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Vanguard
Vanguard. Photo:Nasa

Following a tip by Dr Space Junk, I bought a copy of this month’s National Geographic US. In the Space section there’s a page on the problem of space junk. Currently there’s around 13,000 pieces of man-made debris being tracked in orbit. A collision can have serious consequences, because even a fleck of paint causes damage when it hist you in excess of 17,000 mph. Therefore it’s not surprising that scientists are trying to think of ways to clean up our orbital neighbourhood. The question is should everything obsolete be brought down?

Vanguard was launched in 1958, and has outlasted its more famous rival Sputnik. Now it might just be junk, but it’s also a landmark of a new era. When space tourism really becomes viable, will this be a tourist destination? I think so, perhaps not as much as Disneymoon, but I think its heritage value will increase with time.

The reason I think so is down to the work of people like Alice Gorman, mentioned in the article. You can take a rigid view of what archaeology is, and insist that if you’re not getting mucky it’s not proper archaeology. I think it’s often more interesting when you have a thought-provoking topic and you use disciplines like archaeology to see what you can do with them. Space technology is drenched in the kind of political symbolism that would normally make archaeologists go giddy. The act of getting something into space is a trip into a world of imperial power that we like to think has disappeared.

And if you’re interested in reading more then Alice Gorman has her own blog, Space Age Archaeology, which is well worth reading through – for she is Dr Space Junk.