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4 mins read 30 Nov 2020

Space Heritage with a Space Archaeologist

Dr. Space Junk vs. The Universe is one of five signed books you can win as part of our women in space competition. We had a chat with Associate Professor Alice Gorman about her book, who inspires her and what advice she would give to help lift equality amongst society.

Dr. Space Junk vs. The Universe. Credit: R. Mandow.

Described by Emily Lakdawalla as a “must-read for anyone interested in both the past and the future of exploration”, Dr. Space Junk vs. The Universe is a fun, fascinating and exciting journey across both space and time, written by Associate Professor Alice Gorman.

Alice explores the importance of how the human cultural heritage is now off-Earth, and across the Solar system, bringing together the historical context of objects that have been launched into space as a filter of the times when they left Earth, through to how these objects can represent our pioneering steps in both the current and future context.

The beauty around this book is that it opens the mind up to things you might never have thought you’d even consider. Something as small as zip ties around the locations of historically important communication antennas, to the shadows that form around the remaining human lunar landing equipment on the surface of the Moon –  Alice finds a way to tell the story of how Earth and space are intertwined through the human element. There’s even historical context about space-themed cocktails.

The 30,000-year-old artefact, the Venus of Willendorf. Credit: NHM Vienna/Alice Schumacher.

Composite illustration image of the Vanguard 1 Satellite. Credit: National Space Science Data Centre.

Alice describes her book as being very personal, in particular around how she became a space archaeologist and some of her favourite artefacts such as the 30,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf figurine, or the 62-year-old Vanguard 1 Satellite.

“There’s gravity, galaxies, cane toads and cocktails – and I hope there’s also a strong message that space is not just about technology and economics,” she said.

Alice draws on three great women of science for her own inspirations. The first, the mathematician and natural philosopher, Émilie du Châtelet who profoundly contributed to Newtonian mechanics and in fact translated Newton’s Principia. The second, Emmy Noether who discovered Noether’s theorem (a fundamental in mathematical physics which describes the connection between symmetry and conservation laws) and who also contributed to the field of abstract algebra. And lastly, Lise Meitner who discovered nuclear fission – which lead to global nuclear energy, as well as the element protactinium.

“Each was a pioneer whose achievements were not recognised because women weren’t supposed to be capable of scientific thinking,” she said.

There’s also some opportunity for the next generation of young men to help ensure some of the inequalities that women were subjected to in the past to be addressed, says Dr. Gorman.

“I know that navigating masculinity is a difficult process in the first couple of decades of life. It’s essential to be self-aware and critical about your expected role in society. Notice who does what in the world around you. Question your assumptions. Don’t wait until you have a daughter for the revelation that the world is not a fair place for women”

Aside from her continual support of Women in academics, STEM fields and society, Alice also recalls what got her into the space industry, to begin with.

“Many years ago I realised that space junk was an archaeological record like any other. Initially, I wanted to apply archaeological theory and methods to find out more about what makes our modern space-dependent world tick”

“This has led to a deeper interest in ensuring that space exploration leads to a more just society, whether on Earth od in the wider Solar system,” she said.

Dr. Space Junk vs. The Universe is one of five signed books you can win by entering the #SpaceAusSTEM challenge over the next few weeks – simply tell us (on social media) who your favourite women in space is (historical or current) and you’ll be in the chance to win this wonderful book, along with four other signed books by prominent women in space that we’ve curated. Find out more information about the competition here.