Saturday, December 02, 2006

Aboriginal souvenirs at Woomera

During my recent trip, I did hardly any research - most of my time was spent out on the range. However I did manage a few hours in the library looking through the old Gibber Gabber newsletters. I discovered that in the 1960s, the enterprising Jean Macauley set up a business from her home, selling Aboriginal art and souvenirs like miniature weapon sets. There was no indication that they were sourced locally, and the advertisements regularly mentioned consignments of art from Arnhem Land. I have visions of French, German and Italian space scientists, out there for the ELDO programme, browsing in the shop for artefacts to take home, perhaps never aware that Kokatha people were still living in the area.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Pissed on the Range

Just back from four days at Woomera and my liver is suffering from an excess of entertainment ..... but what can I say? Can you imagine anything more magnificent than sipping champagne at the bottom of the massive 6b ELDO launcher on the edge of a vast salt lake? Many thanks to Garry and Sheryn Clarke, and Ellen and Jeff Ingold, for their generous hospitality.

More about this soon if I don't get distracted by other work.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Woomera trip

Next week I'm going to Woomera, hoorah! Nights at the ELDO, days in the desert ..... actually I'm not doing fieldwork this time, just research. During my last visit, which was for a heritage consultancy, I had about half an hour in the new heritage centre. I was delighted with it, but also dismayed as I couldn't find anything about Indigenous people at Woomera. I later learned that anything non-rockety had been squirrelled away in the old Nurrungar room, and no-one mentioned that it was there!

My understanding, from talking to Geoff Speirs in the early day of the new design, was that these aspects of Woomera's history would be incorporated. The fact that they are not illustrates the very point I have been arguing in relation to understanding Woomera's significance as a space site (for example, in Gorman 2005, Journal of Social Archaeology).

I can feel a new paper coming on .....

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Download The Archaeology of Orbital Space

This article, in the proceedings of the Fifth Australian Space Science Conference in 2005, isn't terribly accessible - but for those of you who are interested, it is now available on my Flinders University website. This is the URL:

There is an icon next to the article to click.

Update 22 January 2015: broken link - the new link is here.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Don't disrespect Vanguard 1

Last night I watched Space Race, the series created by Deborah Cadbury. This episode was all about Sputnik 1 and Explorer 1, and their creators, von Braun and Korolev. Naturally, as a fan of Vanguard, I was disappointed at how the Naval Research Laboratory's satellite was treated in the documentary. There was no mention of the International Geophysical Year, or coherent explanation of the rationale behind preferring a non-military launch vehicle. The documentary maintained that James van Allen was called in at the last minute to build instrumentation for Explorer's experiments. The reality is that van Allen designed his experiment for Vanguard, but cunningly made it compatible with both satellites; when it became clear that Vanguard was under a cloud he transferred to Explorer. When Vanguard 1 was launched, it flew without its experiment packages.

Nonetheless, Vanguard 1 is still up there, and Explorer 1 re-entered in less than a month. Green and Lomask, historians of Vanguard, point out that its technologies are the basis of the USA space industry today.

Go Vanguard!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Who Weekly Space Edition

All kinds of reports lately about celebrities in space. Paris Hilton (can't they just leave her there? someone quipped), William Shatner (not keen on vomiting, quite right too), and now Madonna. Will this make space travel more topical for a new generation? I feel I'd better start collecting news clippings, as this may be the tip of the iceberg, a new phenomenon in popular culture.

Of course if they are going to have girly celebs out there, the space knobs had better get the space toilet thing sorted out. I read somewhere recently that a Russian spacecraft had to have its toilets adapted for women. Do these people never learn?

In line with my argument that discarded human organic remains in orbit may one day acquire a scientific value, if cosmic rays don't cause complete denaturing of complex biomolecules (note the fluent use of technical terms meant to inspire credibility), it may be that celebrity waste may become a true collector's item for space scavengers of the future.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Space biscuits and recognition for space archaeology

Sometimes the constant struggle to gain recognition for the cultural significance of space heritage can get a girl down. I was feeling rather depressed about life in general when I received an accolade that has made it all worthwhile. The utterly charming Nicey from A Nice Cup Of Tea And A Sit Down, the web's premier site for tea, biscuits, cake and sit downs, has declared that I am their favourite space archaeologist. It has made me happy for the last two days.

Nicey is very interested in space biscuits, as I may have mentioned already in this blog. Below is his take on the news that the Japanese are developing a special biscuit for long-haul space travel.

Nice News: Space biscuits will taste of worms or something

Wednesday 30 Aug 2006
Reporter: Nicey and Dr Alice Gorman

NiceCupOfTeaAndASitDown's favourite space archaeologist Dr Alice Gorman has been in touch about Japanese plans for space biscuits. Masamichi Yamashita, a researcher with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has come up with recipe that uses all the things that your typical astronaut might have to hand on a five year long mission to Mars. Soybeans, rice and silkworm pupas are combined, all of which may be farmed in space. Apparently the pupas will need a quick stir frying to mask their fishy taste, before grinding them into a sort of powder which we are assured will taste almost like crab.

Yamashita presented his recipe during the 36th scientific assembly of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR). The recipe comprises three to six grams of silkworm pupa powder, 200 grams of rice powder, 50 grams of soy powder and 300 cubic centimetres of soymilk, with soy sauce and salt.

I can't see McVitites beating a path to his door anytime soon. Mind you they could have a good future in that niche market for foods that you eat very late on a Friday night for a bet after you have been drinking heavily, traditionally occupied by Bombay Duck.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Why is Australia so uninterested in space?

What an interesting conference ..... especially for me as an outsider. A lot of these space people have known each other for years. (This is the Australian Space Development Conference).

My paper was not that well attended but I did manage to get Roy Sach, chair of the Space Policy Advisory Group, Andrew Parfitt from the University of Adelaide, Gordon Pike of Singtel-Optus, Brian Hatfield from BAE Systems, and Alex Held from CSIRO in the audience. Actually I had always supposed that Andrew Parfitt didn't like me, so it was nice that he made the effort to come.

I also met Ben Greene from EOS. I've long been interested in their orbital debris tracking operations and had been thinking about possible collaborative efforts. Unfortunately Dr Greene couldn't have been less interested. I suppose international CEOs can't afford to devote much time to chatting with individual researchers of my standing.

Roger Franzen, Managing Director of Auspace, was completely the opposite.

And of course the gloomy underlying theme of the conference was Australia's lack of commitment to space, the fact that we are rapidly falling behind in almost everything, and that we are completely dependent on others, particularly the US, to maintain space services. The advice of the lovely John Keating, CEO of Comm Dev (Canada) in his keynote speech, was "lose the US".

Monday, July 17, 2006

Australian Space Development Conference

Tomorrow I leave for chilly Canberra and the Australian Space Development Conference. Today I must finish writing my paper. I am presenting as part of a heritage panel and my brief is to outline Indigenous heritage issues in space exploration. I'm taking three case studies: Woomera, Aussat A, and Tranquility Base.

It will, I am sure, be a seriously suited audience - if any of the space nobs think it worth attending a heritage session. To enhance my credibility I'm going to wear high heels. (Does it work that way? I've really no idea).

Ironically I was out near Woomera on the weekend doing fieldwork with the Kokatha. Very interesting conversation with Eileen Wingfield about Maralinga. But this time I'm not drawing nuclear testing into my arguments. I think some of the basic heritage concepts will be enough for a space industry audience to begin with.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Spaceport blues - Kourou and Soyuz

I've just finished writing a paper for Archaeologies, the journal of the World Archaeological Congress. The issue, edited by Marcia Bezerra, is called "Archaeologists without borders" and I decided to write about my experiences in Kourou.

This wasn't easy to do. I wanted to convey something about my emotions, the feeling that I had been suddenly precipitated into an unstable situation where I couldn't predict the results of words or actions. This kind of stuff doesn't always work well in academic writing (and, I never want to sound too postmodern - it makes my scientist's soul cringe). But the evolution of my understanding of Kourou was inextricably linked with certain people, discussions, places. Making a coherent, and yet not wanky, narrative out of it was like pulling teeth. Well, the teeth were duly pulled and I think I like how it's turned out.

No idea how long the article will take to be published. I haven't tackled the abstract yet - perhaps I will post it when finished.

Did I actually describe what happened in Kourou in the blog?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Speaking of ancient astronauts .......

Erich Von Daeniken space park needs down-to-earth sponsor

Long ago, astronauts from outer space visited earth to lay the foundations for human civilisation, controversial Swiss writer Erich von Daeniken has always insisted.

Now, Von Daeniken hopes for a visitor with enough down-to-earth money to save his Mystery Park theme park in Interlaken from financial collapse.

The park, set up by the author of bestsellers such as "Chariots of the Gods" and "The Gods were Astronauts", has failed to attract enough visitors and needs more than $3,08m in cash to stay in business.

The park’s attractions — which showcase giant drawings in the Peruvian desert that may once have been "traffic" signs for visiting spacecraft, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence and more — may close forever if it does not find the money.

Mystery Park’s shares have risen sharply in heavy volumes recently as investors speculate about its future and the stock now changes hands well below the levels they stood at before 2004.

The group said today it had asked a court for protection from creditors to win time to propose a restructuring plan to a shareholder meeting in May.

But the company will be declared bankrupt if the plan does not get approved and the days of Mystery Park will be numbered. Unless some higher power intervenes, that is, financially or otherwise.

Source: Reuters and Dave Reneke's Astronomy Media Services

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Spaceport good for Woomera's heritage - media release

This was released yesterday, 10th April.

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.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Astronautic rock art

This week I have been entering data from fieldwork recording rock art on the Burrup peninsula, Western Australia. I've always wanted to find an Aboriginal rock art astronaut, and suddenly there one was! On a rock panel recorded by my esteemed colleague Phil Czerwinski, a little anthropomorphic figure appeared to have a fish-bowl-like helmet on its head. Bingo! But seeing this figure as part of a whole art tradition, and with a personal acquaintance with the art of the Burrup, it actually required a new headspace to give it the ancient astronaut interpretation. Lines like that encircling the head of the figure occur in all sorts of contexts, around limbs, on animals, as isolated motifs. It could have been a work in progress, where the artist would have filled in the circle to make a bigger head eventually. Everything else depicted on the panel was routine in terms of Burrup engravings. I'm not a rock art specialist, so this was an interesting thought process for me. It gave me a glimpse of how the amateur may interpret rock art and perceive such things - a la Erich von Daniken.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Starfalls and first contact

It's Festival time in Adelaide. On the weekend I attempted to visit an exhibition of works that imagines starlight and starfalls as seen through a spacecraft window. Contrary to all advertised information, the exhibition space was shut. This was a pity, as I was planning to write a review of the exhibition for Sky and Space magazine. Their loss.

The opening of the exhibition "First Contact in the Western Desert" at the Tandanya National Aboriginal Centre was a different story. The exhibition featured anthropologist Donald Thomson, who was involved in the Woomera protest in 1947, and told the story of first contact from the perspective of Aboriginal people. There was a whole wall devoted to Woomera, and to my delight, one of the panels depicted the cast list from Jim Crawford's 1947 play "Rocket Range". I knew the play existed but seeing this has made me determined to track down the script.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

More about Syncom 3

Happy New Year! I'm back in Adelaide, just moved house, trying to get motivated to do some work. The most pressing task is to finish an article for a book called "Contemporary Archaeologies: Excavating Now", edited by Angela Piccini and Cornelius Holtorf. I've decided to explore space technology and its significance as part of two major post-war social and cultural processes: decolonisation and globalisation. It's a good opportunity to revisit Syncom 3, which I first wrote about for the Australian Space Science Conference in Melbourne last year. One interesting new facet of this satellite (and Syncom 2) is the effect that the broadcast of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games via the Syncoms to Europe and North America had on the growth of the modern Olympic movement, and on Japanese television technology.

Soon I may have more to report about Australia's FedSat satellite, as I hope to have the opportunity to do some more detailed research on its significance.