Space Archaeology: Preserving our Cultural Heritage Beyond Earth’s Atmosphere

“Space Archaeology” may sound like the stuff of science fiction – an archaeologist’s attention is usually focused beneath the earth rather than towards the stars. But the preservation of our cultural heritage in outer space has actually become a very pertinent issue in recent years.  Human-made artefacts such as satellites, orbital debris, and launch complexes here on earth all document the story of our first ventures into space, and the increase of national interests in space and the development of commercial spacecraft (i.e. space tourism) present challenges in international preservation.  Pioneering archaeologists such as Dr. Beth O’Leary are leading the way in preserving these objects and structures for future generations.  Her work includes the evaluation of the significance and future protection of important material culture on Earth, the moon, and in orbit.  Join Dr. O’Leary and our host as they discuss the preservation efforts so far and how the protection of space artefacts falls into a legal gray area – what are some of the threats to their conservation?  Find out on tonight’s episode, in honour of the anniversary of the first manned spaceflight to the moon in 1969.

11/07/2011: NMSU anthropology professor Beth O'Leary (photo by Darren Phillips)Space Archaeology and Heritage expert Dr. Beth O’Leary has investigated the material culture and history of the early space age (c. 1957 – 1972) and its context in the Cold War. Her interests include iconic space sites and artefacts, focusing on the lunar landscape. As of July 2014, Dr. O’Leary is Professor Emerita in the Anthropology Department at New Mexico State University (NMSU) where she taught for 23 years. For the last 14 years she has been involved with the cultural heritage of outer space and the preservation of the Apollo lunar sites. She is one of the leaders in the emerging field of space archaeology and heritage and has been interviewed and/or written for The Washington Post, NY Times, Smithsonian Magazine, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, CBC, Le ciel et espace and other international media.  Her work includes The Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology and Heritage with A. Darrin, eds. 2009 (CRC Taylor and Francis); The Archaeology and Heritage of Human Space Exploration with P.J. Capelotti (2014 Springer, in press) and forthcoming in 2015, In the Shadows of Saturn V: Reflections of Apollo, with Lisa Westwood and M. Wayne Donaldson, University Press of Florida.


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