Alice Gorman
A computer generated image of tracked space debris. 95% of objects are debris, not functional satellites Author: NASA Ares program
2024

Alice Gorman

Space Archaeology Pioneer

rethinking space-stuff

meet alice

Associate Professor Alice Gorman is an internationally recognised leader in the field of space archaeology and author of the award-winning book Dr Space Junk vs the Universe: Archaeology and the Future. In 2022 with Dr. Justin Walsh, she co-directed the first archaeological fieldwork to ever take place outside Earth on the International Space Station. She is an Associate Professor at Flinders University in Adelaide and a heritage consultant with over 30 years’ experience working with Indigenous communities in Australia. Gorman is also a Vice-Chair of the Global Expert Group on Sustainable Lunar Activities, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, and an expert member of the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee for Aerospace Heritage. Asteroid 551014 Gorman is named after her.

rethinking space-stuff
Nominated by: Dr. Janet Walsh, MR'05
Class of 2024 Location Australia
Surveying the Orroral Valley NASA Tracking Station near Canberra
Surveying the Orroral Valley NASA Tracking Station near Canberra Author: John Naumann

At this point in time, there are numerous missions planned to the Moon, and much speculation about the first human mission to Mars. There may be as many as 100,000 satellites in Earth orbit by the end of the decade. The International Space Station (ISS) is on the way out and new space stations are being designed. The human relationship to space is changing rapidly, with space tourists taking sub-orbital trips on commercial rockets, and ‘emerging space nations’ playing catch-up to the established spacefaring nations. 

But no exploration happens in a vacuum. Everything humans do is situated in culture and that culture has deep roots in the past. Taking archaeology into space helps us understand the long trajectory from our human ancestors developing the first stone tool technologies, to adapting technology to other planetary environments.

What excites us is the possibility of applying our results to new space habitat designs. Influencing the future so concretely isn’t something that most archaeologists get to do.”

- Alice Gorman
Recording Ngarrindjeri sites in the Coorong region of South Australia
Recording Ngarrindjeri sites in the Coorong region of South Australia Author: Lynley Wallis

Despite the success of space technology, there’s still so much we don’t know about how humans use material culture to sustain their identities, develop a unique space society, and adapt to challenging off-world environments. The International Space Station Archaeological Project set out to see what using archaeological techniques could show us about life in space. Dr Justin Walsh realized there was an untapped source of archaeological data: the thousands of photographs taken over the lifetime of the ISS. Studying these photos, we showed how space station crew used images and icons to reinforce their social affiliations and layer space station modules with spiritual significance; how they created temporary gravity by the strategic placement of Velcro and other restraints, and how space station ‘trash’ is defined by social practices. What excites us is the possibility of applying our results to new space habitat designs. Influencing the future so concretely isn’t something that most archaeologists get to do.

never stop exploring

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