technology. You can read more about its fascinating history in Escape from Earth, by Fraser MacDonald. We might presume that Doug came from one of these organisations.

Spiders and dust

The astronauts suit up and venture outside. Here's the first step on the Moon, 1953-style:



Prompted by the telepathic cat-women, Helen encourages them to enter a cave. Inside they are attacked by GIANT MOON SPIDERS. It's not the first time the Moon has been inhabited by giant insects - Dr Dolittle in the Moon (one of my all-time favourites) has giant moths and grasshoppers. The reduced gravity allows them to grow far larger than on Earth.

No you can't have a picture, just watch the movie for yourself.

Of course the GIANT MOON SPIDERS go after Helen and then get slaughtered by the men.  Despite this setback, Helen wants to keep going. 'We don't know what's ahead', says one of the crew. 'Well I'll tell you then', says Helen. 'Adventure, discovery, knowledge! Isn't that why we came?' I like that that a woman gets to own these qualities.

They find, to their surprise, that the cave has breathable air, and take off their spacesuits. The enterprising Walters immediately leaps to a new idea for lunar industry: 'Maybe we can bottle this stuff for sale: Moon Mist for chronic coughs and asthma'. Moon mist would be pure and uncontaminated by terrestrial toxins!

It's not as far-fetched as it sounds. Of course there is no atmosphere to provide mist, but there is plenty of dust to be had. Not great for human lungs; but I could imagine a time in the future where people are making remedies out of lunar dust. What claims will be made for its healing properties? At the moment, you can buy basalt dust at plant nurseries to put on your garden. The dust comes from quarries, but it's similar to the lunar dust in its chemical and mechanical properties. Perhaps people will salt their garden beds with lunar dust instead and grow moon gardens!

I have seen advertisements for lunar mineral make-up (Note: not containing actual lunar minerals). Perhaps the very wealthy will drink champagne with lunar dust in it, just as they once did with gold. Lunar mineral waters will be a thing! Indeed conceptual philosopher and artist Jonathon Keats has already done this. By extension, you may be able to go to a spa and have an exfoliating skin treatment in which the abrasive qualities of lunar dust are put to good use. If lunar missions become more common in the decades to come, there may be all kinds of terrestrial commercial ventures making use of the one thing the Moon has plenty of. Probably I should get in first with the spa thing before Gwyneth Paltrow does.

Polity and politics among the cat-women

On the other side of the cave, the astronauts find themselves in a sort of bubble with a microclimate, a sky with clouds above them. They enter the city of the cat-women, with its architecture of columns, statues and black-and-white tiles. It's a little bit Aelita Queen of Mars, and also kind of classical culture - indeed, the cat-women have Greek names like Alpha, Beta and Lambda. The women themselves are slinky and sexy, dressed in one-piece catsuits. All have black hair, curled up in a big bun behind their head. They have pale faces with dark eyebrows and a curved hairline - they look a little like the Thermians in Galaxy Quest.

Bit by bit we piece together the story of the cat-women (incidentally a derogatory name applied to them by one of the crew, who is suspicious of them) and a glimpse into how their world came to be. 'We have no use for men' says cat-woman Beta, scornfully. The more diplomatic Alpha explains: 'What Beta means is that we have no contact or control over them as we do among ourselves. It seemed rather difficult to get a crew composed entirely of women.' Huh! Then as now..... this is interesting though. Their telepathic powers work only on other women; men are immune. Perhaps this is an extension of the much-vaunted and mythical quality of feminine intuition, which does not work on men because they lack it. Pure speculation on my part, and of course there is no need to explain all these plot devices, which do not need to be logical.

So how did the cat-women get on the Moon? Their ancestors, men and women both, travelled there two million years ago, when the Moon still had an atmosphere. I'm wondering here if the classical Greek complexion of their culture is meant to be a reference to Atlantis.

At a certain point the atmosphere started thinning, and they had to do something to conserve oxygen. It was not pleasant. Planned genocide was one of the strategies they employed. The other was to wait for a spaceship to arrive.

We find out more about the genocide when the gentle Doug falls in love with cat-woman Lambda. 'Incidentally', Doug asks her, 'where are your menfolk?'. 'Ours died off when I was still a child' replies Lambda. The implication here is that they were the subject of the genocide - a gender-cide, in fact.

Alpha has a plan to steal the spaceship to travel to Earth. There, she says, 'We will get their women under our power, and soon we will rule the whole world'. Before you might be tempted to think this could be a good thing for the future of Earth, Alpha disabuses Lambda of the idea that she can make a life with Doug. 'There is no room in your life for love. We will choose your man eugenically'.

I interpret this as an indictment on the cat-women's culture. By the 1950s, eugenics, which had a long history in the US, was becoming unacceptable.

The moral of the story

The Moon has other resources that would be valuable on Earth, as Walt discovers. Over a meal, he converses with Beta. 'Say, you wouldn't have any small works of art that I could take home with me as a souvenir, would you?', he asks her. Beta gives him her silver arm band. Walt says that on Earth such jewellery would often be made of gold, and Beta says 'but it's so common'! Walt's greed is aroused. Beta reveals the existence of a cave of gold, 'with more gold than you could carry away in your rocket ship in 100 years'. Naturally, he wants to see it, so they sneak off without the others. In the cave of gold, Beta kills him.

Perhaps there is a moral here: that looking to profit from the Moon will end badly.

This film, as cheesy as it is, covers a number of themes that become important in the later reality of space travel, such as lunar mining and profiteering in space; territorial claims; gender relations; and public engagement. It's remarkable prescient in this regard.  


You can watch the whole movie here: