Thursday, January 29, 2009

How does one create a space heritage list?

I've been adding new objects and places to Dr Space Junk's Space Heritage List on Facebook. It's a fairly random, intuitive process (this despite having put together some criteria based on the Australian Commonwealth ones).

A number of things struck me, reflecting on this process. Firstly, most heritage criteria are designed to assess the significance of one place or thing at a time. What I'm doing, I've realised, is a little different. I am thinking about the shape of the whole list, and what it represents as collection. I'm trying to make it representative, both chronologically and geographically (or spatially). So (in a very gradual and ad hoc way), after having added some of the major ones like Tranquility Base, Peenemunde, Woomera (obviously!), Vanguard 1, Syncom 3 - all things you will recognise as my favourites, I'm filling in gaps. Something for every year since 1936, something from every country that has launched a satellite, or hosted a space installation.

This is more similar to a museum collection policy than how a standard heritage register works, where properties are nominated by professionals or interested parties without any coordination. And more like the World Heritage List, which tries to redress imbalances in its properties, and publishes documents identifying gaps.

There are two criteria that stand out as I think each day what I can add to satisfy demand. Firstly, I want to get something in there from every nation-state that has a space involvement. Nationalism and national prestige are significant motivating factors in spacefaring, and the role of nationalism in heritage, particularly world heritage, is a contentious issue and something that has been endlessly written about and debated.

Secondly, because this is a developing technology, and in a sense the ultimate colonising technology, many of the things that are intuitively significant are those that were the first to do something or go somewhere: the first spacecraft to flyby Mars, the first to land of Venus, the first active telecommunications satellite.

I'm still working out what this all means, but wanted to get my thoughts down before I forgot them!


  1. I'm really interested in this - where can I find it on Facebook?

  2. Hi Josh! Try this link within Facebook, and let me know if it doesn't work:

    This is the discussion board for the application:

    And please send space heritage gifts to your friends! I'm looking on this as an exercise in raising awareness about space heritage (plus a bit of fun).

  3. Do you reckon a statue made out of bits of the bushfire-destroyed Mt Stromlo facility would qualify as space heritage? It is called 'The Astonomer' and is situated outside Questacon in Canberra. I have a photo.

  4. This is an interesting one. I have been leaving astronomical stuff largely out of my work, just because one has to draw a line somewhere! And there are people who are specifically interested in it, without being necessarily into satellites and spacecraft. But of course, there is much overlap.

    Myself, I would say the statue was heritage - a classic example of stuff from the past being valued in the present! And possibly adaptive re-use (fines lines between adaptive re-use and recycling also).