Bibliography of Space Archaeology

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The day Pluto came to breakfast: Venetia Burney and a life in mathematics

The girl who named Pluto became a mathematician.

Pluto comes to breakfast

Report from the Springfield Union, USA, March 14, 1930.
Image courtesy of Timothy Hughes Rare and Early Newspapers

One morning, when Venetia Burney was 11 years old, the news that a ninth planet had been discovered was reported in the Times. In her own words:

I think it was on March the 14th, 1930 and I was having breakfast with my mother and my grandfather. And my grandfather read out at breakfast the great news and said he wondered what it would be called. And for some reason, I, after a short pause, said, "Why not call it Pluto?" I did know, I was fairly familiar with Greek and Roman legends from various children's books that I had read, and of course I did know about the solar system and the names the other planets have. And so I suppose I just thought that this was a name that hadn't been used.
This was no ordinary grandfather. Falconer Madan was the retired head librarian of the Bodleian in Oxford, and his brother Henry had named the moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos. The planets were part of Venetia's early life on Earth. 

The planetary walk

At her primary school, Venetia recalled in 2006,
we used to play games in the university park, putting - I think they were lumps of clay - at the right distance from each other to represent the distances of the planets from the Sun.
The 'games' were in fact a teaching exercise devised by Miss K. Claxton.
Apparently it all began with a school 'Nature Walk,' which one day turned itself into a 'Planet Walk.' In those days Form II still used The Sciences by E.S. Holden, and we had reached the section on the relative sizes and distances of the planets.
Leaving the sun, represented by a circle two feet in diameter on the classroom blackboard, we set out from school carefully carrying our planets! After 41 paces we placed Mercury (the size of a canary seed) on an Oxford pavement. After 77 paces Venus, represented by a small pea, was laid down. The Earth (a pea), Mars (a small bead), Jupiter (an orange), Saturn (a golf ball) were duly placed—the last after zealous counting of 1,019 paces. Then we let our imaginations finish the walk, for it seemed best to turn back while our enthusiasm and our legs still remained fresh!
The follow-up to this came with the reading of The Age of Fable, when the children became more intimate with the characters of the Greek gods and goddesses and the nature of their kingdoms. And then one morning, March 14th, 1930, we read in the daily papers of the discovery of a new planet, a 'dark' one.
The Age of Fable (1855), by Thomas Bulfinch, recounts the story of Pluto's abduction of Proserpine, and her mother Ceres' search to find her in the underworld - not unlike Percival Lowell's search for the mysterious Planet X in the outer darkness of the solar system. However the silence, the lapping waters, the murky atmosphere, the deep pits and the darkness of the realms of the dead are most vividly described in Bulfinch's retelling of Aeneas's descent under the Earth. Clearly this made a great impression on Venetia.
Falconer Madan later acknowledged the role Miss Claxton's teaching had played in Venetia's thought process. He wrote to her in June 1930 to say that Venetia's:
acquaintance with some of the old legends of Greek and Roman deities and heroes, and that 'nature walk' in the University Parks, by which she was taught the relative spaces between the Planets and the Sun, and the gloom of distance, enabled her to grasp at once the special elements of the situation, and to be the first to make a suggestion so reasonable as to be accepted (it appears) by the whole world of Science.

The chain of chance

Falconer Madan pondered his granddaughter's suggestion, and dropped a note to his friend Professor Herbert Hall Turner, a Professor of Astronomy at Oxford. Professor Turner then sent a telegram to the Lowell Observatory (misspelling Venetia's name), requesting consideration of Pluto as the name for such a 'dark, gloomy planet'.

From the Lowell Observatory Archives

As it turns out, Venetia wasn't the only person who thought of Pluto. After all, the major planets had all received the names of Greek and Roman gods, and there were only so many to go around.  However, her connections to astronomy through her grandfather's friendship with Professor Turner, and her great-uncle's previous efforts in planetary nomenclature, made her story the right one for the time. On May 1 1930, the name became official.

A life in science

After her stellar intervention in planetary science, Venetia attended a secondary school (most likely as a boarder) which had a heavy focus on mathematics and science. She went on to study mathematics at Newnham College at Cambridge University. Newnham, established in 1871 to give women an opportunity to attend university, had a proud tradition in mathematics. One of its founders was Millicent Garrett Fawcett, who in 1870 topped the entire university in maths (and later became a famous suffragist). However, women could not officially receive degrees until 1948, so Venetia would have received a discreet certificate in the mail, her name, like nearly 1000 other women, not even appearing in the graduation lists.
During the Second World War she put her mathematical skills to a more mundane use by training as a chartered accountant. She married Maxwell Phair, a classics teacher, in 1947; and perhaps influenced by him, and memories of Miss Claxton's creative approach to learning, she became a teacher herself in the 1950s. Naturally, she taught new generations in her own areas of expertise.

The legacy of a legend

When the New Horizons mission to Pluto was launched in 2006, Venetia was invited, but at the age of 88 did not feel up to the transatlantic journey. She had never made a big deal out of her role in Pluto's birth as the newest member of the solar system, but appreciated the recognition:
I have my kind invitation from NASA, and I treasure that too. I shall put it on the mantelpiece, I think, conspicuously, to look at. And I just wish everybody concerned with the launch that the whole thing will be the success that they hope.

Venetia Burney never saw Pluto through a telescope; her only glimpse of it was a dim photograph. But now, an instrument named after her is hurtling through space towards the ninth planet. Fittingly, for someone who devoted their life to science education, it is a student experiment: the Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter.

And over the months to come, the topographical and geological features of our least known planetary neighbour will be given names on the theme of the underworld and exploration, as determined by a young girl on a morning in the world long ago.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The birth of the cable tie and augmented reality: a synergy

I love it when random things turn out to have a deeper connection. One of the joys of research is falling into those rabbit holes where only you can see the significance of the jars on the shelves, because of the chain of events that led you to be in possession of certain facts. Or perhaps a strong desire for vegemite on toast. OK, perhaps I can only stretch this metaphor so far.
(Incidentally, one of my recurring dreams evokes the Sheep's Shop in Through the Looking Glass. Needless to say, I identify strongly with Alice).
Readers may be aware of how one such serendipitous chain of connections led me to understand the significance of the humble cable tie, following a survey of the Orroral Valley NASA Tracking Station in the Australian Capital Territory. My research on the cable tie's history led me to inventor Maurus C. Logan, who worked for electrical outfitter Thomas and Betts. In the late 1950s, he visited a Boeing aircraft factory and watched the workers fitting a wiring harness. One of their tasks was to secure bundles of wires (cables) together with waxed string. The string turned their hands into a bloody mess, a condition known as 'hamburger hands' because their resemblance to hamburger meat.
'There has to be a better way', thought the kind-hearted Maurus, and so away he went and invented the cable tie. (More of the story will be told in my forthcoming publication on cable ties in Frederick and Clarke (eds) That was then, this is now: contemporary archaeology in Australia).
At the moment, I'm trying to piece together another story about two unusual material things, congohelium and computronium. My methodology is anamnesis and metaphor. I'm reading widely to try and 'remember the future' and ferret out of the deep recesses of my mind and viscera exactly what I meant when I put these two unconnected things together. What I'm really trying to say here is that I concocted a paper title because it sounded good, then wrote an abstract, and now have to find out what it's really all about. I'm choosing to make a virtue of what is really lack of planning. The anamnetic technique is based on the assumption that my unconscious knew something about why I connected these two things, and by using literature as a catalyst, I'm trying to draw it into the shallows of my conscious mind so that I can give a coherent paper at the Theoretical Archaeology Group conference in New York in two days.
My research has not been systematic, but I have managed to read a couple of things that have achieved that crystallisation for me. Good for the progress of the paper. But in the process, a cyborg rabbit, using its watch as an external storage device, has led me to a small piece of information that probably has resonated only with me in this precise way.
In the early 1990s, some engineers and scientists came up with the idea of Augmented Reality. Not virtual reality - this was not an attempt to digitally recreate the experience of reality. Augmented reality is rather the overlaying of new information on what we perceive in the everyday world. It's the sort of thing that proponents of wearable tech are exploring.
Have three guesses where this concept emerged.

Please try a little harder!
Oh OK, I give in.
At Boeing. In the context of aircraft wiring harnesses.
I nearly fell off my chair when I read this.
Now, as well as the issue of the waxed string and its terrible impact on human hands, one of the problems created by the evolution of aircraft was how to get cables into inaccessible parts of the aerodynamic structure. I believe that ferrets were at one period trained to carry the cables to remote parts of the aircraft structure where neither human nor hands could get. The point of the augmented reality was to enhance the invisible and future parts of the system with the idealised plan for the location of the cables in the harness. I'm guessing they didn't need the ferrets after that.
In writing this I'm struck by the disjunction between the - probable - constraints of aircraft structure and the need to get certain components into it in certain ways. Basically, they don't go well together. It's a more than awkward fit. Something always gives, whether it's flesh or aircraft or poor little ferrets. The system is mashed together so that it works, but there's always something sticking out, not smooth. Push it back in and it pops out somewhere else. Technology is not a smooth ball of functionality: it's a bag of snakes writhing and twisting within their boundary conditions.

So with these thoughts, I'll get back to my reading!


Tuesday, May 05, 2015

The frozen Martian dreams of new worlds

This image was taken at the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex at Tidbinbilla, a wonderful place where the Voyagers' thin whisper is captured by metal paraboloid ears listening with all their might, the limbs of dead and frozen antennas startle you as you turn a corner, and kangaroos lollop lazily about as if space communication was just one more passing fad and they were ready for a spot of afternoon tea grass, actually.

Author's image.
I couldn't help but think of Martian tripod locomotion when I saw this. It's quite a beautiful structure. It feels like it might just lift it's feet, creaking, out of the cement footings, and continue stalking across the landscape.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

When geostationary orbit became real: the cultural significance of Syncom 3

Syncom 3 was the first true geostationary (GEO) communications satellite, launched in 1963, nearly two decades after Arthur C. Clarke predicted the potential of GEO for telecommunications. Prior to the Syncom series, communication satellites were located in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) where they required massive terrestrial infrastructure. Syncom 3 was aimed at providing live television coverage of the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, as well as carrying telephone transmissions. But its uses were not confined to the civil sphere. Syncom 3 and its geosynchronous sister Syncom 2 were the primary communications link between South East Asia and the western Pacific in the Vietnam War.
Syncom 3
Image courtesy of NASA
Only six years after the first satellite, Syncom already shows how satellite design has moved past the early templates of the baby moon (Sputnik and Vanguard) and the rocket (Explorer 1). The Syncom series were the first spin-stabilised satellites. The basic design is still in use, for example, in the Aussat and Optus B series.
Syncom 3 is the ancestor of the satellites that provide telecommunication services today. Technologically, Syncom 3’s design and mission helped shape the world of the second millennium where nearly everyone is within reach of almost every point on the globe, and transnational entities flicker and spark into existence between hardware on Earth and in orbit.
Syncom 3 was a major step in the process of globalisation that has been developing since the 1400s when navigation connected previously separate old and new worlds. For some, globalisation has meant new possibilities and opportunities; for others, it has meant the erosion of identity in contexts where colonial exploitation has already exacted a high cost.

Note: This is an excerpt from Gorman, A.C. 2005 The Archaeology of Orbital Space.
In Australian Space Science Conference 2005; pages: [338-357]. Melbourne: RMIT University.
Clarke, A. C., 1945 Extraterrestrial relays: can rocket stations give worldwide radio
coverage? Wireless World, October, 1945, pp 305-308


Sunday, April 19, 2015

From Stone Age to Space Age: the impact of Woomera on Aboriginal people

In 1946–7, as a joint project between the UK and Australia, the Long Range Weapons Establishment was set up [at Woomera] approximately 450 km north of Adelaide. The area was considered remote and unproductive, a treeless gibber plain with few water sources. Everything had to be constructed from scratch: roads, airstrips, workshops, housing, leisure facilities. Water was piped at great expense to supply the new range (Morton 1989:123–126).

However, not everyone in Australia supported the establishment of a rocket range aimed at developing nuclear missiles. There was widespread consternation at the decision, in the wake of World War II, to enter into a nuclear arms race, and concern about the impact of the rocket range on Aboriginal people (Watt 1947; Duguid 1947). Under the leadership of Dr Charles Duguid, the Presbyterian Church spearheaded a nation-wide protest movement that involved over 50 community groups, trade unions and Aboriginal rights organisations.
Image courtesy of
National Museum of Australia
The protest gathered high profile supporters: Duguid himself, the anthropologist Donald Thomson, Member of Parliament Doris Blackburn, the Aboriginal activist Pastor Doug Nichols, and many others. Debate raged about the place that Aboriginal people held in white Australian society, with views ranging from the familiar expectation that Aboriginal people were on the verge of extinction (e.g. Bates 1938), to calls for greater assimilation - or protection. In response, the Australian government branded the protest leaders as communist dupes and placed them under surveillance.

Advised by Sydney University anthropologist A.P. Elkin, the government took the line that Woomera would, at most, accelerate processes both unavoidable and already evident among the Aboriginal groups of central and southern Australia: ‘‘coming in’’ from the desert to missions, increasing reliance on European food and medicines, and exposure to alcohol, disease and other vices of civilisation. A supposedly independent committee set up to examine the impact of the range on Aboriginal people dismissed the representations of Duguid and Thomson. Disillusioned, Duguid withdrew from spotlight and the first phase of protests at Woomera was effectively over.

The survey and construction of the rocket range infrastructure progressed throughout the late 1940s, and the first missile test took place in 1949. Now movement was restricted within the prohibited area of the range, and Aboriginal people could no longer access many ceremonial sites and resources: they were competing for precious water with the needs of the rocket range. Roads were pushed through, bringing people, equipment, and encounters for which neither group had much preparation. A policy of non-intervention led to fraught interactions where Woomera and other government employees were forbidden to assist Aboriginal groups even when they were in obvious need of food, water, transport or medicine (Morton 1989:83, 87). This situation held until 1967, when Aboriginal people finally became recognised as citizens of Australia. Meanwhile, in Woomera Village, people collected stone artefacts from the desert, and pondered on the contrast between the Stone Age and the Space Age (Gorman 2005a).

These events are not, I have argued, peripheral to the understanding of the Woomera rocket range as a space site. They are an integral aspect of its significance that relates to the colonial processes at work in the growth of space industry (Gorman 2005b; Gorman forthcoming). Nor was the conjunction of space/protest an isolated one in the history of space exploration.

This is an excerpt from Gorman, A.C. 2007 La Terre et l'espace: rockets, prison, protests and heritage in Australia and French Guiana. Archaeologies: the Journal of the World Archaeological Congress 3(2):153-167

Further reading and resources can be found at Collaborating for Indigenous Rights.

Bates, D. 1938. The Passing of the Aborigines. A lifetime Spent Among the Natives of Australia. London: John Murray.
Duguid, C. 1947 The Rocket Range, Aborigines and War. Melbourne: Rocket Range Protest Committee
Gorman, A.C. 2005a. From the Stone Age to the Space Age: Interpreting the Significance of Space Exploration at Woomera. Unpublished Paper Presented at the Symposium Home on the Range: The Cold War, Space Exploration and Heritage at Woomera, South Australia, Flinders University, November 2005
Gorman, A.C. 2005b. The Cultural Landscape of Interplanetary Space. Journal of Social Archaeology 5(1):85–107.
Morton, P. 1989. Fire Across the Desert. Woomera and the Anglo-Australian Joint Programme, 1946–80. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service
Watt, A. 1947 Rocket Range Threatens Australia. Adelaide: South Australian State Committee, Communist Party of Australia

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Cold War, colonialism, and the meaning of space hardware.

Spacecraft are more than utilitarian objects that further industrial, environmental or military objectives. They can also be regarded as artefacts, the material record of a particular phase in human social and technological development. On Earth, the preservation of material culture is considered important at a number of different levels: because it tells a story that is different to that presented in written documents, because it supplements written history, because material culture is the repository of people’s memories, ideas, and attachments. Material culture both shapes the world and is shaped by it:
….the things which constitute our world, which direct its functions, in turn influence our most basic cultural assumptions. A society which has access to jet aeroplanes, fast cars, and an international mass media based on television, fax machines and the information super-highway views the world entirely differently from a society dependent on the bullock dray and sea mail. (Anderson 1997)
That people see the material culture of space exploration as important is demonstrated by the popularity of museums such as the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. More people visit NASM than any other Smithsonian institution. They don’t go to see photographs of space, or to read interpretations of space history on storyboards. Words are not unique, and they are cheap. So why are visitors drawn in such staggering numbers to this museum?
Skylab module in NASM.
Image courtesy of
Because the NASM has on display a Gemini capsule, a section of Skylab, and an astronaut’s complete moon-walking suit … It’s the artifacts, stupid (Smith 2004).
At the Tidbinbilla Deep Space Communication Complex near Canberra, around 70 000 people each year come to the Visitor Centre to see a piece of the Moon and items of flown space hardware. The material culture of space exploration captures something that no written word can convey, and an object that has flown in space is perceived as more charged with meaning than a model, prototype or unflown spacecraft.
The material culture of space exploration is clearly seen as significant. However, its significance is often assumed to be self-evident. A well-used aphorism in the space community maintains that space exploration is the outcome of an innate human urge to explore. Thus, space objects are perceived to have a globally understood meaning that appeals to our common human nature (Gorman 2005). Just as the great navigators and explorers ventured out into unknown seas to discover the New World, so we have now left the cradle of Earth to satisfy a fundamental curiosity about our universe. This curiosity is one of the most commonly cited rationales for pursuing space exploration, far more palatable than the realpolitik of military and commercial dominance.

Another implicit and popular model for understanding the significance of space material culture is what I have called the Space Race model (Gorman 2005). In this formulation, objects and places have significance for their contribution to the Cold War confrontation between the USA and the USSR. This model focuses on these two states, ignoring the achievements of other countries like France, Britain, China, Japan and Australia in the development of space technology. It emphasises competitiveness rather than cooperation in space, and overlooks the contributions of and impacts on non-spacefaring countries, such as the colonial territories where potentially dangerous space installations were located. The relationship of space exploration to inequalities between the developed and developing world is unexplored, and indeed unproblematic, in the Space Race scenario, where US hegemony in space is assumed to benefit all.
The significance space artefacts might hold, therefore, is far from obvious.
Note: This is an excerpt from Gorman, A.C. 2005 The Archaeology of Orbital Space.
In Australian Space Science Conference 2005; pages: [338-357]. Melbourne: RMIT University
Anderson, M. 1997 Material culture and the cultural environment: Objects and places. Australia: State of the Environment Technical Paper Series (Natural and Cultural Heritage), Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, Canberra
Gorman, A.C. 2005 The cultural landscape of interplanetary space.  Journal of Social Archaeology 5(1):85-107
Smith, Bill 2004 It’s the artifacts, stupid! Guest Editorial. The Mineralogical Record 35(2):106-107


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Dr Space Junk's Guide to Voting For Names of Surface Features on Pluto

When the New Horizons mission reaches Pluto and its moons in July 2015, there'll be hundreds of surface features that have never been seen before and which will need new names. The theme for these names is exploration and the underworld.

Image courtesy of NASA
The International Astronomical Union is in charge of allocating names in the solar system. But the New Horizons mission team have got together with the SETI Institute to get the public to contribute to a shortlist for their consideration.
“Pluto belongs to everyone,” says New Horizon science team member Mark Showalter, also a senior research scientist at the SETI Institute.  “So we want everyone to be involved in making the map of this distant world.” 
You're my kind of guy, Mark Showalter.
But of course, one of the questions that immediately arises, to me anyway, is how many women-type of people will get a look-in in this process. So I went to the list to see what the representation was like. Let's just say, no surprises.
So with this in mind, I've done the hard work so you don't have to! Here is a list of women or female beings who are part of the longlist so far. And yes, you can vote for more than one. I'm also going to include some honourable mentions at the end that are just so cool you couldn't not want them to be the name of something on Pluto or Charon (the largest moon).
Happy voting! And remember to do it before April 24th. Full instructions are here.

History of exploration

Jeanne Baré (or Baret; botanist; first woman to circumnavigate the globe)
Alexandrine Tinné (Dutch explorer of Egypt)
Sacagawea (US Native American - Lewis and Clarke guide)

Fictional Explorers and Travelers

Eleanor Arroway (from Contact - Carl Sagan)
Alice (from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll) VOTE FOR ALICE. As someone who has identified with Alice from earliest childhood, I most certainly will be.
Arthur Dent/Trillian/Zaphod Beeblebrox (from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). She was smarter than the rest of them put together.
Candide/Cunegonde/Pangloss (from Voltaire's Candide)
Dorothy Gale & Toto (from Oz books - L. Frank Baum)
Kaguya-hime (Japanese folktale) You get double value with this one, as it's also the nickname of a Japanese lunar orbiter (separately listed).
Kathryn Janeway (from TV's Star Trek: Voyager)
Skywalker/Solo/Leia/Kenobi (from Star Wars films)


Exploration Authors and Artists

Octavia E. Butler (US - author of Xenogenesis trilogy) I've never read Octavia Butler, but I really, really should.
Madeleine L'Engle (US author - A Wrinkle in Time) Now I'm sorry, but I will brook no opposition on this. Vote for Madeleine. If you were not moved to fear, horror, compassion and love by A Wrinkle in Time, you are barely human. If you have not read it, get thee to a library forthwith.
Anne McCaffrey (US-Irish author - Pern and Talents series) Rollicking good science fiction-fantasy yarns that entranced millions. 
Alice Sheldon (US author - A Momentary Taste of Being) AKA James Tiptree Jnr, a wonderful science fiction author. Her family background is also discussed in Donna Haraway's Primate Visions.

Travelers to the Underworld

Proserpina (kidnapped by Hades) I prefer the Greek Persephone but whatever.
Inanna & Dumuzi (from Sumerian mythology)
Orfeo & Euridice (from Greek mythology) Please read this poem about Eurydice by H.D (Hilda Dolittle), but be warned it will break your heart.
Virgil & Beatrice (from Dante's Inferno)

Underworld Beings

Tuoni & Tuonetar (Finnish mythology)
Ereshkigal (Sumerian mythology)
Alecto/Megaera/Tisiphone (Furies or Erinyes - Greek mythology)
Ammit (Devourer of Souls - Egyptian mythology)
Melinoë (Bringer of nightmares - Greek mythology)

Honourable Mentions

Phileas Fogg (from Around the World in 80 days). However, it should really be Passepartout, who did all the hard work anyway.
Tintin (from graphic novels by Hergé)
Gallifrey (Planet of the Time Lords - Dr Who)
Heart of Gold (Infinite Improbability spaceship, from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)
Dawn Treader (by C. S. Lewis)
Chesley Bonestell (US space artist)
Hieronymus Bosch (Dutch painter of Hellish scenes) This is so obvious I don't know why it's even a matter of voting.
Stanislaw Lem (Polish science fiction author) Because I love that man's writing so much.
Maurice Sendak (US author - Where the Wild Things Are) Nuff said.
Baralku (Yolngu culture, Australia) Baralku is the Island of the Dead. You must vote for this because it is from the same region of Australia as the Aboriginal music on the Voyager Golden Records.
Sun Wukong (Monkey King - Chinese mythology) MONKEY. Do you hear me? This is Monkey.
Cthulhu (from H. P. Lovecraft)
Notes: on the official website, they mostly link to Wikipedia, but I've linked to other sites where I think there is more interesting or nuanced information. Sometimes, Wikipedia does have the best information online so I've stuck with that.

The longlist is quite long, and it's possible I've missed a few - if so, let me know and I'll add them.

If you think there are women/entities who ought to be on the official longlist but aren't, it's worth checking the Gazetteer to see if they haven't already been used elsewhere in the solar system.

My list here, and the commentary on it, are of course my personal views, and you are free to disagree or ignore them as you wish.