In a standout study, space archaeologists reconstruct life on the International Space Station (ISS) over the past two decades, to better understand space culture and gain insight into how astronauts interact with their tools and colleagues when they are above the Earth.
The ability to understand the ‘microsociety’ of the crews aboard the ISS will provide a window into how life in space works, as humans contemplate interplanetary exploration. So how is this gravity-defying research made possible?
Internationally recognized space archaeologist, Associate Professor Alice Gorman at Flinders University, says ISS researchers will not be able to get to the space station on their own, choosing instead to use millions of photographs taken at board spanning nearly two decades, to document developments and changes within the lifestyle and cultural makeup of the resort.
“Fortunately for us, the first occupation of the ISS coincided with the emergence of digital photography,” says Associate Professor Gorman.
“The images include metadata recording the time and date, which becomes a dig, linking the contents of the images to points in time. Since the crew takes around 400 photographs a day, the images of the interior of the station now number in the millions. “
“We will eventually use crowdsourcing to help tag and catalog this huge cache of photos, with the project likely taking several years.”
However, researchers will also be able to embark with the help of astronauts carrying out archaeological surveys of the interior of the ISS, to document aspects of life that cannot be derived from image analysis alone.
“One potential investigation is surface sampling for the accumulation of dust, hair, skin cells, oil, dirt, food, broken equipment fragments and other materials,” explains Associate Professor Justin Walsh of Chapman University in California, co-investigator. about the project.
“An aerosol sampling experiment, which collects air and particles on the station, provides valuable baseline data.
“Other techniques include audio recording to identify ambient sound levels and documenting specific public spaces, such as catering areas and, if possible, private spaces such as crew berths. “
“Understanding how individuals and groups use material culture in space stations, from discrete objects to contextual relationships, promises to reveal the intersections of identity, nationality and community. “
Research methods will focus on:
- Image Analysis: Using machine learning to catalog associations between crew members, spaces within the station, and objects / tools.
- Anonymized interviews and questionnaires with flight crew and on the ground.
- The development of procedures allowing the ISS crew to carry out archaeological surveys on the site.
- Investigating ISS Freight Return Activity (“Disintegration”) and analyzing the values and meanings associated with returned items.
- The investigation and possible excavation of archaeological sites on Earth related to the development, deployment and disposal of technology and resources consumed by the crew.
Associate Professor Gorman says that an often overlooked but important part of ISS operations is the return of objects to Earth.
“The return of items from the ISS can be interpreted archaeologically as a form of disposal process. Preliminary analysis of our interview transcripts indicates the complexity of the process by which items enter inventory and are then dispersed.
“If objects associated with the ISS were thrown to Earth in soil matrices, traditional archaeological excavation techniques could be used to recover and analyze them.” Find out more
Header image credit: public domain