Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Draft Criteria for a Space Heritage List

This is based on Australia's Commonwealth Heritage List. I think it kind of works?

Considering the Earth as part of the space environment, including also interplanetary space, celestial bodies of the Solar System and galactic space, then:

A place that is a component of the natural or cultural environment of space may be inscribed on the Space Heritage List if it is of international or other special significance or value to humanity for future generations as well as for the present community because of any of the following:

(a) its importance in the course, or pattern, of the natural or cultural history of outer space;

(b) it possesses uncommon, rare or endangered aspects of outer space natural or cultural history;

(c) it has potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of outer space's natural or cultural history;

(d) its importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of:

(i) a class of outer space’s natural or cultural places; or
(ii) a class of outer space's natural or cultural environments;

(e) its importance in exhibiting particular aesthetic characteristics valued by a community or cultural group;

(f) its importance in demonstrating a high degree of creative or technical achievement at a particular period;

(g) its strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons;

(h) its special association with the life or works of a person, or group of persons, of importance in outer space's natural or cultural history.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Halley's Comet new on Dr Space Junk's Space Heritage List

Well, I've done it now. With this addition, I really will have to tackle natural/cultural heritage issues on my list. (I have been toying with heresy after reading a stunning article by Val Plumwood about the autonomy of the non-human world).

I also need to sit back and think more about why each place/object has made it onto the list. Ideally, I should write some statements of significance, and formally assess them against my draft criteria. This would be fascinating, I'm sure! but too time consuming at the moment with teaching only a week away and overdue papers to work on. Perhaps something I could ask a clever graduate student to help me with.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ghosts in the machine

More musings inspired by my recent re-reading of Out of the Silent Planet.

Ransom wakes up in the spaceship (which is spherical, like the early satellites).

For the first time a suspicion that he might be dead and already in the ghost-life crossed his mind.

Another ghost reference, when Ransom asks Weston where they are:

"You mean we're - in space", Ransom uttered the word with difficulty as a frightened child speaks of ghosts ....

This made me think of how similar to the cliche of Egyptian mummies astronauts are; wrapped up, with the body inside virtually invisible, except through the face-plate, somewhere between life and death like Schrodinger's cat: if you unwrap the windings, or remove the helmet, what will you find? Indeed, this was part of a recent Dr Who plot.

Spacesuits, however, are still far in the future when Lewis is writing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Contemporary Archaeologies: Excavating Now

It's out! Can't wait to receive my copy.

Contemporary Archaeologies: Excavating Now
Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang. 2009. 221pp, 50 illustrations, paperback, index. ISBN 978-3-631-57637-3.
Edited by Cornelius Holtorf, University of Kalmar (soon Linnaeus University), Sweden and Angela Piccini, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada and University of Bristol, UK.

This book is about the archaeology of the present and the very recent past. Archaeology's repertoire of questions, procedures, methodologies and terminologies, its material manifestations (protected sites, public museums, archives) and its popular appeals are rooted in modernity.
Contemporary archaeologies marry archaeology in the modern world with the archaeology of the modern world. Their strengths lie in a stimulating mix of interdisciplinary practices across academic, public-sector and professional contexts.

Angela Piccini/Cornelius Holtorf: Fragments from a Conversation about Contemporary Archaeologies

Julian Thomas (University of Manchester, UK): Sigmund Freud's Archaeological Metaphor and Archaeology's Self-understanding
Cornelius Holtorf (University of Kalmar, Sweden): Imagine This: Archaeology in the Experience Economy
Sarah May (English, Heritage, UK): Then Tyger Fierce Took Life Away: The Contemporary Material Culture Of Tigers

Mike Pearson (University of Aberystwyth, Wales, UK): 'Professor Gregory's Villa' and Piles of Pony Poop: Early Expeditionary Remains in Antarctica
Colleen M. Beck (Desert Research Institute Las Vegas, USA)/John Schofield (English Heritage, UK)/Harold Drollinger (Desert Research Institute Las Vegas, USA): Archaeologists, Activists, and a Contemporary Peace Camp
Louise K. Wilson (University of Derby, UK): Notes on a Record of Fear: On the Threshold of the Audible

Mats Burström (Södertörn University, Sweden): Garbage or Heritage: The Existential Dimension of a Car Cemetery
Jonna Ulin (Göteborg, Sweden): Into the Space of the Past: A Family Archaeology
Alice Gorman (Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia): Beyond The Space Race: The Material Culture Of Space In A New Global Context

Angela Piccini (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada and University of Bristol, UK): Guttersnipe: A Micro Road Movie
Paul Graves-Brown (Llanelli, Wales, UK): The Privatisation of Experience and the Archaeology of the Future.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Experiencing space: a 1938 account

This week has had its share of cosmic coincidences .... on Friday I decided I needed something to read on the way home and pulled another old favourite, Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis, off the shelf. I've always loved his description of Ransom's response to finding himself in space, but this time I read it in a whole new way.

What's extraordinary about this book (or one of the many things) is that Lewis wrote it in 1938, and back then, when it really wasn't clear if life could survive in space at all (as in another remarkable piece of writing, Cordwainer Smith's Scanners live in vain), he attempted a description of the sensations and emotions that would accompany such an experience. In this account, cosmic rays and other high energy particles aren't the destructive nasties we now know them to be; instead they create a sense of well-being and euphoria.

Lewis imagines what it is like to see the heavens without the murk of the atmosphere to obscure them:
Pulsating with brightness as with some unbearable pain or pleasure, clustered in pathless and countless multitudes, dreamlike in clarity, blazing in perfect blackness, the stars seized all his attention, troubled him, excited him ....
In Lewis's trilogy, the experience of space is hyperreal, more real than we experience life on earth.

He also describes the noise of the spacecraft:
The room was floored and walled with metal, and was in a state of continuous faint vibration - a silent vibration with a strangely lifelike and unmechanical quality about it. But if the vibration was silent, there was plenty of noise going on - a series of musical raps or percussions at quite irregular intervals which seemed to come from the ceiling. It was if the metal chamber in which he found himself was being bombarded with small tinkling missiles.
And of course it was, a rain of meteroids, as he found out later.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Aesthetic significance and the sensorium of space

This is what I thought about when I woke up this morning. Aesthetic significance, as well as aspects of form, scale, fabric, setting etc, also covers the EXPERIENCE of being in a place - visual, acoustic, olfactory, the touch and taste.

In space, you would always be inside a spacecraft or inside a spacesuit. You take your environment with you, so touch, smell, sound, taste are unrelated to the outside. They remain more or less the same wherever you are. The only sense that could be drawn into apprehension of a spacecraft is sight. So the aesthetic significance of material culture in space is all about how things look.

Of course human sight takes in only a narrow portion of the wavelength, and spacecraft, one would imagine, may appear very differently in UV, IR, radio, etc etc, just like everything else in the universe.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Nationalism and identity in orbital material culture

This morning, while waiting for the bus, I started thinking about satellites again. One satellite on my space heritage list is Indonesia's Palapa 1, a telecommunications satellite launched into GEO in 1976. Indonesia was one the earliest south east Asian nations to take up space technology. Palapa 1 was built by Hughes and was virtually identical in design to Anik 1 and some others. Of course this is often the case: nations without a satellite design capability commission the big manufacturers to build their satellites.

So what is the effect of this? There will be an awful lot of satellites up there which look almost identical. Again, if someone was trying to reconstruct the history of space exploration from the material culture alone, there would be nothing to distinguish an Indonesian satellite from any others of the same series built by Hughes. I don't recall ever seeing national emblems on satellites (although I'll have to go back and look), unlike rockets and other types of spacecraft for that matter. What does this mean?

Many satellites which are identical are also components of telecommunications constellations. But how would you tell, when what links them is intangible?

Obviously I'll have to think a lot more about this and do some more legwork (so to speak). But I'm sure there's something in this.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Do rockets really exist? Identity and continuity in material culture.

I've been trying to find out if there are any R7 (Semyorka) rockets still left in orbit, but it's probably a bit late on a school night - my head is going fuzzy from staring at the data. I suspect they were all probably too low and have reentered.

Anyway. After trying to track some down in museums, another one of those blindingly obvious things struck me. For staged rockets, the actual whole spacecraft does not survive launch: bits of it are released along the way. So whole rockets are always unflown, and those remaining in orbit are only parts. If all you had to go on were the orbital remains, would it be possible to reconstruct the technology? And do the unflown ones represent unsuccessful technology? (Or are they like the hundreds of perfectly fine backed blades that were never used that you find lying around?).

(Oh. I like that metaphor).

So rockets are mythical creatures that can only be discerned through disjointed parts. The candles in the Platonic cave. Bloody hell. I'd better go to bed before this gets out of hand.

But no - because the rocket with all the parts together really only exists for a short time, from assembly before the launch window, until the first stage separates. I'm remembering here my wonderful tour of Kourou where I saw the components in various stages of assembly (and I touched the jupe arriere, so my cells went into space!).

A rocket therefore has a very different mode of existence to that of a satellite.

Yes. Going to bed now. I really am learning so much from the intellectual exercise of creating my space heritage list.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Reflections on Dr Space Junk's Space Heritage List

I am still adding entries to this (Facebook only as yet) heritage list. Many of the obvious ones are already there, so I am having to think carefully about new additions. It is a largely intuitive process, also informed of course by my previous research. The latest entry is the Great Wall of China, which I might have to write about separately.

So, to make explicit some of the principles I am following:

1. First of all, all places/objects on the list have to exist at present. This means that there are no Sputniks on the list: all satellites with that name have re-entered the atmosphere.

2. By necessity, the list contains both movable and immovable places and objects. No point having criteria which exclude satellites! This also means that objects like space suits and parts of things are relevant, and some of these may be in private hands, or "collectables".

3. Social significance figures highly, as with the inclusion of the Night Sky. The Great Wall of China, obviously, was not constructed with a space purpose, but is part of the folklore of space.

The good thing about the Facebook application is that I can track which ones people send to each other as gifts, so over time I think this will provide some interesting stats to play with.

Monday, February 02, 2009

International Year of the Quiet Sun, 1964-1965

I do love a good International Scientific Year, and I was born in this one, so it seems a bit special.

The IGY was aimed at taking advantage of a solar maximum; the IQSY (International Quiet Sun Year) was all about the solar minimum. There were some satellite missions launched specifically for it, but I'll need to do a bit more research to find out which ones.

An interesting article about planning the IQSY can be found here:

Martin A. Pomerantz 1963 International Years of the Quiet Sun, 1964-65 Science 142(3596):1136-1143

The International Quiet Sun Year is a lovely notion as it implies that the Sun is usually noisy - like it was singing to us. (I'm sure someone must have translated solar activity into music before).

My publications on space archaeology

Thought I'd better update my publications list. Some new things coming out this year (see previous post).

Articles (refereed)

Gorman, A.C. 2007 La terre et l’espace: rockets, prisons, protests and heritage in Australia and French Guiana. Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress 3(2):153-168

Gorman, A.C. 2005a The cultural landscape of interplanetary space. Journal of Social Archaeology 5(1):85-107

Gorman, A.C. 2005b The archaeology of orbital space. In Australian Space Science Conference 2005, RMIT University, Melbourne, pp 338-357

Book chapters

Gorman, A.C. 2009 Beyond the Space Race: the significance of space sites in a new global context. In Angela Piccini and Cornelius Holthorf (eds) Contemporary archaeologies: excavating now. Peter Lang, Bern

Gorman, A.C. and Beth Laura O’Leary 2007 An ideological vacuum: the Cold War in space. In John Schofield and Wayne Cocroft (eds) A fearsome heritage: diverse legacies of the Cold War. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, California pp 73-92

Gorman, A.C. In press The heritage of orbit. In Ann Darrin and Beth Laura O’Leary (eds) The handbook of space engineering, archaeology and heritage. Taylor and Francis

Gorman, A.C. In press The cultural landscape of space. In Ann Darrin and Beth Laura O’Leary (eds) The handbook of space engineering, archaeology and heritage. Taylor and Francis

Gorman, A.C. In press The archaeology of space exploration. In Martin Parker and David Bell (eds) Space Travel and Culture. Sociological Review Monograph, Blackwell Publishing

Short publications and notes

Gorman, A.C. 2007 Saving Woomera. Australasian Science, June pp 38-40

Gorman, A.C. 2005 Space cowboys: the Wild West and the myth of the American hero. The New England Review, February, pp 10-12