Sunday, January 25, 2009

The world's first Space Heritage List

Sometimes very simple ideas are extremely productive. This was how I got into space archaeology a few years ago: by wondering if terrestrial cultural heritage management principles applied off-world.

As you know I've been thinking about the World Heritage List and the legal aspects extending it to space (in collaboration with my sidekick Nigel). A couple of weeks ago I took the criteria for registration on the Australian Commonwealth Heritage List and rewrote them for space. Not much involved, really! Yet reading through it afterwards I realised it was actually quite a powerful document in its own right. Each criterion, when applied to space heritage, raised new issues. In particular, I'm now thinking of natural/cultural values in space and how these ideas intersect in a non-biological environment. More on that later perhaps.

At the same time, I developed the world's first actual space heritage list. OK, so it's a Facebook gift application, but I don't think that diminishes its importance. If you're not on Facebook, you won't understand what this means and I apologise. (I didn't mean to be on Facebook myself and I completely blame my esteemed colleague Dr Lynley Wallis, creator of the Sputnik cakes, for getting me addicted to an online game). If you are on Facebook, you can select objects like satellites and places like Kourou from Dr Space Junk's Space Heritage List to send to your friends. It just seemed like the right kind of platform for the moment.

Again, the mere process of thinking what belongs in this list, and why, raises a whole lot of interesting issues. One is representativeness. I have tended to focus on certain periods and places in my research. The Space Heritage List, however, should represent all periods and geographic regions (or should it? and how? equally? proportionally? this not yet worked out). To construct it, I'm researching things that have been off my radar until this point, like the first post-Sputnik USSR scientific satellites, Elektron 1- 4. So I'm learning a lot from this (ostensibly) frivolous exercise. I dare say I shall report more on it as it develops.

(Image courtesy of Roger Jones)

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