Curry Night and Space Heritage

Excavation of a Monolith at Clavius Base
Excavation of a Monolith at Tycho

Britblog Round UpAnother advant­age of being in Leicester is that you don’t know who is going to drop in. On Friday it was John Campbell from JCU Cairns. He’s been work­ing with Alice Gorman on the Space Heritage prob­lem since WAC 5. Perhaps the biggest prob­lem is get­ting people to recog­nise there’s a space her­it­age prob­lem.

He’s a nice guy, if a little intim­id­at­ing as he seems at home talk­ing about any sub­ject. Conversation skipped from extremo­philes to the last gla­ci­ation and hunter / gatherer strategies. Along the way we talked about Mir.

Imagine we could find the spot where Columbus first stepped onto Hispaniola, or where the Vikings first landed in the new world. Now ima­gine it was decided to des­troy. Say, the beach was to be scooped out and made into a har­bour for yup­pies. Would this be a prob­lem? Mir, John says, is a sim­ilar place. It was the first suc­cess­ful long-term space sta­tion. It wasn’t just used by the USSR, it also hos­ted Americans and peoples from other nations. It was the place where ser­i­ous inter­na­tional coöper­a­tion in space began. And it doesn’t exist any­more because it was crashed into the Pacific, some­where between New Zealand and South America. A his­toric place has been des­troyed more effect­ively than the Taliban des­troyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan.

The Russians did recog­nise the import­ance of the sta­tion and did appeal for help to boost it to a higher orbit to pre­serve the site, but no-one else was inter­ested. Without the funds from a safety point of view crash-landing was the only feas­ible option.

John also poin­ted out that Tranquility Base meets more or less every cri­terion of being a world her­it­age site, except for being on this world. His opin­ion is that the foot­prints there are equal in import­ance to the foot­prints at Laetoli.

It’s inter­est­ing that in this case the future has arrived. 2001 might not have bought robots in every home, or cheap space­flight to moon bases. However, extra-terrestrial archae­ology is an issue.


When he's not tired, fixing his car or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.

2 Responses

  1. November 23, 2005

    Curry Night and Space Heritage

    […] Alun has an inter­est­ing post on space her­it­age. If the post-processual pro­ject in part has been to give voice to the under-represented, sup­pressed and failed attempts in the archae­olo­gical record, then in terms of space her­it­age, the exhib­i­tion in Moscow’s Gorky Park of the failed Soviet space shuttle Buran needs to be recog­nized. It is on dis­play on the shore of the Moscow river, and decay­ing with grace. […]

  2. January 19, 2006

    Curry Night and Space Heritage

    […] My opin­ion changed rad­ic­ally when I actu­ally heard what they were say­ing and thought about what they were doing. I’ve men­tioned earlier that I find Alice Gorman’s work thought pro­vok­ing paper The cul­tural land­scape of inter­plan­et­ary space, which tackles things like the effect of the spa­ce­ports on local pop­u­la­tions, like the abori­gin­als who were affected by Woomera. I also thought that John Campbell was elo­quent when he com­pared the foot­prints of the Apollo XI team to the foot­prints at Laetoli. Tranquillity Base sat­is­fies more or less every require­ment of being a World Heritage site bar the fact it’s not on this world. Greg Fewer has made an ana­logy between nearly inac­cess­ible explor­a­tion sites of the 19th cen­tury and their mod­ern use as tour­ist sites. A cen­tury ago Mount Everest was inac­cess­ible, these days people go there for a pic­nic, well almost. If Richard Branson gets his way there’ll be a moon­base in a couple of dec­ades. If some­thing of value is found to be eas­ily access­ible it may be sooner. For instance how much money do you think De Beers would pump into a space pro­gramme if a rich and access­ible seam of dia­monds were located? […]