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

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.


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.


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:

Friday, May 17, 2019

Key works in lunar cultural heritage: the essential reading list for Apollo 11's 50th anniversary

If you are interested in the issues around managing the cultural heritage values of archaeological sites located on the Moon, these are the key works that you need to read. A bibliography of the broader field of space archaeology and heritage can be found here.

Capelotti, P.J. 2010 The human archaeology of space: lunar, planetary and interstellar relics of exploration. Jefferson NC: McFarland and Company Inc

Capelotti, P.J. 2009 The culture of Apollo: a catalogue of manned exploration of the moon. In Ann Darrin and Beth O'Leary (eds) The Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology and Heritage pp 421-441 Boca Raton: CRC Press

Darrin, Ann and Beth O'Leary (eds) 2009 The Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology and Heritage. Boca Raton: CRC Press

Donaldson, Milford Wayne 2015 The preservation of California's military Cold War and space exploration era resources. In B.L. O'Leary and P.J. Capelotti (eds), Archaeology and Heritage of the Human Movement into Space, pp. 91-110. Heidelberg: Springer.

Fewer, Greg 2002 Towards an LSMR and MSMR (Lunar and Martian Sites and Monuments Records): Recording the planetary spacecraft landing sites as archaeological monuments of the future. In Miles Russell (ed) Digging Holes in Popular Culture. Archaeology and Science Fiction, pp 112-172 Oxford: Oxbow Books

Gibson, R. 2001 Lunar archaeology: the application of federal historic preservation law to the site where humans first set foot upon the Moon. Unpublished Masters thesis, Department of Anthropology, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces

Gold, R. 2009 Spacecraft and objects left on planetary surfaces. In Ann Darrin and Beth O'Leary (eds) The Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology and Heritage, pp 399-419 Boca Raton: CRC Press

Gorman, A.C. and Beth Laura O'Leary 2013 The archaeology of space exploration. In Paul Graves-Brown, Rodney Harrison and Angela Piccini (eds) The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Contemporary World, pp 409-424. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Gorman, A.C 2019 Dr Space Junk vs the Universe: Archaeology and the Future. Sydney: New South Books

Gorman, A.C. 2016 Culture on the Moon: bodies in time and space. Archaeologies, 12(1) pp. 110-128.

Gorman, A. 2014 The Anthropocene in the Solar System. Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, 1(1) pp. 89-93.

Gorman, A.C. 2013 Look, but don’t touch: US law and the protection of lunar heritage. The Conversation,

Hertzfeld, Henry R. and Scott N. Pace 2013 International Cooperation on Human Lunar Heritage. Science, 29 November, 342(6162): 1049-1050

Lunar Legacy Project, New Mexico State University.

NASA 2011 NASA’s Recommendations to Space-Faring Entities: How to Protect and Preserve the Historic and Scientific Value of US Government Artefacts. Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, Strategic Analysis and Integration Division, NASA

O'Leary, B.L. and P.J. Capelotti (eds) 2015 Archaeology and Heritage of the Human Movement into Space. Heidelberg: Springer.

O’Leary, B.L., Bliss, S., Debry, R., Gibson, R., Punke, M., Sam, D., Slocum, R., Vela, J., Versluis, J. and Westwood, L. 2010 The artifacts and structures at Tranquility Base nomination to New Mexico state register of cultural properties. Accepted by unanimous vote by the New Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee on 10 April 2010

O'Leary, Beth Laura 2015 'To boldly go where no man [sic] has gone before': approaches in space archaeology and heritage. In B.L. O'Leary and P.J. Capelotti (eds) Archaeology and Heritage of the Human Movement into Space, pp 1-12 Heidelberg: Springer.

O'Leary, B.L. 2009 One giant leap: preserving cultural resources on the moon. In Ann Darrin and Beth O'Leary (eds) The Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology and Heritage pp 757-780.Boca Raton: CRC Press

O'Leary, B.L. 2009 Evolution of space archaeology and heritage. In Ann Darrin and Beth O'Leary (eds) The Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology and Heritage pp 29-47 Boca Raton: CRC Press

O'Leary, B.L. 2009 Historic preservation at the edge: archaeology on the moon, in space and on other celestial bodies. Historic Environment 22(1): 13-18

Reynolds, Joseph 2015 Legal Implications of protecting historic sites in space. In B.L. O'Leary and P.J. Capelotti (eds), Archaeology and Heritage of the Human Movement into Space, pp. 111-129. Heidelberg: Springer.

Spennemann, D.H.R. 2007 Extreme cultural tourism from Antarctica to the Moon. Annals of Tourism Research 34(4):898-918

Spennemann, D.H. R. 2004 The ethics of treading on Neil Armstrong's footsteps. Space Policy 20(4): 279-290

Walsh, J. 2012 Protection of humanity's cultural and historic heritage in space. Space Policy 28(4):234-243 

Westwood, Lisa D 2015 Historic preservation on the fringe: a human lunar exploration heritage cultural landscape. In B.L. O'Leary and P.J. Capelotti (eds), Archaeology and Heritage of the Human Movement into Space, pp. 131-155. Heidelberg: Springer.

Westwood, L. and B. O'Leary 2012 The archaeology of Tranquility Base. Space Times Magazine 4(51)

Westwood, L., Beth Laura O'Leary and Milford Wayne Donaldson  2017 The Final Mission: Preserving NASA's Apollo Sites. Gainesville: University Press of Florida

Westwood, L., G. Gibson, B. O’Leary, and J. Versluis 2010 Nomination of the Objects associated with Tranquility Base to the California State Historical Resources Commission. Accepted by unanimous vote to the California State Register of Historical Resources on 30 January 2010

Saturday, May 04, 2019

All artefacts are anthropomorphic

I was reflecting on the phenomenon of anthropomorphising space technology.

Two social media-mediated incidents are central to my personal experience with this. From my early days on Twitter, I've followed Voyager 2. The account was not an official NASA account: it was run by scientist Dr Paul Filmer. During the now-forgotten US government shutdown in 2013, NASA closed it down. He was allowed to continue tweeting as the spacecraft, but using a different handle - @NSFVoyager2.

I found the impact of this quite informative. I woke up one morning to find people messaging me, wondering why Voyager 2 was silent on Twitter. We figured it had something to do with a recent tweet in which the spacecraft expressed a - very mild - opinion. We tried to reach Paul. I cried. I felt that I was cut off from the solar system, closed in like a fish caught in the ocean and transferred to a glass bowl on a table in the vestibule.

The second is the Rosetta/Philae mission to Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The European Space Agency's public outreach campaign was designed to get people emotionally invested, and it sure as heck worked on me. In 2016 the equipment used by the Rosetta orbiter to communicate with the Philae lander was turned off. As I've written here, knowing that Philae could no longer speak and be heard made me quite emotional, as if a friend had died.

Some are critical about this anthropomorphisation. They would say it's wrong to attribute our agency to things instead of letting them have their own, almost an oppression of things. 

Musing on my bus ride in this morning, it struck me that all artefacts are anthropomorphic, if only because they are made, shaped, used and discarded by humans. They're a non-flesh shadow, the reverse of our obverse, the mirror of our discontent. If they were not, how could we possibly use them to speak to us about absent humans?

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Ten ways to get involved in space without leaving Earth

Experiencing weightlessness, watching the Earth rise over the stark lunar landscape, and seeing the stars exposed without the veil of the Earth's atmosphere: who hasn't thought about what it would be like? At the moment, getting into space is the preserve of the elite, whether they are scientists, military, or those wealthy enough to purchase a rocket ride. Space is a just dream to most of the rest of us.

But this doesn't mean that we have to live as if our feet were made of clay, Earth-bound like a worm when what we really want to do is fly like a bird. There are many ways to be part of space without ever leaving the Earth. I'm going to take you through some of them.

1. Visit a planetarium

Planetariums are dome-shaped cinemas designed to show the night sky and other celestial phenomena. The idea has been around since the 17th century, but today's planetaria use the best of high-tech projection and software to create immersive experiences. For a short time, you can be taken out of yourself and visit the furthest reaches of the universe. Most capital cities have them, and some regional centres too. They're not all stars and galaxies: planetarium shows also look at space junk, space weather, and aliens (hoorah!) among many other spacey good things. Here's a list of some places you can find one:

Wollongong Science Centre and Planetarium (NSW)
Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium (Brisbane)
Adelaide Planetarium
Launceston Planetarium
Melbourne Planetarium
Swinburne Virtual Reality Theatre, (Melbourne)
Ballarat Observatory 3D Theatre (Vic)
Sydney Planetarium
Horizon - the Planetarium (Perth)

There are even mobile planetaria which will come to you! In NSW, contact the Planetarium Education Group; in Queensland, Starlab Education, in Western Australia, the Spacedome.

2. Keep up with the breaking news from space

Subscribing to a space news service is a good way to get all the latest dirt on what's happening in the solar system. Some are more geared towards the general public than others. You can subscribe to their feeds or newsletters, and also follow them on Twitter. is a very reliable and prestigious source of news.
Space Daily has a slightly more industry focus. You can subscribe to their newsletters for free.
Universe Today also covers astronomy.
Space News covers civil space, military space, commercial space and satellite communications business.
Space Ref is a space news and reference site. This includes space exploration and missions, and a space calendar of events.
Space Info features astronomy, Australian science, and spaceflight news
Aviation Week also covers a lot of space news.

Of course, there are a multitude of space resources online that cater to all interests. Starting points for the Anglophones are the NASA and ESA websites.

3. Do some space craft

Spacecraft, geddit? Don't spend all your time staring at the screen as if it will magically whisk you into orbit, get your hands dirty! And gluey and covered in paint, and maybe some glitter. I suppose you can get some kids involved if they're hanging around and won't go away.

Fabulous astronaut masks! made by Erin at Luck and Bliss.
Se7en makes bottle top aliens!
This is rather gorgeous: a 3D space garland from Jessika Hepburn
Doodle and Stitch make a simple but effective paper rocket
Here's another rocket made from a toilet roll - my favourite craft item
This rocket's made from a plastic bottle. You can have space fun while recycling too!

There are some more ideas in this post and there are plenty of amazing space craft projects on the internet.

4. Visit a space museum

Of course, the ne plus ultra of space museums is the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. Another favourite is the Musee de l'Air et de l'Espace in Paris. But you don't have to go overseas to see some wondrous space artefacts. Here's a few more local options.

Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (the Powerhouse), NSW, has the only permanent space display in the country.
Woomera Heritage Centre, SA, also has an amazing rocket park. Not for playing, the rockets are real.
South Australian Aviation Museum, located in Port Adelaide, has plenty of Woomera artefacts if you can't get to the outback.
At the Esperance Museum in WA you can see the remains of the space station Skylab, one of the most famous spacecraft ever to re-enter the atmosphere.
At the South Australian Museum you can see Australian astronaut Andy Thomas' spacesuit!
The Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex, ACT, has a brilliant museum celebrating both Australian and US space.
In Tasmania, don't miss the Grote Reber Museum. This is the heartland of radio astronomy!

Don't forget your local museum or heritage centre either - I've found some extraordinary space artefacts displayed in regional museums and small towns. Often they've been donated by someone who has worked in aerospace or has travelled to space places.

5. Follow a spacecraft on Twitter

This is one of the best things about social media. There are a number of spacecraft with Twitter accounts, and some hilarious parody accounts too. As a follower, you get the latest information and the opportunity to interact with the spacecraft (ie the team running it). But beware. You can become very attached to your robot space friend, and if the mission ends, it can be a very sad and emotional experience.

Here are a few recommendations.

@NSFVoyager2 - Voyager 2. Run by the amazing Dr Paul Filmer, you can expect regular updates on distance from Earth and which instruments are collecting data.
@MarsCuriosity - the Mars Curiosity Rover. This is the only rover still working on Mars after the death of Opportunity in 2019.
@SarcasticRover is a witty parody account which has a huge following. As well as space science, you get commentary about life on Earth from the viewpoint of space.....
@OSIRISRex is a NASA mission to the asteroid belt.
@Haya2e_jaxa is a Japanese asteroid mission with several components, due to return its sample to Earth in 2020.

As well as actual spacecraft, most space agencies, research centres and missions have social media accounts.

6. Celebrate a space event

You can have your own space event whenever you want! Get in some space beer or wine, encourage people to dress up, make a spacey mixtape. Get crafty (see No 3) and decorate your house like a space station or mission control room. Invite your friends and talk about space with them!

There are a few space occasions which are celebrated worldwide. 

Yuri's Night is April 12 and celebrates the day on which Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to enter space and orbit Earth. This is the official website where you can register your party and or find out what events are happening in your town.

A great way to participate in this anniversary is to orbit with Yuri by watching Christopher Riley's film First Orbit, available here. The film blends archival footage and recreations of Yuri's view taken by one of my favourite astronauts, Paolo Nespoli. I love it because it's almost meditative; you have to focus on every minute through Yuri's eyes, seeing a view of Earth that was truly unique.

Later in year is World Space Week, which kicks off on the anniversary of Sputnik 1's launch on October 4th. On the website you can find guidelines about how to organise an event, as well as events planned around the world that you can attend.

I'm going to start a new one: Valentina's Day. On 16 June 1963, she became the first woman to orbit the Earth and she is still the only woman to have carried out a solo space mission. We should celebrate this! 

7. Go satellite spotting 

Although light pollution has made it harder for people in densely populated areas to see the night sky, most people would recognise a star. Fewer, perhaps, realise that they're also watching satellites.

Satellites don't have their own lights, but we can see them when they reflect the light of the Sun, often bouncing off the solar panels which power the spacecraft. Even at night the satellites are high enough to catch the Sun's rays. You'll generally only see Low Earth Orbit satellites, but there are plenty of them, as well as the International Space Station.

Stars move very slowly, but satellites are fast - after all, they orbit Earth every 90 minutes or thereabouts. Look for a fast moving light. Beware of flashing lights: this is probably an aeroplane, not a satellite.

To see the largest and brightest object in orbit, the ISS, this handy NASA site allows you to search for local sighting opportunities.

Everyone knows the old folk rhyme about wishing on the first star you see in the evening (usually Venus, by the way - a planet).
Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might
Have the wish I wish tonight

The sky has changed since that rhyme was made, and our relationship to it has changed also. This is Billy Bragg, in his 1983 song Looking for a New England:
I saw two shooting stars last night
I wished on them but they were only satellites
Is it wrong to wish on space hardware
I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care

Is it wrong to wish on space hardware? I say no. Instead, ask Dr Space Junk to grant your wish on a satellite. Here is my rhyme to go with your satellite spotting expedition, and it's even better because you get to make THREE wishes.

Dr Space Junk in your ship,
Watching every tiny blip.
Please bestow my wishes three:
One for Earth, one for Sea,
and one for the satellite high above me.

8. Join a space society

What could be better than making new space friends and getting to hang out at space events with them? There are a number of societies at national, state and local level which will enable you to get involved in space. Here are a few that I recommend.

Space Industry Association of Australia. This is an industry representative organisation, but definitely worth joining if you work in aerospace or a space-adjacent area.  Full disclosure: I am a member.
Space Association of Australia. Based in Melbourne, the SAA has regular meetings open to the public with guest speakers, and also has a radio broadcast.
National Space Society. This is a chapter of the US society. Every year the NSS hosts the Australian Space Research Conference.
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. There are chapters of the AIAA in Sydney, Canberra, and Adelaide.
The British Interplanetary Society is one of the oldest space societies in existence. (Maybe even the oldest one).  They publish a journal and a magazine.
The Planetary Society is another US one. It was founded by Carl Sagan, among others, in 1980.
Mars Society Australia is part of a global network of Mars societies. Basically they want to go to Mars, but they have lots of activities on Earth too.
Australian Space Research Institute (ASRI) is a volunteer organisation interested in space activities.

If you want to get your hands dirty, you will find local rocket societies almost everywhere across Australia. This is where you can help build and launch a small rocket. It might not get to space but it's the same technology!

9. Eat astronaut food and drink astronaut drinks

There's lots of books around showing you how to train like an astronaut, but who can be bothered with that? Let's go straight to the gourmet end of astronaut existence. Your first tool is the wonderful Astronaut's Cookbook, which combines recipes with stories of life in space.

It's a myth that the powdered drink mix Tang was created for the space program, but it was invented in 1957, Year 1 of the Space Age. It became permanently associated with astronauts and spaceflight when it was used in NASA's Mercury and Gemini programs in the 1950s and 1960s. These days it comes in many difference flavours. And you can make cocktails with it! Here is the recipe for the Buzz Aldrin:

Tang (for garnish)
1 orange slice
4 oz of vodka (this is an American recipe)
2 tablespoons Tang
Place Tang on a plate. Run orange slice around the rim of a glass; rotate rim of glass in Tang. 
In a cocktail shaker, add Tang, vodka, and ice; shake. Strain into glass. Makes 1 cocktail.
The fanciness doesn't stop there. How about following this yummy cocktail with some luxurious Lobster Newburg, as eaten by the lucky crew of the US space station Skylab?

For dessert - of course you need astronaut freeze-dried ice cream., and it's fairly easy to obtain. Many museum shops stock it, and you can buy the original online here. A cheaper version is available from the Questacon shop. For an easy substitute, try meringues!

Breakfast is a snap. Here is a recipe (scroll down) from the Astronaut's Cookbook for a microgravity-friendly cereal.

Any food in a pouch is a good bet. You can buy lots of yogurt, fruit and baby food in this form.

10. Be aware of space for a day

You can decide to do this any time. Just for a day, think about how you are connected to space through Earth and through human technology.

It starts when the sun rises. As you lie in bed, think about Earth slowly turning underneath you, tilting you towards the Sun.

Think yourself into space. Imagine your body moving through time and space, not confined by your line of sight. Sight is not a sense that helps us here. In your mind's eye, think of how gravity is anchoring you to the surface. Be aware of the layers of atmosphere above you, until they thin out and give way to the stars and planets.

Where's the Moon? Look for it in the sky - if it's daytime, you might see its pale white curves, hard to distinguish sometimes. It seems passive, slowly moving in an arc overhead, but its gravitational force causes the tides. Up on the Moon are the remnants of human missions, forming an other-wordly archaeological record.

Perhaps you look at the weather on your phone or the television/radio news while you're having breakfast. The maps of cloud formations over Earth are brought to you from Earth observation satellites.

Every time you use your smartphone, look up and think of the satellites it's using to hook into GPS. Perhaps you get some cash out from an ATM. Look at the printed receipt: the time on it comes from satellites signals. At the supermarket, all of the goods you're about to buy are transported by trucks and ships using satellite signals.

As dusk falls, think of how you are now turning away from the Sun, turning to face the outer regions of the solar system, where human spacecraft are wending their way out into the galaxy beyond.

And of course, finish your day with some satellite spotting.

Space. You're standing in it.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The end of the Space Age

At the moment, we feel kind of connected to many places off-Earth. We have active experiments, orbiters and rovers on the Moon and Mars. Japan's Akatsuki is in orbit around Venus. New Horizons has whizzed past Pluto and into the Kuiper Belt.

But just imagine if we couldn't send anything more into space. This situation might arise if the density of space junk becomes too great and the exponential cascade of collisions causes the Kessler Syndrome. Objects launched from Earth would not escape fatal damage from these hypervelocity collisions.

Gradually, one by one, orbiters would crash onto planetary surfaces as their fuel ran out. Batteries would fail, materials would decay. One by one, the little spacecraft voices that come to the antennas of Earth would fall silent.

The great antennas set to listen to the human sounds of space would cease their turning like sunflowers to catch the signal; they in their turn would become useless monument to the Space Age.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Space Age Suds: women, washing machines and the astronautics of everyday life

'Space Age Suds' is a charming and slightly alarming little vignette which is about the seeping of the Space Age into domestic life, machines and technology and how they structure social relationships, and gender roles in the Space Age. It's meant to be humorous, of course, but there is so much going on here!

The author isn't just anyone - it's beloved South Australian writer and journalist Max Fatchen. I found the article on Trove and now can't relocate it, but it seems likely it was published in the Advertiser, Adelaide's daily broadsheet. The date is a bit uncertain but it's clearly Apollo era.

I like that the Space Age reverses gender roles and that by the analogy of the washing machine with the space capsule, the wife is accorded the power of technology. After some searching I was able to find her first name but not her original surname, so we will have to call her Jean Fatchen here.

Because the image is a little fuzzy, here is the text.

Space Age Suds: the script

So the Russians are developing a low-orbital bomb. Well, it's just one more complicated space-age development, like our washing machine.

Our washing machine has a shape like a capsule and it is computer programmed and uncanny.

I was never much of a one with technology, and as a member of the avant garde laundry set, I'm all washed up.

There's no longer the simple meshing of gears as with our old washing machine. The cheerful days when I got my tie caught in the wrangler are past.

Our washing machine is automated in a cold, impersonal way, and my wife now calls herself a laundry technician.

She subscribes to advanced scientific journals, keeps up with the Apollo space project and runs off at the mouth on everything from transistors to laser beams.

I have been given the title of junior wash and garment line adherer, which means I hang out the clothes. I suppose I should be grateful.

Yet I dread washing mornings. I belong to a generation of boiling coppers and copper sticks, the hot sudsy smell of saturated sheets, and of bars of yellowed soap.

Now there's an air of bristling technology in the laundry, with split-second timing and ruthless efficiency.

"Load", my wife rasps. I stuff the clothes into the washing machine.

She consults her watch. "Four minutes to wash off," she says.

She looks at the console. "Close hatch," she orders. I shut the washing machine. She begins the countdown, "Five.....four.....three..."

"Look, dear," I interrupt, "I've forgotten a couple of my shirts...."

"Clear the complex", she says icily. "". She throws a switch.

I humbly take up my position.

"Motor running", I report.

Strange, uncanny sounds come from the interior of the machine.

'Hot water entering,' I chant, consulting my check sheet.

"All systems are go," says my wife.

I sit back and light a cigarette with clammy hands.

Time goes by. The washing machine murmurs, thumps, sighs and gurgles. Its programme goes its relentless way.

"Check machine and report," rasps my wife from the kitchen.

"Machine on course, entering spin-dry period," I say.

"Check systems," she says.

"Check, check, check," I cry. "Hoses running. Pump stops ... four...three...two"

"Clothes touch down, five minutes," says my wife. "Stand by."

"Machine spinning," I cry.

"Fire retro-rockets," she says absentmindedly.

At last the machine is silent.

My wife climbs to her feet.

"Open hatch!" she orders. "Alert clothes waggon".

She begins unloading the washing machine.

She lets out a shriek. "These clothes still look dirty".

"You didn't," she says, "put in the washing powder, did you?".

"Well," I bluster, insubordinate and defiant to the last, "this machine is supposed to think of everything. If it hasn't enough brains to use washing powder....."

"That's all," she snaps. "We'll have to do another orbit. Get the powder".

No, I haven't been on the moon but there are times when it sounds attractive!


So much to say about this little piece! I'm only going to scratch the surface here.

There's the idea that the Space Age changes how we do small domestic things on Earth: more like machines than messy humans. Both the wife and the washing machine are now operating as Space Age robots (it's a little bit Stepford Wives-ish tbh). It shows how the public interpreted the machine-human interfaces of space technology, down to checklists just like those that the Apollo astronauts used. It's also very cybernetic, getting status updates and adjusting the conditions.

The washing machine drum is a little gravity machine in itself, spinning like a space station or a centrifuge such those astronauts train in. Front loading washing machines with a glass porthole resemble spaceships too. 

The countdown has permeated into the domestic level: precision timing is the key to Space Age efficiency. As a domestic astronaut in her small domain, Jean has assumed power: she commands and Max obeys. She is a robot herself, icy and distant, intolerant of human foibles like forgetting a few shirts - and also the washing powder. (Thanks a bunch, Max. I would have been far more annoyed were I Jean).

The irony is that the power of astronaut Jean is illusory. While Max is pretending to help, he's actually demonstrating a typical trope of the inept male. He boasts about hanging out the clothes, but in this scenario, he forgets the washing powder and sits about smoking a casual ciggie (as people did in those days) while Jean multitasks, back in the kitchen. He finishes with that golden oldie, the nagging wife. It's a perfect illustration of the separate gender spheres of the 1960s, when women were excluded from being astronauts in the US.

'Fire retro rockets,' Jean says, absentmindedly. Doesn't this seem at odds with the ruthless robot housewife, all hard, streamlined efficiency? It took me a few reads before I realised what the subtle Max was implying with this sentence. She is absent-minded and talking about retro-rockets - which the washing machine does not have - because she is dreaming. Standing in her apron at the kitchen sink washing the breakfast dishes, while Max lounges around in the laundry, she is an astronaut. She is in command of a space mission, brave and true. The washing machine is as close as she can come to realising this dream. It makes me feel a little sad.

Once upon a time in France (well probably about 2005), I saw a washing machine advertisement in which a rather attractive nude man crouched in front of the washing machine's porthole, presumably waiting for the spin cycle to finish. The caption read 'One small step for man, one giant leap for women' or something to that effect in French: the idea was that is was a bloody big leap to get a bloke to do any housework, so nude dude's efforts at laundry were going to emancipate women and allow them to leave the house, even go to space! In effect, the effort involved in getting a man to do the laundry was equivalent to landing on the moon!

Gallery of Space Age Suds

As it turns out, there are quite a few connections between washing machines and the Space Age. Here's a small sample.

A space-age shop front in Sheffield, UK. Used with permission, from
Look at those rocket portholes lined up outside this charming shop!

A rental property in Carson City, NV, USA, was advertised with a Space Age Laundry!

From Freaking News,
This is a reference to the Apollo 13 mission.

Source: unknown
This advertisement from 1900 explicitly references the gravity of spinning.

I'm sure I could find many more examples if I kept searching. Le me know if you find any!

And I'd like to finish by saluting astronaut Jean Fatchen. Here she is with Max in 2004.

Jean, with Max. Picture: Grant NowellSource:adelaidenow

Friday, February 22, 2019

Here now the Sun: a poem for Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space

I. Ready for launch

The suit is working well.
The inflow stream is working well.
I’m ready for launch.
I feel excellent.
Everything is normal.
I’m not a delicate lady.
Everything is normal on board.
I’m ready for launch.
I’m taking up the initial position.
Feeling excellent.

II. Launch

The vehicle’s moving smoothly,
vehicle’s moving smoothly.
I feel excellent.
Vehicle’s moving well.
I feel good.
I feel good.
I see the Earth on the porthole.
I feel excellent.
The Earth is very beautiful.
The vehicle is moving smoothly.
I see the Earth in the porthole,
slightly obscured by clouds.

III. Orbit

I’ll do everything that I need to do.
I don’t understand.
I didn’t see anything.
I feel excellent.
The clock is moving.
I see the horizon through the observation port.
I see the Earth in the observation port.
I feel excellent.
All systems on the vehicle are working perfectly.
Everything is excellent,
I hear you perfectly.

IV. The other cosmonaut

I hear you perfectly,
I feel excellent.
I feel excellent, excellent.
I’m approaching Cape Horn. At the outer ring …
The little star disappeared, wasn’t that you?
Don’t go far from me, my friend.
I can’t see the Moon.
The stars are passing further up.
I am seeing such a bright star.

V. The ships are on their way

The vehicle is responding perfectly, perfectly.
From the southern point I called him,
he’s silent,
from the north,
the same.
At our harbour the ships are silently smoking… 

Can you hear?
For the real boys, the harbour is the native home,
comrade to comrade,
they’ll always stand together.
And far far away, 
the ships are on their way,
and all who are young at heart,
stand shoulder to shoulder.

VI. Fourth orbit

19 hours 25 minutes
I sang songs for him
In the centre,
such a blue spot.
Here now the Sun
so orange, not red,
not light red, but
I’m also feeling excellent.
Here now the Sun
visible and lit up.
In the outer ring
the horizon is visible.
It’s a very beautiful sight.
at first it’s light blue,
then lighter,
then dark…

VII. Greetings to all the women of the world

Soviet women!
Greetings to all Soviet women.
I wish you personal good luck
and great success
Women of the world!
Greetings to you from space.
I wish you good luck
and success...

VIII. The flight is normal

Cabin pressure 1.15
Humidity 61 percent
Temperature 23 degrees
Carbon dioxide 0.1
Oxygen 250
Pulse 84-90-100
Breathing 22
I feel excellent.
See you soon in the homeland!
I hear you perfectly, perfectly.
The flight is proceeding normally.
All systems of the ship are working perfectly.
I feel excellent.
I hear you.
I’m waiting.
Everything is excellent.
The spaceship is working perfectly.
I’m in good spirits.
I feel excellent.
I hear everything well.
The flight is normal.
All systems on the ship are working perfectly.
Pressure in the suit 1 atmosphere
Humidity 40 percent
Temperature 28 degrees
Carbon dioxide 0.2 percent
Oxygen 200
All systems on the ships are working excellently.
I feel excellent.

IX. Dear Nikita Sergeyevich

Dear Nikita Sergeyevich!
I will use all my strength and knowledge to fully complete the flight
‘Till we meet again soon on our Soviet land.
Moscow, Kremlin.
I am reporting.
Dear Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev.
The flight is proceeding normally.
All systems on the ship are working perfectly.
I feel excellent. 
Thanks to all the Soviet people
See you soon in the homeland!
Dear Nikita Sergeyevich,
deeply touched by your attention.
With all my heart
Dear Nikita Sergeyevich!
I will use all my strength and knowledge to fully complete the flight,
‘Till we meet again soon on our Soviet land.

X. Shadows

There aren’t enough fingers to block the Sun.
It’s very sunny, difficult to see
at the present a very bright sun,
illuminating the very high clouds...
the horizon above the bright clouds
transitions into shadows.
The dark sky is visible in the survey viewport.
The flight is proceeding normally.
I feel excellent.

XI. This is Chayka

This is Chayka. Over.
This is Chayka. Over.
This is Chayka. Over.
This is Chayka. Over.
This is Chayka. Over.
This is Chayka. Over.
This is Chayka. Over.
This is Chayka. Over.
This is Chayka. Over.


This is a poem made using a technique called erasure, removing words from an existing text to create a new one. The words are from an edited transcript of Valentina Tereshkova's spaceflight. In 1963, she was the first woman to enter space and remains the only on to have performed a solo mission. 

I took the transcript from a paper by space historian Asif Siddiqi. This was not a complete transcript, so poem is only constructed from what Siddiqi reproduced, and of course it is important to remember that the transcript is translated from Russian to English. The transcript lent itself to short, repetitive sentences. My influences in taking this form were Gertrude Stein and HD, particularly her poem Eurydice. Another influence is Christine Rueter (@tychogirl), who first made me aware that poems existed within other texts, waiting to be brought out.

I used only Valentina's words; I wanted to maker her voice front and central, give her a narrative that was purely from her perspective without the judgement of others. She was in conversation with many people during the flight, including Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. I erased anyone who wasn't Valentina, and then removed paragraphs, sentences or parts of sentences to arrive at the poems you read here.

The other cosmonaut referred to was Valery Bykovsky, who was orbiting at the same time. They were supposed to sing a duet together from their separate spacecraft, but in the end Valentina sang by herself. In 'The ships are on their way', the latter part of the poem is from two different Russian songs, ‘Textile Town’, a 1960s hit by Mikhail Tanich, and ‘Friendship Song’, according to Siddiqi. This was Valentina's own mash-up within the text.

Valentina's flight was heavily criticised and constantly dissected. She was, in fact, not feeling excellent, but in the circumstances unable to admit this - a common problem for astronauts in the USSR and US. Space sickness was poorly understood, and admission of anything less than perfection could risk future flights. In addition, an engineer had made a mistake - the Vostok capsule was programmed to ascend, but not to descent. Valentina discovered this a few hours into her flight, which must have been a shock. The error was rectified, fortunately.

The sequence, with one exception when I moved text about the Sun to the same poem, is in the order in which it was spoken, so represents the chronological unfolding of her mission.

The final verse is made up of a phrase which was used repeatedly throughout the transcript. Tereshkova's callsign was Chayka (seagull). At the end of every segment of speech, she says 'This is Chakya. Over'; so I made this the end of the poem sequence. She repeats 'Over', but the poem does not include return to Earth. I wanted to create the impression that this was a moment in time, that she might still be out there, suspended, her state of existence ambiguous. Like she's flying into the sun, and the brightness of the sun prevents us from following her trajectory any further, fading her out like the radio signal.

Siddiqi, Asif  2009 Transcripts give new perspective on Vostok-6 mission. The first woman in Earth orbit. Spaceflight 51: 18-57