Space archaeology

In archaeology, space archaeology is the research-based study of various human-made items found in space, their interpretation as clues to the adventures humanity has experienced in space, and their preservation as cultural heritage.[1]

It includes launch complexes on Earth, orbital debris, satellites, and objects and structures on other celestial bodies such as Mars. It also includes the applied field of cultural resource which evaluates the significance of space sites and objects in terms of national and international preservation laws. Cultural resource looks at what, how and why these artifacts of our recent history should be preserved for future generations.

Cultural heritage

Space tourism could affect archaeological artifacts, for example, on the Moon.[2][3][4] The notion that cultural heritage is at stake and requires action to prevent deterioration or destruction is gaining ground.[5][6][7] Perhaps artifacts (say, antiquated space stations) could be preserved in "museum orbit".[8] Many such artifacts have been lost because they were not recognized and assessed. Experts assert that continuity and connection to the past are vital elements of survival in the modern world.[9] A model has been suggested for international cooperation based upon Antarctica.[10] Implications for cooperation interest anthropologists as well.[11]

An unexpected ramification of this work is the development of techniques for detecting signs of life or technology on other planets, or extraterrestrial visitation on Earth.[12][13][14] One facet of this work is the use of satellites for identifying structures of archeological significance.[15][16][17][18]


Satellites are key artifacts in examining human encounters with space over time and the effect we leave through artificial objects. This list includes:

  • Vanguard 1 - Launched in 1958, the manmade satellite Vanguard 1 and the upper stage of its launch rocket are the oldest still in orbit. Vanguard 1 lost communication in 1964 but had a few different functions, including the obtention of geodetic measurements and the testing of capabilities.[19]
  • Asterix-1 - With the intention of testing the French Diamant Rocket, Asterix-1 was the first French satellite launched into space. Asterix-1 had a very short lived transmission period of 2 days but remains in orbit and is expected to for centuries.[20]
  • Skynet 1A - Providing communication to Middle Eastern forces, Skynet 1A was launched over the Indian Ocean in 1969. No longer in operation, Skynet 1A has an approximate lifetime of more than 1 million years.[21]
  • Kosmos 2222 - With the intended function of identifying ballistic missiles launches, Cosmos-2222 was launched in 1992. With an operation life of 4 years, Cosmos and its rocket body remain in orbit today.[21]

Satellites are just one example of several human traces we leave behind in, and out of this world.

The complexities and ambiguities of international legal structures to deal with these sites as cultural resources leave them vulnerable to impacts in the near future by many varieties of space travel. An outline of the legal situation was made by Harrison Schmitt and Neil Armstrong, both of whom were astronauts who walked on the moon as part of the Apollo program.[22] The governing law on the Moon and other celestial bodies is the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 based upon guidelines from experience in the Antarctic. Another source of ideas is the Law of the Sea. The Outer Space Treaty contains language stating that space objects remain under the jurisdiction of the originating state, and the civil and criminal laws of that state govern private parties both on the Moon and events leading up to such activity. State parties are to inform the public about the nature and result of their activities.

The later Moon Agreement of 1979 was signed but not ratified by many spacefaring nations. Schmitt and Armstrong believe this lack of ratification relates to disagreement over wording such as "the Moon and its natural resources are the common heritage of mankind", which is taken as possibly excluding private activity, and objections to wording concerning the disruption of the existing environment.

A non-profit organization called For All Moonkind, Inc. is working to establish legal protections for archaeological sites in outer space. The entirely volunteer group includes space lawyers and policymakers from around the world. As a result of their efforts, the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space agreed, in January 2018, to consider the creation of a "universal space heritage sites program.".[23] Having created a discussion around preservation in outer space, For All Moonkind is now focused on preparing drafts of implementing regulations and protocols.

Background and history

During a graduate seminar at New Mexico State University in 1999, Ralph Gibson asked: "Does federal preservation law apply on the moon?" That question led to Gibson's thesis "Lunar Archaeology: The Application of Federal Historic Preservation Law to the Site where Humans first set foot upon the Moon", to a grant from the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium, and to creation of the Lunar Legacy Project.[24]

A manuscript by scientists at NASA and ESA in 2004 raised the possibility of preserving Apollo landing sites for future "astroarcheologists."[25]

In 2006, Dr. O’Leary with New Mexico State Historic Preservation Officer Katherine Slick and the New Mexico Museum of Space History (NMMSH), documented the Apollo 11 Tranquility Base archaeological site on the Moon.[26] Some legal aspects of this work already have surfaced.[27]

Though its mission isn't primarily archaeological, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has imaged all of the Apollo landing sites as well as rediscovering the location of the first Lunokhod 1 rover, lost since 1971 (note: all of the U. S. flags left on the moon during the Apollo missions were found to still be standing, with the exception of the one left during the Apollo 11 mission, which was blown over during that mission's lift-off from the lunar surface and return to the mission command module in lunar orbit; the degree to which these flags are preserved and intact remains unknown).[28]

Based on an idea by British amateur astronomer Nick Howes, a team of experts has been assembled to try to locate the Lunar Module of the Apollo 10 mission nicknamed "Snoopy", which was released during the mission and is currently thought to be in a heliocentric orbit.[29] The Snoopy mission is encouraged by the 2002 re-sighting of the Apollo 12 third-stage rocket.[29]

See also

References and notes

  1. Capelotti, P.J. (November–December 2004). "Space: The Final [Archaeological] Frontier". Archaeology. Archaeological Institute of America. 57 (6). Retrieved 3 June 2012.
  2. Greg Fewer (2007). "Conserving space heritage: The case of Tranquility Base". Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. 60: 3–8. Bibcode:2007JBIS...60....3F. Conference paper from Archaeology for Space Symposium
  3. Peter Dickens; James S. Ormrod (2007). Cosmic Society: Towards a Sociology of the Universe. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-37432-3.
  4. The Lunar Land Management System began in January 2007 and is currently based in the Mojave Desert of California at the Mojave Spaceport. The Mojave Spaceport is "an innovator in the privatization of space travel and is quickly becoming a gateway to the stars."
  5. Beth Laura O'Leary (2006). "The cultural heritage of space, the Moon and other celestial bodies". Antiquity. 80.
  6. Dirk HR Spennemann (2004). "The ethics of treading on Neil Armstrong's footprints". Space Policy. 20 (4): 279–290. doi:10.1016/j.spacepol.2004.08.005.
  7. Alice Gorman (2005). "The cultural landscape of interplanetary space". Journal of Social Archaeology. 5 (1): 85–107. doi:10.1177/1469605305050148.
  8. "Gorman (2007)". Archived from the original on 2010-08-17. Retrieved 2017-10-28.
  9. Alice C Gorman (2005). "The Archaeology of Orbital Space" (PDF). Australian Space Science Conference: 338–357.
  10. D Spennemann (2006). "Out of this World: Issues of Managing Tourism and Humanity's Heritage on the Moon". Intl J of Heritage Studies. 12 (4): 356–371. doi:10.1080/13527250600726911.
  11. Fraser MacDonald (2007). "Anti-Astropolitik – outer space and the orbit of geography". Progress in Human Geography. 31 (5): 592–615. doi:10.1177/0309132507081492.
  12. John B Campbell (2006). "Archaeology and direct imaging of exoplanets" (PDF). In C. Aime; F. Vakili (eds.). Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union. Cambridge University Press. pp. 247ff. ISBN 978-0-521-85607-2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-03-26.
  13. Campbell, J.B. (2004). "The potential for archaeology within and beyond the habitable zones of the Milky Way". In Norris, R.; Stootman, F. (eds.). Bioastronomy 2002: Life among the Stars. International Astronomical Union Symposium 213. Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Bibcode:2004IAUS..213..505C. ISBN 978-1-58381-171-9.
  14. Greg Fewer, Searching for extraterrestrial intelligence. A pdf file here Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine.
  15. MJ Carlotto (2007). "Detecting Patterns of a Technological Intelligence in Remotely Sensed Imagery" (PDF). Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. 60: 28–39. Bibcode:2007JBIS...60...28C.
  16. James Wiseman & Farouk El-Baz (2007). Remote Sensing in Archaeology. Springer. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-387-44615-8.
  17. James Conolly; Mark Lake (2006). Geographical Information Systems in Archaeology. Cambridge University Press. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-521-79330-8.
  18. R. Lassaponara; et al. (2006). "VHR satellite images for the knowledge and the enhancement of cultural landscapes". In Fort, Alvarez de Buergo, Gomez-Heras & Vazquez-Calvo (eds.). Heritage, Weathering and Conservation. Taylor & Francis Group. pp. 841ff. ISBN 978-0-415-41272-8.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
  19. NASA. NASA, n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.
  20. Space Archaeology." Space Archaeology. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.
  21. Space Archaeology." Space Archaeology. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.
  22. Harrison H. Schmitt; Neil Armstrong (2006). Return to the Moon. Birkhäuser. pp. 280ff. ISBN 978-0-387-24285-9.
  23. UNCOPUOS. "Draft Declaration" (PDF). UNOOSA. Retrieved 7 February 2018.
  25. "Glavin et al. (2004) Int. J. Astrobio. 3, 265-271". doi:10.1017/S1473550404001958# (inactive 2019-11-30). Cite journal requires |journal= (help).
  26. New Mexico State University Newsletter.
  27. "Applicability of federal historic preservation law" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-05-31. Retrieved 2008-08-25.
  28. Robinson, Mark (27 July 2012). "Question Answered!". LROC News System. Arizona State University. Archived from the original on 24 October 2012. Retrieved 28 October 2012.
  29. "Astronomy Team Looking For Lost 'Snoopy' Module From Apollo 10". Retrieved 3 June 2012.

Further reading

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