Saturday, December 27, 2008

The heritage value of comets

In the short story Of late I dreamt of Venus by James van Pelt (The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 21, 2008, edited by Gardner Dozois, pp 84-99), various comets are manoeuvred into orbit around Venus, to provide water for terraforming. However, there is opposition:

There's a lobby defending Halley's Comet for its 'historical and traditional values', as well as several groups who argue that 'comets possess a lasting mythic and aesthetic relation with the people of Earth'.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tranquility Base under threat

NewSpace Digest
Duncan Law-Green


Astrobotic Technology Inc., one of the leading teams in the $20 million Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP) has unveiled its plans for a series of robotic expeditions to build a commercial library of information on lunar science and engineering.

“Astrobotic will robotically explore the Moon’s high-interest areas on a commercial basis, collecting information required to design future outposts and to answer scientific questions about the Moon and Earth,” said President David Gump. “Our data library also will point the way to utilizing lunar energy and mineral resources to lower the cost of exploration and eventually supply markets on Earth.”

In addition to building a lunar data library, the company will deliver payloads, perform on-the-Moon services and generate interactive, high-definition media content for television, the Web, science centers and theme parks.

Astrobotic’s first lunar expedition is the "Tranquility Trek Mission" in May 2010 to the historic Apollo 11 landing site. The second and third missions are aimed for crater rims at the poles because NASA and other agencies plan to establish permanent outposts there. The lunar poles offer persistent sunlight for electrical power and moderate temperatures, plus potential water ice in permanently shadowed deep craters. The company expects that by 2013 it will send a robot into one of the deep polar craters to confirm if water ice can be mined to support future crews and refuel future spacecraft.

Additional missions will collect seismic data to chart the Moon’s interior, and a prototype Moondozer will test lunar construction technology.

Astrobotic Technology was formed in late 2007 and has secured lunar contracts from NASA and two commercial firms. Prototype rovers are now being field-tested at Carnegie Mellon University by Dr. William “Red” Whittaker, the firm’s Chairman. Prototype landing platforms have been constructed by Raytheon Co., using the company’s proven digital terrain matching technologies to achieve precision landings on the Moon. Mission planning and camera expertise is provided by the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at The University of Arizona. More information is available at

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

First Indian material culture on the Moon

I think this is terribly significant: the first nation-state outside the USA and former USSR has placed material on the moon. From ESA:

The Indian Space Research Organisation's lunar orbiter Chandrayaan-1 released a probe that impacted close to the lunar south pole on 14 November. Following this, the instruments on the spacecraft are being switched on to get the science observations started.

More at:

Friday, November 14, 2008

Venus is so bright tonight

A lovely spring evening - as the sun set, I was sitting in the garden with my good friend the geophysicist I. Moffat, drinking red wine and watching how Venus caught the light of the dying sun. Mercury, also pretty spectacular. I thought to myself: I am looking at the planetary surface where the Veneras and the Vegas (complete with their diamond and sapphire windows) are sitting on the surface letting the slow winds caress them, an erosion process that will see them still intact when the solar system is at its last gasp.

Remembering also, that as a child I was fascinated by Babylonian observations of Venus. They seemed all the more mysterious, scientific and profound because I myself could not really see the stars. I was short-sighted from early childhood, and everything in the sky looked blurry to me. I also could not understand how my father recognised species of bird (he was a Neville W. Cayley fan from way back), assuming that some people could see things in patterns of flight that I was simply not capable of. Well, all that changed when I got glasses at age 11 - I could tell a planet from a star after all! And I could tell those bloody birds apart. Perhaps the heavens were so entrancing because I could not really see them. Perhaps the allure of science was all the stronger because of blurry vision ....

But possibly I digress. Venus is so bright tonight and I imagine myself a Babylonian astronomer, observing its phases. Taking the accumulation of traditional knowledge, thinking Tiamat (or whoever it was), and arriving at plausible theories for what was happening. Those guys were way cool.

I mentioned the red wine, right?

"A Fearsome Heritage" highly commended at British Archaeological Awards

Well, we didn't win, but the book was one of two runners-up highly commended by the judges. Well done to our fabulous editors John Schofield and Wayne Cocroft. Apparently Left Coast Press are considering a paperback edition now.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dr Space Junk - movie star.

My darling friend Jack Dwyer, president of the Newcastle Space Frontier Society, wrote to me earlier in the year:

When does the DR. ALICE GORMAN AND THE SEARCH FOR SPACE JUNK movie come out again?! You know, a trilogy in at least four parts...:




I rather fancy this idea. I am full of demands at the moment, but if I can persuade someone to build me a model of the Love Pygmy, why can't an aspiring filmmaker take this on? Score by Philip Glass, of course.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The archaeology of the Love Pygmy

Last week I did an interview on ABC radio, and Jim Traill, the producer, asked me about the Love Pygmy. There is a story behind it, needless to say, which features among other things the Andaman Islands and Madame Helena Blavatsky. But it's complicated and I can't summon the brain strength on a Sunday arvo to explain how the Love Pygmy came about.

However, thinking about this, I thought someone ought to make me a model of the Love Pygmy. Real or virtual. I have a vision in my head of what I think the Love Pygmy should look like, and there are some parameters: the Love Pygmy has its own museum inside, and is capable of very quick and fluid on-orbit manoeuvres. It is also partly inspired by spacecraft scavenging as described in Tiger Tiger by Alfred Bester (I refuse to use the US title of this work). I think there may be a 1950s/60s aesthetic to it, but this is very vague.

So, any takers?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Rocket science and top hats

Yesterday I had a most amazing experience. At a session on Victorian etiquette, organised by Dr Heather Burke for her historical archaeology class, I met Mr John Smith (pictured here with Mavis Smith). He is a specialist in Victorian culture and - worked on Blue Streak at Spadeadam, Woomera and Kourou. It seemed so incongruous to be talking rockets with an elegantly attired Victorian gentleman! Of course we barely scratched the surface at this initial meeting, and I hope to catch up with him next week to learn more of his experiences.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Graveyard orbit on the World Heritage List

Don't get too excited, I'm just thinking about it.

The graveyard orbit is located above the Geostationary ring, where most of our telecommunications satellites operate. Many of them are left with sufficient fuel at the end of their mission life to boost them into this orbit, where they are out of the way and not contributing to the debris problems in GEO.

It's not that they are now simply inert - I have seen discussions of how material in the graveyard orbit can impact on spacecraft in GEO - and let's not forget that we're talking about many-body problems here with all the instabilities of non-linear systems, so they may not always just circle up there serenely - but to all intents and purposes nothin' is going on in the graveyard orbit. It's not premium space, no-one wants it at the moment for anything except as a junkyard.

So if we were going to propose anything for world heritage listing in space, this may be a good choice: uncontroversial in terms of competition for space resources, without the nationalist interests of places like the Moon, and easy to enforce!

The WHL cannot be applied to space at the present time, but I'm working on this with the help of my graduate student Nigel and space lawyer Anthony Wicht.

The question of its significance is another I'll have to investigate.

From Earth to space and back again

Last Monday my colleague Marc Twining, Senior Geologist with Iluka Resources Ltd, spoke to my Indigenous Heritage Management class about how mining exploration and heritage intersect. Iluka principally mine heavy mineral sands (HMS). Now I've done my research, so was well aware that these minerals (like rutile and ilmenite) end up in white pigments - paint, ceramics - this is why toilet bowls are so shiny and white! - but when Marc mentioned titanium being extracted from HMS, I made an obvious connection that had escaped me before.

Titanium is a metal very important to spacecraft manufacture. Pressurant tanks are usually made from it, and the USSR Venera series, which had to withstand the high pressures and temperatures of the Venusian surface, were constructed around titanium shells.

So there is, to my mind, a lovely symmetry here. Titanium is extracted from HMS on ancient beaches far below the present surface of the Earth, made into spacecraft which enter Low Earth Orbit, and when those spacecraft re-enter the Earth's atmosphere, the titanium spheres survive and fall back to Earth. If undiscovered, they may well become buried in their turn .....

This is my terrestrial/celestial dynamical system in action, complete with taphonomy.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Rocket parties

Today I am writing a lecture on how open pit mines work (from a heritage management perspective). Tragically, I find this stuff really interesting - I remember, while excavating once on a Hunter Valley coal mine, one of the drillers got a bit enthusiastic about having a number of young female people around and asked us to visit his rig, quite illegal of course. I was far more interested in watching the drill bit than being chatted up, I fear!

However, there is only so much discussion of stripping ratios and NVPs that a person can take in one go, so I am distracting myself with more rocket cakes. Rocket (and satellite) cakes have become a much larger theme on this blog than I imagined was possible, but when confronted with stunning creativity, there is nothing to do but acknowledge it. So here is the rocket cake that the very creative Karen Cheng made for her son's third birthday party, and some lovely toilet-roll rockets.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

A Fearsome Heritage shortlisted for British Archaeological Award

Beth O'Leary and I have an article in this about space heritage.

Left Coast Press is pleased to announce that that A Fearsome Heritage (in the WAC One World Archaeology series) has been shortlisted for the British Book Awards Best Scholarly Archaeological Book! The British Archaeological Awards are a showcase for the best in British archaeology and a central event in the archaeological calendar. Established in 1976, they have grown to encompass fourteen Awards, covering every aspect of British archaeology.

About this innovative book….

A Fearsome Heritage: Diverse Legacies of the Cold War

John Schofield and Wayne Cocroft, eds
Published March 2007, 336 pages

"A Fearsome Heritage draws on artistic responses to the Cold War, defining them as being archaeology in a broad sense. This approach is refreshing, and the individual contributions are of high quality…the boldness of the book’s approach to modern remains, as well as its willingness to discuss topics rarely looked at by archaeologists, makes reading the volume a stimulating experience. The reader gets a good picture of the diversity of interest in heritage, as well as some of the approaches adopted by heritage managers, artists and political forces. The willingness to experiment, shown by the incorporation of sound and visual arts, is both admirable and effective in terms of underlining the message that not all the tools to understand Cold War heritage can be supplied by archaeology. "
- Mads Dahl Gjefsen, Archaeological Review from Cambridge

"As a study of the "contemporary past," the volume takes a multidisciplinary perspective that joins archaeology with anthropology, art, sociology, and politics to study/critique Cold War heritage. Importantly, the work of contemporary artists in film, video, and music loom large in this lavishly illustrated volume (which includes color!) because it not only constitutes archives, documents, and artifacts, but also serves to engage with the Cold War symbolically and interpret it for us."
- B. Osborne, CHOICE Magazine

From massive nuclear test sites to the more subtle material realities of everyday life, the influence of the Cold War on modern culture has been profound and global. Fearsome Legacies unites innovative work on the interpretation and management of Cold War heritage from fields including archaeology, history, art and architecture, and cultural studies. Contributors understand material culture in its broadest sense, examining objects in outer space, domestic space, landscapes, and artistic spaces. They tackle interpretive challenges and controversies, including in museum exhibits, heritage sites, archaeological sites, and other historic and public venues. With over 150 color photos and illustrations, including a photographic essay, readers can feel the profound visual impact of this material culture.

To order, visit our website at:
ISBN: 978-1-59874-258-9 (c)

$79.00 U.S./Canadian, £42.99 (Cloth)
For more information, contact Caryn Berg at

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Last Word - Dead in Space

In this week's edition of New Scientist, I discuss (very briefly) what might happen if someone died on a long haul space flight.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

My new career: planetary archaeologist

Just back from the Australian Space Science Conference in Canberra. After a fabulous talk by Graziella Caprarelli (UTS) about the state of planetary sciences in Australia, I have decided that I will no longer be a space archaeologist but a planetary archaeologist. This is nicely in keeping with my current research on unifying terrestrial, maritime and celestial archaeology. Planetary science is about the solar system, and is different from earth science and astronomy. So it works on all levels. (I'm imagining a T-shirt with a picture of an astronaut holding a trowel).

Friday, September 26, 2008

Crimes against relativity

Now, absurdly, I feel I have to prove to Greg Egan that I'm not bored by relativity. I offer the following slides from The gravity of archaeology, 2007, AAA/ASHA/AIMA conference.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Incandescence: is relativity just boring?

I have to write a review of Greg Egan's new book Incandescence for the Australian Book Review. While I love Greg Egan to bits (Schild's Ladder would make it into my top 20 or possibly even 10 greatest ever reads across all genres), I have to say I didn't actually like Incandescence a terrible lot. I got bored with the physics (usually Egan's strong point; it's amazing when someone can make you feel like you are perceiving the world in five dimensions just using words) and I didn't give a rat's about the characters.

So I will have to write a critical review, and then Greg Egan will read it because it's in the ABR, and then he will hate me. This is a terrible dilemma.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Archaeology in Rockets Galore

When the British Government starts building a rocket range in the Uist islands, the locals register their opposition in numerous ways, including destroying equipment and painting seagulls pink (rockets, protests, etc, just like Woomera and Kourou ....). And, of course, construction disturbs some archaeological sites:

Those who had accused the Government of a piece of hasty and ill-considered vandalism must have wished that they had kept silent when they heard of the praiseworthy assistance afforded to the Ancient Monuments Department of the Ministry of Works by the Air Ministry. As a result numerous wheelhouses dating to the Iron Age in the first centuries of the Christian Era have been excavated, and also a Viking long house of the tenth century. It is hoped that some of these may be preserved, but should necessity dictate that launching-sites for guided missiles require their destruction, archaeologists will have the gratification of knowing through photographs more about these remains of former inhabitants of the three Uists than they would otherwise have done because the requisite funds for excavation had not hitherto been available.

As a read the book was rather unentertaining, but there are lots of wonderful quotes and it picks up on many of the themes I have been writing about.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Rockets Galore

I love my students. They bring me all sorts of space things - plastic astronauts, pop-up books, science fiction magazines, records. A few days ago darling Martin gave me "Rockets Galore" by Compton Mackenzie, with the dustjacket intact. I read "Whiskey Galore" years ago, but did not know about this sequel, in which the British Government attempts to build a rocket range on some remote Scottish islands. It's fabulous. There's a German rocket scientist, Dr Hamburger, crofters turned off their land and forced to migrate (shades of the Kourou expropriations), protests, and, of course, a romance.

It was originally published in 1957, the year Sputnik 1 was launched, and 10 years after the establishment of Woomera, and was also made into a feature film. Haven't finished reading it yet but will be curious to see if they do mention Woomera ....

Thursday, August 14, 2008

New directions in Australian space policy

My ever charming friend Brett Biddington has recently released a paper about Australia's space future (Biddington, Brett 2008 Skin in the Game: Australia's National Interests in Space to 2025. Kokoda Papers Number 7, Kokoda Foundation, Canberra). He says:

Since the mid-90s, the Commonwealth has pursued a highly decentralised approach to space amongst its departments and agencies. This is not considered a tenable option for the future (Biddington 2008:58).

He proposes two new organisations: a Central Policy Coordination Body, and a Satellite Design and Operations Authority. The latter might be a statutory authority, a company, or a national research facility. The former is not necessarily an agency as such, but would play the role of being Australia's voice in the space world - our lack of such a unified voice is detrimental to our credibility in this sphere at present.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Kokatha and the Cold War

Another conference, another abstract .... Andrew Starkey and I are proposing this one for the Australian Archaeological Association Annual Conference in December.

The Kokatha and the Cold War: Indigenous and technological heritage at Woomera, South Australia.

Andrew Starkey (Kokatha) and Alice Gorman (Flinders University)

In 1947, the Woomera rocket range was established in the supposedly “empty” desert north of Port Augusta in South Australia. Over the next 60 years, Woomera was Australia’s primary Cold War site, developing missiles and launch vehicles, and participating in US and European military and space programmes. It is still an active launch site. More recently the Woomera Prohibited Area has been opened to mineral exploration, leading to an increase in cultural heritage surveys.

The desert around the Woomera village is the traditional country of the Kokatha. The Woomera Heritage Centre, recently redesigned, separates the history of space technology from both Indigenous and pastoral occupation. In this paper, we examine the intersection of military and space technology with Kokatha heritage in the Prohibited Area. We argue that in order to understand its significance, Woomera must be contextualised as part of early Cold War space enterprises, where launch sites were located in colonised lands heavily impacted by the introduction of disease, dispossession from country, and development. Woomera can be regarded as a cultural landscape created by the establishment of a technological enclave within Indigenous country, with the underlying theme, from 1947 to the present, of nuclear arms development.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Rocket cakes rock

My culinary boffin friend Kaylene sent me this wonderful rocket cake website:

All kinds of inspiring rocket cakes here. This picture is a taste: cutting the cake at the first anniversary of the Redstone Arsenal.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The social world of Australian space

Last night it was the conference dinner at the Australian Space Development Conference in Adelaide. I didn't register for the conference, and have not seen a single paper - but I did the important events! The dinner was sponsored by Arianespace and each of us got a fabulous tacky Ariane souvenir, which I completely love of course: a highlighter pen disguised as an Ariane 5. They screened an Arianespace promotional DVD which was full of images of Kourou - the Jupiter control room, the Ariane 5 maquette, the BIL and the BAF etc, and it made me feel quite nostalgic about my week there in 2005.

Caught up with lots of Aussie space luminaries like Roger Franzen, Ian Tuohy, Gordon Pike, Bill Barrett, Naomi Mathers, Kirby Ikin and of course my ever charming friend Brett Biddington. Also met Lindsay Cambell, PR manager for Air Force's operations at Woomera, and we concocted some schemes. (Only I fear that I can't recall exactly what they were this morning - they sounded wonderful last night though!).

Michael Davis, Adelaide-based space lawyer who was responsible for the International Space University Summer Session in Adelaide a few years ago, suggested that I put in a submission to the Senate enquiry on Australian space. I had considered this, but was not sure what it would achieve. Someone else also asked me if I had done one, so given that people clearly see my input as valuable, I'm going to do it!

The delectable Anthony Wicht, engineer and space lawyer, allowed himself to be persuaded to be a co-author with Nigel Springbett-Bruer and I on the paper about - see below - the application of the World Heritage Convention to space.

I ended the evening discussing what a complete bastard Newton was with Michael Green, who must be only person I have ever met who has the read the entire Principia.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

More on the mystery space junk in Queensland

Back in March, I was asked by ABC radio to identify a piece of space junk found near Charleville in Queensland. I determined that it was a Composite Overwrapped Pressure Vessel, from the upper stage of a rocket, and may have come from one of three launch vehicles predicted to re-enter in November 2007:

1. The Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV, India; launched from Sriharikota)
2. Molniya-M (Russia, launched from Plesetsk)
3. Delta II (USA, launched from Cape Canaveral)

Last night at the Australian Space Development Conference I was talking to Dr Michael Green of the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (who I must say was initially a little skeptical about the value of space heritage management, but I think I talked him round ...) and this object came up. Apparently the US have said it's not theirs, and Dr Green was going to write to the UN to investigate its source. So my previous research on this question has proved useful.

This of course is part of the Outer Space Treaty, under which states retain ownership of their space hardware no matter where it is.

I hope he was even more convinced of the value of space archaeology after that!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The World Heritage Convention and sites in outer space

The Australian Space Science Conference is coming up later in the year, and I've submitted the following poster abstract with one of my graduate students:

Space heritage: the application of the World Heritage Convention to sites in Outer Space

Mr Nigel Springbett-Bruer and Dr Alice Gorman
Flinders University


Since 1957, space enterprises have led to the creation of places and objects that have heritage value in Earth orbit, on the Moon, Mars and other celestial bodies, and in interplanetary space. Some, like the 1969 Apollo 11 landing site on the Moon, and Vanguard 1, the oldest surviving satellite in Earth orbit, might be argued to have heritage value on a global level. However, there are at present no legal or other instruments that provide heritage protection to sites such as these.

Currently, the World Heritage Convention (WHC) can only be applied to immovable places and objects in terrestrial contexts, and the application of national heritage legislation to outer space is problematic as it can be interpreted as tantamount to making a territorial claim in contravention of the Outer Space Treaty. This poster reports on a study investigating the status of the World Heritage Convention and the Outer Space Treaty as customary international law, as determined by the number of signatory states and the extent to which they are observed by the international community. We argue that the WHC and relevant provisions of the Outer Space Treaty have achieved such a status, and hence provide an avenue for the WHC to be applied to heritage in outer space and on other celestial bodies. While there are many other conceptual difficulties in applying the WHC to space, this is a starting point for the creation of an internationally agreed framework for the recognition and management of globally significant heritage sites in outer space.


Part of the argument is that the intersection of the Outer Space Treaty and the World Heritage Convention lies in the idea of space as a global commons. As is always the case with these things the bones are there and we have much thinking and research yet to do to flesh it out properly - but I'm excited, with Nigel's help, to be taking this tiny step into the quagmire of space law.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A rocket cake to be proud of!

This gorgeous rocket cake was made by my friend Kaylene for her son Reid's fifth birthday. I am sure it tasted as wonderful as it looks.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Dr Space Junk identifies Blue Streak wreckage in the Simpson Desert

There's nothing more satisfying for a space archaeologist than to look at some piece of space hardware and be able to identify it immediately .... In this case it was particularly easy.

From ABC online:

Rocket wreckage found in outback
Surveyors in the Simpson Desert have discovered what is believed to be part of a Blue Streak rocket launched at Woomera in 1966.

Simon Fanning and his geological survey team were flying over the Simpson Desert when they saw what they believed was part of satellite in the scrub.

"It turns out this wreck is not in fact a satellite but a rocket - at least a chunk of one anyway" he said.

"I'd seen ET as a kid, Star Wars and all that stuff, but to actually find something was really different."

Dr Alice Gorman of Flinders University in Adelaide believes the rocket could be one of 10 blue streak rockets launched at Woomera in South Australia in the 1960s by the European Launcher Development Organisation.

"The Blue Streak's very distinctive and the location in the Simpson Desert and the details on the rocket indicate it's most likely from one of the two 1966 launches" she said.

Mr Fanning is reluctant to disclose the precise location of the find, but the ABC has found a EBay site offering the GPS coordinates for sale.

There is private collector interest in Blue Streaks, but Dr Gorman says this discovery belongs in a museum.

"There was only a handful of them launched here in Australia" she said.

"I think it would be appropriate to put this one in a museum."

Monday, May 12, 2008

8th Australian Space Science Conference

Call for Papers
29th September to 2nd October 2008

It is our pleasure to invite you to submit an abstract for the 8th Australian Space Science Conference in Canberra Australia (ASSC). This will be the second ASSC jointly sponsored and organised by the National Committee for Space Science (NCSS) and the National Space Society of Australia (NSSA). The ASSC is intended to be the primary annual meeting for Australian research relating to space science. It welcomes space scientists, engineers, educators, industry and government.

This year's ASSC will run in conjunction with the NCSS's workshop on implementing Australia's first Decadal Plan for Space Science, currently released in draft form. This one-day workshop will discuss the Plan and Government's responses, better link the scientific community and associated stakeholders in Government and industry, and start implementing the Plan's recommendations.

The scope of the conference covers fundamental and applied research that applies to space technologies, and includes the following:

Space science, including space and atmospheric physics, remote sensing from/of space, planetary sciences, astrobiology and life sciences, and space-based astronomy and astrophysics.
Space engineering, including communications, navigation, space operations, propulsion and spacecraft design, test and implementation.
Space industry
Government, international relations and law
Education and outreach.

For the abstract guidelines and online submission (as well as guidelines for written papers) go to URL

Key Dates
• Closing date for ASSC abstracts 6 July 2008
• Registration opens 20 July 2008
• Acceptance of ASSC Abstract 4 August 2008
• Closing date for full written ASSC papers 31 October 2008

Please make the conference known to your colleagues. We hope that you will attend. You may email for more information.

Anntonette Joseph, Co-Chair, National Space Society of Australia
Iver Cairns, Co-Chair, National Committee for Space Science,
University of Sydney.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

More space junk poetry

This from the inimitable Denis Gojak:

'I think that I shall never see,
a scorched piece of Skylab smacked into a paddock as beautiful as a tree...'

I concur.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Redefining the geography of earth and space

I have to write something about this soon, based on my AAA paper "The gravity of archaeology".

Richard Cathcart is not only an excellent space junk poet but has some interesting insights on this topic (in his 1979 publication The Developing Artificial Geography of the Solar System, Public Administration Series P-206, Illinois). He makes the point that the lithosphere is currently as impenetrable to humans as space used to be, and that the upper limit of the biosphere is where the International Space Station now orbits.

He also notes that the Earth is "eroding", in a sense, as material is injected into orbit. But it is also aggrading as far huger quantities of cosmically derived material fall to earth every day. This interchange of material between what we call earth and space is a good illustration of the artificiality of these boundaries, as Nigel Clark (2005) also argues in Ex-orbitant Globality (Theory, Culture and Society 22(5):165-185).

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Leadership in Australian space policy at last

We've had our new government for six months or so, and an early indication that things were on the move was the historic (and very moving) sorry day in February.

Now space may be taken seriously at last. The Senate Economics Committee will conduct an inquiry into Australia's space science and industry sector, delivering an interim report in June. The terms of reference include:

an assessment of the risks to Australia’s national interest of Australia’s dependence on foreign owned and operated satellites.

Could this mean a return to the glorious days of WRESAT 1, Australis Oscar V and FedSat? (although senior space colleagues have accused me of unnecessary nostalgia in this regard). I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The lesser known satellite and space junk poets

Michael Dransfield wrote a pretty good poem about a satellite, and Richard Cathcart (a slightly less famous poet) wrote an even better one about space junk:

The day will come 
when we can trace
man's passage through velvet space, 
by dirty dishes, empty jars, banana peels and old cigars.

Just last week, a charming archaeologist penned the following, I think in the context of a discussion about digital heritage:

Satellite, satellite, way up high
beaming 1, 0, 1, 0, 1, 0, 1, 0, 0, 1, 0, 1, 0, 1
from the sky

It's a small but growing genre and I hope to see more of it in the future.

I wonder if Archy wrote a satellite poem?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Space archaeologist identifies mystery Queensland space junk

In the news today, Queensland farmer Mr James Stirton spoke of a piece of space junk he found on his property, west of Charleville, and appealed to the space community to identity it. He found the object near a track in November; it was a sphere 54 cm in diameter, weighing 20 kg, and had carbon fibre rope wrapped around it (I'm taking this from the news story online).

ABC Radio in Longreach called me for comment, and this is my working hypothesis for the moment:

The object is a Composite Overwrapped Pressure Vehicle or COPV, basically a titanium lining (titanium resists the heat of re-entry much better than aluminium, a common material in spacecraft) wrapped in fibres of carbon reinforced with epoxy resin or other materials. COPV technology has been around since 1964, and titanium pressure spheres are one of the most common types of space junk to be recognised after re-entry.

I'm assuming, since Mr Stirton found the sphere near an existing track, that its re-entry is more likely to be recent than not. It can be no later than 2007 and no earlier than 1964 (so we're talking just eight years after the launch of Sputnik 1). Certainly debris from missions such as Gemini has been found in Australia, so an early origin is not out of the question.

However, if Mr Stirton is like most people on the land, and I speak from experience having grown up on a property myself, he'd notice something like that on the side of a track pretty quickly! So let's just look at the re-entry data for November 2007, keeping in mind that of course it may be earlier.

According to the Centre for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies, in November last year there were three predicted re-entries, all upper rocket stages:

1. The Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV, India; launched from Sriharikota)
2. Molniya-M (Russia, launched from Plesetsk)
3. Delta II (USA, launched from Cape Canaveral)

In this age of commercial space, the COPV could have been manufactured anywhere, so examination of the actual object may not in itself be able to identify the source.

But there we go, problem solved! (Dr Space Junk is always happy to help). Mr Stirton reported that he got short shrift from NASA, and this does rather suggest that it may be from a USA military launch - perhaps this narrows it down, perhaps not.

Could I be any happier than I am right now, thinking and writing about orbital debris on a Friday night? No. I could not.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

50th anniversary of Vanguard 1

Damn and blast, I missed the 50th anniversary of the launch of my very favourite satellite ever. (It was March 17th, last week). Perhaps it's not too late to do something to commemorate it? My esteemed colleague Dr Lynley Wallis has been honing her cake decorating skills and surely we'd do better this time than our attempts with the sputnik cakes.

Despite this heinous memory lapse, I did have many spacey thoughts on March 17th. The delightful Daryl Guse (Earth Sea Heritage Surveys) was visiting from the Northern Territory, and came for dinner that night. We discussed our plans to do a study of Indigenous interactions with the ELDO tracking station near Nhulunbuy. He knows the Traditional Owners, and I know the space hardware, so it would be an excellent collaboration.

Friday, February 29, 2008

This is the life of a space archaeologist

Ash Loydon has reviewed this film at the Cinedelica website. It sounds just too good and I think I will have to track down a copy immediately.

Inseminoid (1981)

A group of "space archaeologists" are threatened after one of their number is impregnated by a big grasshopper......Understandably this causes her to go a bit mental and start hunting them down one by one.....which is nice, if not a little extreme.

Norman J. Warren does a bloodier, bad taste Brit version of Alien on a budget of £12.50 (and gets banned in Iceland for his trouble). Ineptly made, hideously contrived but incredibly entertaining....Inseminoid (aka Horror Planet) shows what space exploration would be like if it were run by Strathclyde Passenger Transport; Whereas the Yanks have shiny rockets, jetpacks and lasers, the British archaeology team shown here have buckets and spades, Kwik Fit overalls and a chainsaw(?) amongst their equipment.....oh, and big 80s hair.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Shadow of the Moon

Last night I saw a preview screening of In the Shadow of the Moon, a documentary about the Apollo programme focussing on the experience of the astronauts. It was not a critical documentary, which was fine - its main interest lay in hearing the astronauts speak about how they felt at the time and afterwards. The rhetoric of nationalism (and masculinity to a certain extent) was present throughout most of it but only mildly.

A review described it as "uplifting" and I did wonder from whose perspective it would be so. Nevertheless, I did find parts of it uplifting, particularly the footage of the separation of the Saturn V stages, which sounds really boring, but was actually quite moving! And the docking manoeuvre for the return journey. There was also a fabulous sequence in slow motion of the Apollo 11 Saturn V liftoff, the camera still as the rocket body slowly moved past it with suitably majestic music, and then, as the base of the rocket came into the view, the music fading into the terrible roar of burning fuel. It made me feel much more - I don't know how to describe it - affectionate? about the Saturn V than previously.

Which makes me think about emotional attachment to space artefacts. I love Vanguard 1 and Asterix 1, but don't really have any favourite rockets. Why?

Well, that's not quite true - I am quite fond of Veronique and the Pierres Precieuses series. I guess what I'm wondering is why certain space hardware appeals to different people.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Prelude to space archaeology - WAC-6

So here it is, my WAC-6 abstract:

The archaeology of space exploration has been defined as a separate field, based on a chronological period – 1936 until the present - and a set of places, sites and artefacts associated with the contemporary era of military and globalising technologies. In this paper I want to explore the theoretical terrain of space archaeology. It could be regarded as historical archaeology, dealing with capitalist-driven colonial expansion and cross-cultural encounters; the archaeology of the contemporary past, where memory meets technology; industrial archaeology; or as an area of cultural heritage management. Other possible frameworks include cosmopolitanism and the consideration of large-scale evolutionary trajectories of the human species. Each of these approaches suggests research questions and future directions for analysing the material culture of the space age, which will assume greater importance as more nations coopt the heritage of space to support their claims to celestial resources.

Thanks to Steve for his excellent suggestion for the title! I'm still going to write a prolegomenon though, as a proper article rather than a conference paper.

A classical education occasionally has its benefits. Last week at the airport a chance encounter led to a discussion about the Mytilene debate and its implications for modern democracy.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Prolegomena to space archaeology

Yes. The general consensus is that prolegomenon is too wanky a word to use in a paper title. So perhaps I'll go with Steve's suggestion of "Prelude to space archaeology". Shame - I was getting rather attached to the idea.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke and the lingua franca of the future

Who rules the moon controls the earth, it is true, but only to some extent - as Arthur C. Clarke pointed out once, control of GEO is even more important as telecommunications determine which culture achieves hegemony through linguistic dominance.

Hegemony is such a good word and reminds me that I am thinking of calling my WAC-6 paper "Prolegomena to space archaeology" because prolegomenon is an excellent word too. I think of them in the same breath as both are Ancient Greek words that have survived in English two and bit millennia later. But would such a title sound too arcane?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Who rules the moon controls the earth

Today, space travel is one of ultimate goals of scientific and military research. The familiar cry, "Who rules the moon controls the earth!" reflects our readiness to exploit space. Our military might is ready for space; our economic strength is ready for space; soon our ships will be ready for space.

From Albro T. Gaul 1956 The complete book of space travel. Cleveland, OH World Publishing Company

Friday, February 01, 2008

Danger Will Robinson! Heritage Managment and Orbital Debris

Because I'm a bit impressed with my own cleverness in figuring out how to get it onto the blog, I wish to direct your attention to the slideshow on the right which covers some of the basic issues in the cultural heritage management of orbital debris. Unfortunately some of the text may be a little difficult to read (I'm not clever enough yet).

And I am so not procrastinating.

Sputnik apples

Yesterday I gave a lecture about Woomera to the University of the Third Age - a volunteer-run organisation aimed at retirees. There were quite a few people in the audience who had connections to Woomera of one kind or another. But the bit I liked most was the story of the Sputnik apples. To celebrate the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, one now-retired gentleman and his work colleagues stuck toothpicks into apples in Sputnik's antenna configuration and hung lots of them from the ceiling by string.

Bamboo skewers may have been a little more to scale but they are not such easy things to find in an office. A spray of silver paint would have been marvellous too (I'm getting ideas, you see, on the space party theme .... )

The literature, and my own discussions with people, suggest that in Australia the reaction to Sputnik 1 was very different to that in the USA. It was not perceived as a threat, it did not cause a national crisis of confidence. (Although it should be noted that not all scholars agree that that was the general reaction in the US). Instead, people found it interesting and exciting.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

French scientists in Australia

My friend Eric Bouvet, a French lecturer at Flinders University and interpreter of the music of Georges Brassens, has been researching French immigration to South Australia. There were a few winemakers, of course .... and a few women of indeterminate profession if you take my meaning. (Of course they horrified the bourgeoisie of strait-laced 19th C Adelaide). Interestingly, in the postwar period, Australia was desperately trying to get French people to migrate. Few did: there were Francophone colonies that were more compelling like New Caledonia, Canada and French Guiana. French space scientists came out to work at Woomera during the ELDO period, in the early 1960s, but none seem to have stayed. Apparently they adapted well to Woomera as they were accustomed to slightly harsher conditions at the Algerian launch sites. In 1965, an association was formed to foster scientific cooperation between the two countries.

Eric and I are going to explore this further in the context of postwar immigration policies, and also the Cold War politics of nuclear rivalry and space development. There is scant archival evidence so far, but we think there is an interesting story to tell.