Debris field of Perseverance rover's landing seen from Ingenuity helicopter

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 the Moon and 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

See also: Cultural resources management

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:

Legal matters

Main article: Space law

See also: Common heritage of mankind

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, two 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.[citation needed]

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 is not 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 was assembled to try to locate the Lunar Module of the Apollo 10 mission nicknamed "Snoopy", which was released during the mission and was thought to be in a heliocentric orbit.[29] The Snoopy mission was encouraged by the 2002 re-sighting of the Apollo 12 third-stage rocket.[29] In June 2019, the Royal Astronomical Society announced a possible rediscovery of Snoopy, determining that small Earth-crossing asteroid 2018 AV2 is likely to be the spacecraft with "98%" certainty.[30]

The International Space Station Archaeological Project (ISSAP), led by Justin Walsh and Alice Gorman, began in late 2015.[31] As of 2021, the International Space Station has been visited by almost 250 people from 19 countries, and continuously occupied since November 2000. ISSAP is the first large-scale investigation of a space habitat from an archaeological perspective, not only documenting the ISS's material culture, but interpreting its social meaning and significance. The project has been funded by the Australian Research Council,[32] and published research on its methodology and on the creation of visual displays by ISS crew.[33] ISSAP is using new methods to study the space station without being able to visit it directly. These methods include using more than two decades of photographs stored in space agency archives to document life on board the ISS, observing the processes used for handling cargo returned from the ISS, and developing experiments for the crew to perform on the archaeologists' behalf.[34]

On January 14, 2022, ISSAP announced that it had initiated the first archaeological documentation of in situ material culture in a space habitat, the Sampling Quadrangle Assemblages Research Experiment, or SQuARE.[35] NASA astronaut Kayla Barron, working on behalf of ISSAP, placed pieces of adhesive tape to mark the boundaries of six square sample areas located in various areas of ISS. These areas are being documented with photography by the ISS crew on a daily basis for sixty days. SQuARE is sponsored by the ISS National Lab, which has allocated crew time. It is being implemented with the help of Axiom Space and funded by Chapman University.

See also

References and notes

  1. ^ Capelotti, P.J. (November–December 2004). "Space: The Final [Archaeological] Frontier". Archaeology. 57 (6). Archaeological Institute of America. Archived from the original on 4 November 2012. 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 Archived 2016-03-10 at the Wayback Machine 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. Bibcode:2004SpPol..20..279S. 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. S2CID 144152006.
  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. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2019-03-05. Retrieved 2009-02-28.
  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. S2CID 144304527.
  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. S2CID 130715024.
  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. Vol. 213. Astronomical Society of the Pacific. p. 505. Bibcode:2004IAUS..213..505C. ISBN 978-1-58381-171-9. ((cite book)): |journal= ignored (help)
  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. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-09-09. Retrieved 2009-03-03.
  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.
  19. ^ [1] NASA. NASA, n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.
  20. ^ [2] 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.
  24. ^ "Lunar Legacy Project".
  25. ^ Glavin, D.P.; Dworkin, J.P.; Lupisella, M.; Kminek, G.; Rummel, J.D. (2004). "Biological contamination studies of lunar landing sites: Implications for future planetary protection and life detection on the Moon and Mars". Int. J. Astrobiol. 3 (3): 265–271. Bibcode:2004IJAsB...3..265G. doi:10.1017/S1473550404001958. S2CID 29795667.
  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. ^ a b "Astronomy Team Looking For Lost 'Snoopy' Module From Apollo 10". 29 September 2011. Retrieved 3 June 2012.
  30. ^ David Dickinson (June 14, 2019). "Astronomers Might Have Found Apollo 10's "Snoopy" Module". Sky & Telescope. Retrieved June 14, 2019.
  31. ^ Gannon, Megan (17 July 2017). "What Could Space Archaeologists Tell Us about Astronaut Culture?". Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  32. ^ Anderson, David (3 December 2018). "The Archaeology Of Outer Space". Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  33. ^ Salmond, Wendy; Walsh, Justin; Gorman, Alice (17 November 2020). "Eternity in Low Earth Orbit: Icons on the International Space Station". Religions. 11 (11): 611. doi:10.3390/rel11110611.
  34. ^ Walsh, Justin; Gorman, Alice (24 August 2021). "A method for space archaeology research: the International Space Station Archaeological Project". Antiquity. 95 (383): 1331–1343. doi:10.15184/aqy.2021.114. S2CID 238220657. Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  35. ^ Walsh, Justin (14 January 2022). ""Space archaeology (for real)"". International Space Station Archaeological Project. Retrieved 14 January 2022.

Further reading