Friday, December 28, 2007

A change in direction for Australian space policy?

Australia has a new government (hurrah!), and according to a news item I caught the end of a couple of nights ago, there may be a rethink of our space policy. Basically, we don't have a coherent one ..... responsibility for all things spacey is split up between a number of different government departments, and we buy in all our space requirements, making us extremely vulnerable. The Rudd government may wish to be a little less reliant on the US. As most south east Asian nations have better space programmes than Australia, this might be a good time to do some strategic relationship-building with our near neighbours.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Novels before conferences: Reynolds makes wise choice

I had an email from Alastair Reynolds this morning, and he respectfully declined my invitation to attend the Nostalgia for Infinity session at WAC-6, as he will be finishing a book. So I'm disappointed, of course, but can't complain - firstly because he remembered me from previous correspondence (yay!), and because I want him to write more books as quickly as possible.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Nostalgia for Infinity: exploring the archaeology of the final frontier

This is the abstract for our session on space archaeology at the World Archaeological Congress 6, in Dublin next year from June 29th to July 4th. If you are interested in giving a paper, please email me!

Nostalgia for Infinity: exploring the archaeology of the final frontier
Session Convenors:
Alice Gorman, Beth O'Leary,
15-20 minute papers each followed by discussion

Outer space has been called the final frontier: after the Earth's surface, the depths of the sea and the upper reaches of the atmosphere, it is the last environment that modern technology has enabled humans to explore. In the 21st century, humans stand physically upon the threshold of outer space; and yet it is a place that human cultures have always known. Since the Palaeolithic, the sun, moon and other celestial bodies have been included in the construction of cosmologies, creation stories and accounts of the moral and physical nature of the world.

The conquest of space required astronomical and engineering technologies: rockets, launch pads, tracking stations, electronics, energy sources, and life-sustaining environments. The material culture of the space age is present both on earth and in space. It is curated in museums, located in historic facilities, in orbit around numerous celestial bodies in the solar system, and on lunar and planetary surfaces. Its impacts are evident in the communities sustained by space industry and in the ubiquitous domestic satellite dishes, indicating participation in an increasingly globalised economy.

As space material culture begins to be accepted as heritage, the challenge for the archaeologist is to understand how people interact with the places and objects of space, not just as the province of a scientific elite, but as part of the fabric of every day life, permeating popular culture, politics and information exchange.

We invite papers addressing any aspect of the diverse material culture of space, such as terrestrial, orbital and planetary space sites, collection policies and procedures, military and civil space programmes, space tourism, and cultural heritage management and preservation.

The Nostalgia for Infinity is the spacecraft which plays a central role in Alastair Reynold's fiction. There's a strong connection between science fiction and archaeology; many of my colleagues follow the genre, and I guess science fiction writers and archaeologists are both in the business of imagining different worlds. I used it in the session title because (1) I think it sounds great, and (2) I wanted to invoke the paradox of the unknowable that is also familiar. And Reynolds has an archaeological theme running through his books (although if I was in the field with Dan Sylveste, the archaeologist in Revelation Space, I'd want to hit him a lot for being an arrogant bastard).

Oooh! I wonder if I could entice Reynolds to come to WAC-6? How fabulous would that be!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Conference papers and public lectures on space archaeology

I had to update my CV this morning, and added in some of my recent presentations on space heritage and archaeology. Here is a (far from comprehensive) list from the last few years.

Sadly, I've only written a few of these up yet. Oh how fabulous it would be to have a life where all one was required to do was research and write.

(And eat little cakes beautifully iced with a nice cup of tea. My esteemed colleague Dr Lynley Wallis has gone cake mad since the Sputnik cakes and bakes every few days, it seems).

Gorman, A.C. 2007 The gravity of archaeology. New Ground joint conference, University of Sydney

Gorman, A.C. 2007 Leaving the cradle of Earth: the heritage of Low Earth Orbit, 1957-1963. Extreme Heritage: Australia ICOMOS Annual Conference, James Cook University

Gorman, A.C. 2006 From the Stone Age to the Space Age: high technology and Indigenous heritage. Fifth Australian Space Development Conference, Canberra

Gorman, A.C. 2005 From the desert to the tropics: European space exploration at Woomera. Public Lecture at the Mediathèque, Kourou, French Guiana

Gorman, A.C. 2005 From the Stone Age to the Space Age: interpreting the significance of space exploration at Woomera. Paper presented to the symposium Home on the Range: the Cold War, Space Exploration and Heritage at Woomera, South Australia. Flinders University

Gorman, A.C. 2004 Archaeology in space. Paper presented to the forum “Where next for Australian space activities?” Convened by the CRC for Satellite Systems, Canberra

Gorman, A.C. 2004 A sense of urgency: space exploration and Indigenous cultural values at the Woomera Rocket Range, South Australia. Public lecture, Kent Hall Museum, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Gorman, A.C. 2004 Beyond the space race: the significance of space sites in a new global context. Society for American Archaeology Annual Conference, Montréal

Gorman, A.C. 2003 Archaeology in space. British Interplanetary Society Lecture Series, London

Gorman, A.C. 2003 The cultural heritage management of orbital space. World Archaeological Congress, Washington DC

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tintin and the Syldavian rocket range

I was never really into Tintin as a kid, but on my last visit to France I picked up copies of Objectif Lune and On a marche sur la lune. I also included an analysis of Tintin's rocket range in the mythical country of Syldavie in a 2005 presentation about early Cold War launch facilities.

I've been thinking about this again lately - perhaps because there seems to be a resurgence of interest in Tintin.

In Objectif Lune, Professor Tournesol (I think he is called Professor Calculus in the English translations) is working on a moon rocket in a Syldavian research facility. It is located in a remote mountain area with rich uranium deposits and indeed an atomic research centre was the first installation at this site.

Professor Tournesol says:

"They put out a call to experts in different countries, specialists in nuclear physics, and the work began. It goes without saying that the research is exclusively directed in a humanitarian sense. No question of making atomic bombs here. On the contrary, we are researching the means to protect humanity against the dangers of this new engine of destruction".

So much packed into this brief statement! The thing that strikes me forcibly is the emphasis on international cooperation, freely given. Immediately after WW II, in France, the USSR and the USA, German rocket scientists were virtual prisoners - actually so in the USSR, but even in France and the US they were corralled away. I'm not sure if we are to read Frank Wolff, Tournesol's right hand man at the facility, as a German.

Then there are all the complex moral issues of working with nuclear energy .... no need to go over this ground. What's interesting is the assumption that a rocket to the moon will of course be powered by nuclear energy. In the 1950s, the USA was working on a nuclear rocket, and later on they trialled nuclear power sources in military telecommunications satellites.

Despite the peaceful intentions of the Syldavian project, the facility is crawling with secret police and there is the constant threat of sabotage.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Who knew astronaut poop could cause such controversy?

It's funny how people react to the idea that human waste may have archaeological value. Of course, in space, the main problem would be exposure to high-energy particles and the various other elements of the orbital environment, which would denature complex biomolecules rather more quickly than on Earth. In the future, this material may have value in terms of identifying the genetic characteristics of an elite group of people in the 20th/21st centuries, in the absence of any actual bodies (this might of course change as the next "Space Race" hots up). There is a piece of Mir still in orbit, and it's likely that a portion of the cloud of frozen urine that once surrounded Mir is still there too ....

On Earth, we study preserved poo (the technical term is coprolite) from both humans and animals for what it can tell us about past diet in particular. I don't have any personal experience in this type of analysis, and frankly don't plan on acquiring it any time soon.

I mention this because it's come to my attention that the Archaeology magazine interview has provoked some debate on a discussion list called, I think, Unidroit. I'm more than happy to clarify my views for any visitors from this list.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The genesis of Dr Space Junk

Someone asked me a while ago where Dr Space Junk and the Love Pygmy came from. A friend of my sister's (AJ, I think) came up with the name, and I subsequently used a character called Dr Space Junk in a couple of privately circulated stories. Dr Space Junk and her friend Dr Giggi Ignom are evil doctors who believe that the earth's populace exhibits such poor taste in general that it requires radical intervention. Aboard the Love Pygmy, they travel the solar system, stopping as often as possible to partake of civilised morning and afternoon tea (now it occurs to me there has been a longstanding association with cakes), and occasionally exerting themselves to suppress outbreaks of trash culture. (Although it must be said that they do not always agree on what these are).

Dr Giggi Ignom is the alter ego of a real person, but I shall not reveal who at this juncture.

How Dr Space Junk's spacecraft acquired the name of Love Pygmy is a whole other story.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Critical Technologies: the Making of the Modern World

This is our theme for the World Archaeological Congress in Dublin next year.

Critical Technologies: the Making of the Modern World
Call for session proposals and papers

Dr Alice Gorman (Flinders University;
Dr Beth O’Leary (New Mexico State University;
Mr Wayne Cocroft (English Heritage;

Please direct all correspondence to Alice Gorman in the first instance.


Everyday life in modern industrial nations has been shaped by technologies that have radically altered the nature of travel (cars, trains, aeroplanes, submarines, spacecraft), communication (telephones, television, telegraphs, radio, computers and satellites), and warfare (rockets, missiles, aeroplanes, nuclear weapons), among others. These technologies have recreated human geographies through their capacity to transcend distance and time, allowing the traffic of information and material culture across vast spaces, sometimes almost instantaneously. They are the foundation of the globalising world, and yet the material culture of globalisation is rarely examined critically from an archaeological perspective. Given WAC’s aim to redress global inequities, it is timely to focus an archaeological gaze on the technologies that support the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” of the 21st century.

Sessions are invited to examine the sites, places and artefacts created by critical technologies, including but not limited to such topics as:

• The Cold War and nuclear confrontation
• Telecommunications
• Aerospace
• Outer space
• Robotics
• Technological landscapes
• Heritage management and conservation challenges
• Defence and warfare
• Indigenous engagement with critical technologies
• Theoretical issues in contemporary archaeology
• Capitalism and critical technologies
• The archaeology of the future

Critical technologies are not confined to the 20th century and after; we also encourage papers and session proposals that investigate 17th -19th century antecedents of modern technologies, and their impacts.

DEADLINE for session proposals is 1 November 2007
Sessions must be have organisers representing at least two different countries. Session abstracts should be no longer than 250 words, and can be submitted online at Please also send details to Alice Gorman at Feel free to discuss your proposed session before submitting.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Sputnik cakes endorsed by Nicey

Nicey did like Dr Lynley Wallis' special sputnik cakes. Here is what he says on his fabulous website:

"Its always good to hear from NCOTAASD's favourite space archaeologist. We too were excited about the 50th anniversary of Sputnik, which for good reason is the artificial satellite that I most often think of. Despite all the hundreds of other ones up there routing our phone calls, guiding our transport and keeping an eye on the weather, Sputnik is the only one with its own vegetable. The Kohl-Rabis that turn up in our weekly delivered veggi-box are the spit of it, and very nice in a stir fry it is. 

I'm impressed that each cake seems to be unique in its design and colour scheme and I note that Dr Wallis didn't spare the food colouring. I hope this didn't render all your students hyper-active with attention deficit issues. Granted the latter is always difficult to diagnose in students although working in such a stimulating field I'm sure you don't suffer from such things".

I had to think a bit about the kohlrabis. The cakes were the least of our worries at the masterclass, as we had provided suitable beverages appropriate to any archaeological discussion.

Is any serious research going on here at the moment? I don't care as long as I remain NCOTAASD's favourite space archaeologist.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Sputnik cakes

Last Thursday was Sputnik's 50th birthday. My esteemed colleague Dr Lynley Wallis demonstrated the depth of her friendship and her love of space hardware by making a batch of special sputnik cakes, that were consumed by participants at our cultural heritage masterclass that afternoon.

It turns out it's not so easy to make pictures of rockets and satellites with stupid kiddie icing tubes and chocolate sprinkles. My esteemed colleague was most incensed when I opined that her home-made rocket stencil looked more like a turtle than a V2, and there was a free-hand star that resembled a dog .... however recognising that my access to cake was being put at risk by this somewhat negative commentary, I refrained and assisted her in making lopsided moons and sputnik shapes that looked like sea urchins on a bad hair day.

Kelly Wiltshire took a spifflicatingly good photo (see right). They were most splendid cakes and I think that Nicey (from A Nice Cup of Tea and A Sit Down) would have approved.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The gravity of archaeology

Another conference paper on the horizon. I seem always to be writing these bloody things and never doing anything. Anyway, this time it's on how gravity structures the archaeological record in orbit and on earth, and I chose gravity because the pun in the title (see above) was too tempting, and I will get to say satisfying things like the argument of the perigee and fundamental epoch to a room full of archaeologists.

Chimerastone points out that gravity may not be the most appropriate quantity? variable? to use, and I think s/he's right. I'm now combining a dynamical systems approach to geomorphology (which has a lot to do with how artefacts/sites get to be where they are) and celestial mechanics (which is how space junk gets to be where it is), and using energy instead, a la Lagrange.

I'm not sure yet if it's going to be simply profound, or merely simple.

Monday, August 13, 2007

La terre et l'espace: download the article

The full text of this article is available at the following URL:

This week I am working on gravity - reading lots of stuff on the Newton/Hooke debate (hard to avoid the conclusion that Newton was a bit of a bastard) and thinking about how to define place in space.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Extreme heritage and off-world landscapes

Next week the papers from the Heritage of Off-World Landscapes session at the ICOMOS Australia conference will be up on the website:

It was a fascinating session, covering a broad range of issues to do with space heritage. The delightful John Hurd, President of the ICOMOS Advisory Committee, agreed to be discussant. (I'm still pondering his comments). And we were also graced with the presence of a space scientist, Tim, who worked on the ill-fated Beagle mission to Mars.

After my excursion into LEO and MEO for this paper, I'm thinking of venturing into GEO for my next research, especially as Stilgherrian ( has provided me with a fabulous term to use: geosynchronous taxidermy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

La Terre et l’Espace: Rockets, Prisons, Protests and Heritage in Australia and French Guiana

As promised a long time ago, here is the abstract for my Kourou article which has just come out in the journal of the World Archaeological Congress, Archaeologies [3(2):153-168]

Space technology is often represented as global, modern and placeless. But one of the earliest forms of space site, the rocket range, tends to be located in places of a very specific kind: remote and seemingly empty colonies. Because of their distance from the metropole, these places also lend themselves to hosting prisons, detention camps, military installations, nuclear weapons, and nuclear waste. All of these establishments, including rocket ranges, have inspired reactions of protest. These themes are explored at the rocket launch sites of Woomera (Australia) and Kourou (French Guiana). In 2005, Créole groups in French Guiana were demonstrating against the construction of a new launch pad near Kourou that disturbed archaeological material. My arrival, to deliver a talk proposing that protests in Woomera sixty years earlier were an essential part of the heritage of the space age, revealed the entanglement of imprisonment and protest with space exploration.

La technologie aérospatiale est souvent représentée comme étant globale et moderne, et comme n’ayant pas de point d’attache géographique particulier. Néanmoins, le site de lancement, l’une des formes originelles du site aérospatial, tend à être localisé dans des endroits spécifiques: des colonies éloignées, et apparemment vides de populations. Du fait qu’ils sont sités loin de la métropole, ces endroits ont aussi tendance à accueillir des prisons, des camps de détention, des installations militaires, des armes et des déchets nucléaires. Tous ces endroits, y compris les sites de lancement, ont inspiré des réactions de protestation à leur encontre. Ces thèmes ont été explorés aux sites de lancement de Woomera (Australie) et de Kourou (Guyane Française). En 2005, des groupes créoles de la Guyane Française ont manifesté contre l’établissement d’un nouveau site de lancement près de Kourou, dont la construction a perturbé les vestiges archéologiques de l’endroit. Mon arrivée, (pour présenter une communication proposant que les manifestations ayant eu lieu à Woomera soixante ans plus tôt constituent un élément essentiel du patrimoine de l’ère aérospatiale), a mis en avant le lien étroit qui existe entre emprisonnement, protestation et exploration spatiale.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The first seven years in orbit

The ICOMOS Australia conference is on in Cairns next week. John Campbell and I are convening a session on space heritage, and we're very excited, because Beth O'Leary from New Mexico State University is visiting Australia for the first time. Beth has been researching Tranquility Base and will deliver one of the keynote talks.

As per bloody usual, I'm writing my paper at the last minute (why, oh why, do I always do this?). I'm looking at the material record in orbit from 1957, the launch of Sputnik 1 into Low Earth Orbit, until 1963, when Syncom 1 is launched into geosynchronous orbit. Only seven years to get from LEO to GEO, and then another seven years until people land on the Moon. Pretty astonishing.

Looking at the figures has raised some interesting points. I expected to see a more or less equal distribution of USA/USSR satellites still up there. But the satellites remaining in orbit from the first seven years are almost entirely US, the main exception being Canada's Alouette 1. What happened to the Russian satellites?

One reason they are underrepresented is because during this period the USSR was focussing on the Moon, so quite a few have ended up in lunar orbit or cislunar space. (This makes me realise I don't know much about how lunar orbits work, in the absence of aerodynamic drag. Must find out). (And isn't cislunar a fabulous word?). Numerous other missions were crewed, and thus returned to Earth.

Another explanation may be that USSR satellites were injected into lower orbits than USA ones and have decayed at a greater rate. I won't have time to pursue this before the conference unfortunately.

I am going to imagine a scenario where all we have is the orbital material to work out how humans got into space. What will this first seven years tell us, and how might it differ from the documentary record?

I'm also going to take a closer look at the fascinating West Ford project ....

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Saving Woomera

Check out the June issue of Australasian Science for my article about managing the heritage values of the Woomera rocket range.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Museum tackles 'moon hoax' believers

April 9, 2007 - from The Age, Melbourne

A museum honoring the first man to walk on the moon is not afraid to confront conspiracy theorists who argue his 1969 lunar landing was a hoax.

"If it takes a controversy to get them here, that's fine with us," said Andrea Waugh, an education specialist at the Armstrong Air & Space Museum, named after Apollo 11 astronaut and hometown hero Neil Armstrong.

The museum in western Ohio set up a display on Saturday featuring some of the talking points that conspiracy theorists make in books and numerous Web sites to try to back up their claims that NASA staged all of its moon landings from 1969 to 1972 in a movie studio.

Claims that the lunar landings were fake can be easily debunked with facts and science, Waugh told visitors.

For example, a favorite conspiracy argument is that it is impossible for a US flag photographed next to Armstrong and fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin to be fluttering in a lunar environment that lacks wind or an atmosphere.

The flag had a horizontal bar attached to it at the top to keep the flag from hanging limply down the pole, Waugh said.

And distorted shadows that appear next to astronauts in some of NASA's photographs - another sticking point with nonbelievers - are the result of sunlight reflecting off the lunar landscape, she said.

The museum's explanations were enough to convince Janet Rosengarten, who drove from nearby Sidney to see the exhibit.

"I've never had any question about it," she told local newspaper The Lima News. "I saw Armstrong land on the moon when I was 7 and I have no doubt it happened. But it's still fun to see the things people say who doubt it all."

The museum includes one of Armstrong's Apollo-era space suits and other artifacts from his career and childhood.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Danger Will Robinson: can space junk make aeroplane travel unsafe?

Pilots on a commercial flight from Chile saw flaming objects falling past their plane as it headed into New Zealand earlier this week. Australian media got a bit excited about this and postulated that the objects were part of a Russian spacecraft. Others suggested that they were meteoroids.

ABC Radio in NSW called me for comment (which was nice - they wanted me as a space debris expert, not an archaeologist!). Their spin was: should people be concerned? Is it becoming unsafe to be an aeroplane passenger?

I argued not - that the likelihood of actually being hit by space junk re-entering the atmosphere was negligible. Not, however, zero: people and property have been struck before. But mostly debris burns up on re-entry, and the space tracking boffins know when something big is on the way.

In the back of my head were a few alarm bells. I'd hate to cause a panic among frequent flyers by ill-chosen words! And once again I was tired as, having thrown all my energy into meeting a deadline just half an hour before the interview (and then being enticed into the bar by a few students - it was my choice to have a drink though!). My brain was practically in orbit itself.

I did use the opportunity to make a valuable point though. Instead of worrying that space junk would hit their plane, people should be worried about space junk compromising satellite services - television, telephone, GPS and navigation, weather forecasting, and - ATMs. That's right, ATMs rely on satellite data to function. I'm only aware of this because I hang out with space people, and it should be more widely known. Can you imagine what would happen if we lost access to satellites?

As an aside, I just want to say how much I loathe the word "airplane". There is no beauty in it.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Australia's space policy to 2025

Last week I attended a workshop convened by the Kokoda Foundation, a think-tank devoted to security issues, about where Australia was headed in space. As you know we're a bit behind the door when it comes to a coherent vision for our use of space, let alone anything crazy like, oh I don't know, a decent policy ..... some interesting things emerged from the discussions, summarised below:

1. Launch capability is definitely not the way to go. We can't really compete in that market.

2. Spectrum allocation is absolutely critical.

3. Australia is underrepresented on peak bodies at an international level. For example, even though we are a founding member of COPUOS, the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, no Australian rep has attended for so long that they are thinking of chucking us off.

4. People don't talk to each other enough: right hands and left hands don't know what the other is doing (civil and military being some of the hands).

My contribution was to suggest that we need to keep some hardware in orbit; future access to orbit may depend on being able to prove a historical right to be in space after the UN treaties erode. And they will erode, and it is not inconceivable that the space powers would turn around and say, well, it's clear you've never used this orbit in the past, so why should we let you into it now? (A situation not dissimilar to some Native Title debates).

Friday, March 02, 2007

Time for the latex gloves

I got the biggest shock yesterday. Finally tracked down the first issue of new magazine Monocle, published by the pseudo-desserty Tyler Brule of Wallpaper fame, to see if they had run an article about my orbital debris research.

They had.

In the article I make some rather bold claims about US military aspirations in space. Journalist Jackie Dent quotes me accurately, and what she writes is part of our discussions earlier in January when she first raised the idea of the article. I just wasn't prepared for the effect of reading it, presented so starkly in black and white. I thought, I am so dead. They're never going to let me back into the US again.

On the other hand, would US military/space analysts read a magazine with advertisements for Ferrogamo and Prada in it?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Chinese rocket and space junk - radio interview

Last week I did an interview on The Current, on CBC Radio, Toronto. The subject of the show was China's recent destruction of a satellite by missile, and the effect on the growth of orbital debris. Other guests included Don Kessler (formerly of NASA's Orbital Debris Office), Geoff Forden (MIT) and David Wright (Union of Concerned Scientists). Some of the show is available online at the following link:

The interview took place at about a quarter past midnight, Australian time. I was very sleepy and may not have made as much sense as I'd like ....

Monday, February 12, 2007

The heritage of off-world landscapes - call for papers

John Campell of James Cook University and I are organising a session at the ICOMOS conference in Cairns in July. Here is the session abstract:

The Heritage Of Off-World Landscapes
Convenors: Alice Gorman ( and John Campbell (

Human understandings of the Earth have always been mediated by conceptions of what lies beyond the atmosphere. In the 20th century, however, interplanetary space acquired a new layer of meaning as satellites and spacecraft explored the Solar System. Landscapes once viewed only through the lens of the night sky became places that humans could visit, through images and data, and in the flesh. This session explores the heritage values in these new landscapes: the cloud of satellites and orbital debris circling the Earth; the lunar landscapes created by Russian, US and ESA landing and crash sites on the Moon; the Soviet, US and ESA hardware that now litters the Martian desert or is continuing to explore it; the probes which have been sent further out, like the ESA craft Huygens which has formed a site on the cloudy surface of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. As a new “space race” emerges in the 21st century between India, China and other spacefaring nations, it is imperative to consider how we understand the significance of off-world landscapes at both the global and the local level, and to work toward developing and implementing international protocols and agreements on the protection and, where feasible, management of places of significant space heritage.

If you are interested in presenting a paper at this session, please contact me!

For more information look at the conference website:

Tuesday, January 02, 2007