2016 October 21 / 17:00 - 2016 October 21 / 18:30
Round Table
Alice Gorman

Alice Gorman
Haunted Houses at Hypervelocity: Orbital Futures
FRI, 21.10.16 | 5pm

Space hardware of every era presents visions of a future based on degrees of gravity. In the early twentieth century, rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky imagined that life in microgravity would create an idyllic, egalitarian society where people would bask in orbiting greenhouses, drinking in the limitless energy of the sun. Instead, today the wreckage of rockets and satellites orbits Earth, splintering into ever-smaller fragments that mirror the plastic granules proliferating in the oceans.
Among this debris—and farther afield in the solar system—are abandoned spacecraft that encapsulate the hopes and fears of those who remain in the bottom of the gravity well. Unlike archaeological artifacts on Earth that have to be raised into the light by excavation, they are ever-present, circulating among the live satellites. This is a stark manifestation of “the past haunting the present.” More interestingly, there are only two that have ever contained human life—the empty Tiangong-1 and the International Space Station, which is currently occupied but beset with uncertainty. Our place in the space beyond Earth is precarious, yet precious to many. What emerging technologies might provide new visions to propel us into a future space—and a future archaeology?


Dr. Alice Gorman is a pioneer in the emerging field of space archaeology. She is a senior lecturer in the Department of Archaeology at Flinders University (Adelaide, AUS), where she teaches the archaeology of modern society. She is a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the Space Industry Association of Australia. Since 2011, she has contributed to the International Space University’s Southern Hemisphere Program. Gorman tweets as @drspacejunk and blogs at Space Age Archaeology. Gorman is interested in how humans adapt to different environments and use material culture to make sense of new worlds. Her recent research has investigated orbital debris as part of the Anthropocene, performative aspects of lunar landing sites, and the entanglement of nature and culture at the subatomic level. She has also explored Indigenous intersections with space exploration at launch sites in Australia and French Guiana to critique the colonialist attitudes commonly replicated in contemporary space narratives.


Image: Drawing from Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s Album of Space Travel“, 1933
Russian Academy of Sciences (Public Domain)