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.