Thursday, January 29, 2009

Space Travel and Culture

I'm just waiting for the proofs for my chapter in this book, due to be released in June this year.

Edited by David Bell and Martin Parker

1. Introduction: Making Space: Martin Parker and David Bell

2. Checklist: The Secret Life of Apollo’s "Fourth Crewmember": Matthew H. Hersch

3. A Political History of NASA’s Space Shuttle: The Development Years, 1972-1982: Brian Woods

4. The Geostationary Orbit: A Critical Legal Geography of Space’s Most Valuable Real Estate: Christy Collis

5. The Cosmos as Capitalism’s Outside: Peter Dickens

6. Capitalists in Space: Martin Parker

7. Space is the (non)Place: Martians, Marxists, and the Outer Space of the Radical Imagination: Stevphen Shukaitis

8. The Space Race and Soviet Utopian Thinking: Iina Kohonen

9. The archaeology of space exploration: Alice Gorman

10. Giant Leaps and Forgotten Steps: NASA and the Performance of Gender: Daniel Sage

11. Idealised Heroes of ‘Retrotopia’: History, Identity and the Postmodern in Apollo 13: Dario Llinares

12. Middle America, the Moon, the Sublime and the Uncanny: Darren Jorgensen

13. Re-thinking Apollo: Envisioning Environmentalism in Space: Holly Henry and Amanda Taylor

14. Conclusion: To Infinity and Beyond?: Warren Smith

How does one create a space heritage list?

I've been adding new objects and places to Dr Space Junk's Space Heritage List on Facebook. It's a fairly random, intuitive process (this despite having put together some criteria based on the Australian Commonwealth ones).

A number of things struck me, reflecting on this process. Firstly, most heritage criteria are designed to assess the significance of one place or thing at a time. What I'm doing, I've realised, is a little different. I am thinking about the shape of the whole list, and what it represents as collection. I'm trying to make it representative, both chronologically and geographically (or spatially). So (in a very gradual and ad hoc way), after having added some of the major ones like Tranquility Base, Peenemunde, Woomera (obviously!), Vanguard 1, Syncom 3 - all things you will recognise as my favourites, I'm filling in gaps. Something for every year since 1936, something from every country that has launched a satellite, or hosted a space installation.

This is more similar to a museum collection policy than how a standard heritage register works, where properties are nominated by professionals or interested parties without any coordination. And more like the World Heritage List, which tries to redress imbalances in its properties, and publishes documents identifying gaps.

There are two criteria that stand out as I think each day what I can add to satisfy demand. Firstly, I want to get something in there from every nation-state that has a space involvement. Nationalism and national prestige are significant motivating factors in spacefaring, and the role of nationalism in heritage, particularly world heritage, is a contentious issue and something that has been endlessly written about and debated.

Secondly, because this is a developing technology, and in a sense the ultimate colonising technology, many of the things that are intuitively significant are those that were the first to do something or go somewhere: the first spacecraft to flyby Mars, the first to land of Venus, the first active telecommunications satellite.

I'm still working out what this all means, but wanted to get my thoughts down before I forgot them!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The world's first Space Heritage List

Sometimes very simple ideas are extremely productive. This was how I got into space archaeology a few years ago: by wondering if terrestrial cultural heritage management principles applied off-world.

As you know I've been thinking about the World Heritage List and the legal aspects extending it to space (in collaboration with my sidekick Nigel). A couple of weeks ago I took the criteria for registration on the Australian Commonwealth Heritage List and rewrote them for space. Not much involved, really! Yet reading through it afterwards I realised it was actually quite a powerful document in its own right. Each criterion, when applied to space heritage, raised new issues. In particular, I'm now thinking of natural/cultural values in space and how these ideas intersect in a non-biological environment. More on that later perhaps.

At the same time, I developed the world's first actual space heritage list. OK, so it's a Facebook gift application, but I don't think that diminishes its importance. If you're not on Facebook, you won't understand what this means and I apologise. (I didn't mean to be on Facebook myself and I completely blame my esteemed colleague Dr Lynley Wallis, creator of the Sputnik cakes, for getting me addicted to an online game). If you are on Facebook, you can select objects like satellites and places like Kourou from Dr Space Junk's Space Heritage List to send to your friends. It just seemed like the right kind of platform for the moment.

Again, the mere process of thinking what belongs in this list, and why, raises a whole lot of interesting issues. One is representativeness. I have tended to focus on certain periods and places in my research. The Space Heritage List, however, should represent all periods and geographic regions (or should it? and how? equally? proportionally? this not yet worked out). To construct it, I'm researching things that have been off my radar until this point, like the first post-Sputnik USSR scientific satellites, Elektron 1- 4. So I'm learning a lot from this (ostensibly) frivolous exercise. I dare say I shall report more on it as it develops.

(Image courtesy of Roger Jones)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The eighty-day orbit

Another orbital reference from Around the World in Eighty Days:

Such was the respective situation of these two men, and above them Phileas Fogg was hovering in his majestic indifference. He was accomplishing rationally his orbit around the world, without being troubled by the asteroids gravitating around him.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Wishing on space hardware - it's right.

More satellite poetry (if you regard song lyrics as poetry, which I do). This one from Billy Bragg's New England:

I saw two shooting stars last night
I wished on them but they were only satellites
Is it wrong to wish on space hardware

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Literary manifestations of globalisation: Around the World in Eighty Days.

Over Christmas, I raided the bookcase in a cousin's house, and decided to read an old childhood favourite, Around the World in Eighty Days.

Not having read it for some years, different things struck me. (I used to wonder: why did Mrs Aouda fall in love with Phileas Fogg when it was really Passepartout who rescued her?). 

When Fogg is playing whist in the Reform Club at the beginning, the following conversation contributes to the laying of the wager:

"Well", replied Ralph,"there is not a single country where he can take refuge".


"Where do you suppose he might go?"

"I don't know", replied Andrew Stuart, "but after all the world is big enough".

"It was formerly", said Phileas Fogg in a low tone.


""How, formerly? Has the world grown smaller perchance?"

"Without doubt", replied Gauthier Ralph. "I am of the opinion of Mr Fogg. The world has grown smaller, since we can go round it now ten times quicker than one hundred years ago".

The reason the world is smaller is because of railways, steamships, and constructions such as the Suez Canal. But even in 1873, our man Jules presages the time when satellites make the world even smaller. Later in the book, this is how he describes Phileas Fogg:

He was a heavy body, traversing an orbit around the terrestrial globe, according to the laws of rational mechanics.

Phileas Fogg is himself a satellite, just in the lowest orbit possible.

Incidentally, I had to look up the date Around the World was first published, and in doing so came across the book Around the Day in Eighty Worlds by Julio Cortazar. This is how it is described in Wikipedia:

La Vuelta al Día en Ochenta Mundos (Around the Day in Eighty Worlds) is a book by Julio Cortázar released and published in two separate volumes in 1967 (same year Hopscotch's translation wins the 1967 U.S. National Book Award). It pays homage to Julio's biggest literary influences while narrating new developments in the world of music during the 1960s, modern art (Dada and Surrealism) and some of the events in regard to America's expanding involvement in other countries. The book also reveals for the first time one of Julio's most adorable pastimes in Paris: playing the trumpet.

This makes me so want to read it, but what I like most about this description is the notion of playing the trumpet as an adorable pastime.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Launch of International Astronomy Year 2009

15 January 2009

2009 has been declared the International Year of Astronomy by the UN General Assembly in collaboration with the International Astronomical Union.

Launched under the theme, 'The Universe - Yours to discover', IYA2009 involves more than one hundred countries, and will stimulate worldwide interest, especially among young people, in astronomy and science.

The official opening ceremony takes place in Paris, 15-16 January 2009, under the aegis of the United Nations (UN), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the International Astronomical Union (IAU). Nobel Prize winners, scientists from all over the world and government ministers are attending this prestigious event.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sputnik racehorses

Further to an earlier posting (Jan 20, 2005) about my father's attempt to get one of our racehorses registered as "Little Lemon" in honour of Laika, it seems that satellites were a popular source of racehorse names in the 1950s:

The Jockey Club of New York, which approves the names of race horses, has recently announced that only one horse can be named Sputnik and that since that name has now been assigned, no more breeders need ask for the name.
From Ackerman, Louise M. 1958 Facetious variations of 'Sputnik'. American Speech 33(2):154-156

Around this time many space expressions, including Russian words, became common; and there are many articles tracking these changes in language driven by the popular interest in space exploration.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Rock art or rockets?

Or perhaps it should be rock art AND rockets. This is a title for a paper that we came up with, late one night after too many champagnes in the earlier part of last year. The illustrious Dr Alistair Pike was present and complicit. I was filing some papers and came across a sheet of scrap paper covered in scribbled notes from this long-ago evening, which also included the proposed title of Alistair's autobiography: "Vermin and physics".

But "Rock art or rockets" may become nicely relevant this year, as I am in discussions with Mr Phil Czwerwinski, who knows this area well, about doing something with both out at Woomera.