Space Exploration and Space Heritage

Although it may be conventional to think of archaeological sites as only occurring on Earth, there are now archaeological sites on the Moon, Mars, Venus and even as far out as Titan, the largest moon of Saturn and the only moon in the Solar System with a dense, cloudy atmosphere. People regularly create objects or artefacts and sites on Earth, and since the launch of Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union in 1957, people have been creating or placing archaeological debris in outer space. Astronomy studies all the phenomena of outer space, from planets and stars up to whole galaxies, the Universe and possibilities for ‘multiverses’ or multiple universes, and down to invisible dark matter, atoms, molecules and the gas clouds that make up nebulae and the places where stars are born. Archaeology studies all of the physical evidence for human behaviour and evolution. Archaeology and astronomy overlap in the combined study of space exploration and space heritage.

This is a new arena of applied research that I have helped to create. It focuses on the heritage aspects and significance of places and artefacts or equipment associated with space exploration on Earth and elsewhere in the Solar System and beyond (e.g. see Campbell 2004, 2006, 2009, In Prep; see Publication list in CV).

Unfortunately, there is no United Nations space heritage treaty to protect or rank the comparative significance of archaeological sites in outer space, say as we are able to do with World Heritage sites or places on Earth under the World Heritage Convention. The UN Outer Space Treaty 1967 is an artefact of the Cold War designed principally to stop the Americans (United States) and Russians (former Soviet Union) from taking each other’s equipment, and to avoid war in outer space. It makes no allowance for heritage significance or protection. The threat to sites in space is real as robotic missions have been seriously proposed to sample some of the sites on the Moon, such as Tranquillity Base, the 1969 landing site of Apollo 11. This may have certain sorts of space engineering merit in terms of examining what sorts of aging might have occurred in or on equipment and debris left behind, but it also needs an appropriate heritage perspective and assessment (see the ‘Lunar Legacy Project’ at ; see also Beth O’Leary’s online article in Antiquity at As the first place on another world where people have landed, walked and left boot prints and debris behind, Apollo 11’s site is as important as Laetoli in East Africa. Laetoli, Tanzania, has the Earth’s oldest known human footprints, dated to about 3.6 million years ago ( Raichlen et al. (2010) provide an analysis of the gait of these early hominins (fossil humans) at

In 2001 I began work on the archaeology of space exploration and space heritage, presenting a paper at the International Bioastronomy Symposium on Hamilton Island in July 2002, a meeting that was jointly organised by the Australian Centre for Astrobiology (Macquarie University), the SETI Institute (Mountain View, California; SETI stands for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and the NASA Astrobiology Institute (headquartered at the NASA Ames Research Facility in California, but also virtual through many universities and space institutes). In June 2003 I co-chaired with Beth O’Leary sessions on space heritage at the Fifth World Archaeological Congress (WAC5) in Washington DC, at which we both presented papers, as did Alice Gorman and a number of others. In July 2003 I participated in the 25th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in Sydney, including a workshop on establishing observatories near the Moon’s south pole, and I presented a poster paper on ‘Space Heritage and Conservation’. In November 2003 I was appointed co-chair (with Alice Gorman) of WAC’s Task Force on Space Heritage. Our appointments were reaffirmed at WAC6 in Dublin in July 2008 (WAC7 will take place in Jordan in 2013). In October 2005 I presented a poster paper on ‘Archaeology and Direct Imaging of Exoplanets’ at the IAU Colloquium on ‘Direct Imaging of Exoplanets: Science and Techniques’, which was held in Villefranche-sur-Mer near Nice in south-eastern France.

In 2009 Alice and I both had invited chapters published in the Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology and Heritage, which was co-edited by Ann Darrin and Beth O’Leary, and published by CRC Press (Taylor and Francis). Beth is also a member of our Task Force. In July 2011 I presented a poster paper on ‘Exoarchaeology and Evolution’ at ‘Origins 2011’, the 1st Joint International Conference of the International Society for the Study of the Origins of Life (ISSOL) and the IAU’s regular Symposium on Bioastronomy. I have become concerned not only with how we might protect and conserve some of the more significant sites and artefacts resulting from human space exploration, but also with how we might deal with sites and artefacts that might have been created by other intelligent species in our galaxy, the Milky Way. The Milky Way is some 100,000 light years across with approximately 400 billion stars, and judging from new research, probably billions of exoplanets (planets in orbit round stars other than the Sun). Its age is about three times that of the Solar System. It is normal in SETI research carried out by astronomers to assume that there has been more than sufficient time for other intelligent species to evolve and expand in our galaxy. However, their mode of travel and exploration at great distances is more likely robotic or electronic, just as ours is in much of the Solar System. Space travel is expensive in terms of resources and time. The nearest star system to us is Alpha Centauri (also known as Rigel Kentaurus), a binary system about 4.3 light years from us, that we can easily see with the naked eye in the southern hemisphere as the outer of the Pointers (pointing at Crux, or the Southern Cross). For the moment travel at or faster than the speed of light does not seem feasible, and travel at half the speed of light would be very expensive. To get to any exoplanets that might be in orbit round Alpha Centauri A or B would take some 10 years at least. However, there are ways in which we might be able to detect massive technological structures which other, more advanced intelligent species might have created round other stars, such as Dyson spheres or Dyson rings, designed to harness massive amounts of their star’s energy.

But to return to space exploration of the human kind, the various space exploration industries and national space agencies need to start planning now for assessment and management of the more significant space heritage sites and equipment or artefacts. As with many sorts of planning on Earth, planning for further space exploration and eventual colonisation of the Moon and Mars should include appropriate preparations for heritage management and protection. The same mistakes made in the past on Earth should not be made in space. This does not mean that everything needs to be protected (this would not be feasible anyway), but a representative selection of space heritage sites and artefacts should be preserved.

In October 2005, I met with the Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs in Vienna to discuss development of appropriate protocols and eventual establishment of a UN Space Heritage Treaty or the equivalent. The initial formal proposal will need to come from a member nation. In July 2007 at the Australia ICOMOS conference on ‘Extreme Heritage’, Alice Gorman and I succeeded in enlisting the support of Australia ICOMOS (the national body of the International Council on Monuments and Sites) for taking forward to the full international body the case for space heritage. ICOMOS are the organisation that normally nominates World Heritage listings on behalf of member nations. Beth O’Leary was a keynote speaker at that conference. Alice, Beth and I continue to liaise with various agencies and associations, and in 2013 we will present a new report on progress at WAC7 in Jordan. In 2011 I became co-ordinator of Australia ICOMOS’s Working Party on the Heritage of Space Exploration. Although Australia is a comparatively small nation in terms of population and the interrupted history of Australian spacefaring activities, we did successfully launched our own satellite in 1967, WRESAT 1, which made Australia the fourth country to launch its own satellite from its own territory, after the Soviet Union, the United States and France. As a nation with comparatively strong representation in astronomy and archaeology, I hope that we will be able to make a satisfactory and successful proposal to the UN.

John Campbell Arachnologist
Caption: Soviet 40 kopeks stamp, showing Sputnik satellite's orbit.LINK