A proposal to give Woomera’s space facilities a new lease of life has been strongly endorsed by a Flinders University academic involved in the preservation of historic sites associated with the “space race”.
Dr Alice Gorman said that using Woomera as a spaceport for the growing space tourist industry would help to preserve its unique heritage values.
Dr Gorman, an internationally recognized expert on the archaeology of space exploration, said that Woomera is one of the earliest rocket ranges in the world, and played a significant role in the Cold War and the space programs of the 1950s and 1960s.
The redevelopment proposed by astronaut Dr Andy Thomas during his recent visit to Australia could incorporate planning to retain significant launch pads and buildings, or to re-use them in a fashion sympathetic to their historic significance.
“In its heyday, Woomera was the second busiest spaceport in the world, after Cape Canaveral,” Dr Gorman said.
“The USA used Woomera to test components, and to track the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programmes. Europe launched nine Europa rockets there before moving to French Guiana in the late 1960s. Australian expertise was vital in developing Britain’s Cold War missiles. In those days, people expected that astronaut missions would soon be launched from Woomera, taking Australians into space on a regular basis.”
But with the closure of the Apollo program and Europe’s decision to relocate its launch facilities to Kourou in French Guiana, the infrastructure and expertise centred in Woomera and the headquarters in Salisbury dissipated. Today, people at Kourou, and the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, established in the same year as Woomera, are largely unaware that this remote outback location in Australia was also a major player in the “Space Club.”
Dr Gorman said that once historic structures are abandoned, they start to deteriorate, but if they can be adapted to a new use, their chance of survival is greatly increased.
“There are many successful examples of the reuse of heritage structures, and if done according to principles like those in the Burra Charter developed in Australia, it’s a win-win situation,” Dr Gorman said.
Last year, Dr Gorman convened a symposium at Flinders University, bringing together experts on the history of Woomera. Some of the themes that were discussed included Indigenous lives after the rocket range, Woomera as a Cold War site, the place of Woomera Village in the history of post-war town planning, and the challenges of managing space heritage.
“Everyone agreed that Woomera was significant not only for the part it played in Australian history, but on an international level,” Dr Gorman said.
“Space tourism isn’t just about going into orbit – there are space places on Earth too. It would be very appropriate to recognise and value Woomera’s heritage by giving it a new space future.”
MEDIA CONTACT: For more information contact Alice Gorman on 0428 450 418.