The Mechanisms and Challenges of Marine Archaeology

Marine archaeology, unlike traditional archaeology, was not considered a scientific discipline until the 1960s. It is most often concerned with shipwrecks but can be applied to any study or excavation of artifacts on or below the ocean floor. This area of research comes with its own unique set of challenges, as many of the standard archaeological methods simply cannot be applied. It is far more labor intensive and expensive, with common obstacles including poor weather conditions and tidal complications (Blakemore, 2019). Despite these roadblocks, marine archaeology provides insight to huge swaths of history lost to the ocean’s depths.

Side Scan Sonar, USGS

Many different methods and strategies are used for underwater excavation. For initial surveillance of the ocean floor’s topography, side scan sonar has long been the preferred operation. Unlike standard sonar, which scans in a conical shape, side scan sonar scans in two directions at once, both vertically and laterally. This allows for a far sharper resolution of depth imaging (Egenrieder, 2014). For coastline detection and mapping, satellite imaging is also employed (Blakemore, 2019). Many of the same tools that are used by archaeologists on land can be used underwater, such as hand trowels, but others are very different (Adovasio, Hemmings, 2012). While archaeologists on land scoop dirt onto a screen to sift through it, underwater archaeology requires a massive vacuum cleaner-like machine to suck sediment off of the seafloor at a rate of 600 gallons per minute and then press it through a floating screen deck to sift through the debris (Adovasio, Hemmings, 2012). Many organic materials, such as wood, bone fragments, and plant fibers are better preserved underwater than on land, but the process of extracting these fragile materials from the seafloor requires significant caution (Adovasio, Hemmings, 2012). They must be carefully removed, brought to the surface, stabilized, and often refrigerated to prevent decomposition caused by exposure to the light and air that they likely haven’t seen since they sunk to these depths (Adovasio, Hemmings, 2012).

Sediment vacuum in use on an underwater archeological site, Global Foundation For Ocean Exploration

Underwater archaeologists must undergo additional training on top of their credentials as archaeologists. Diving training is essential, as well as many hours of practice for the specific conditions of an underwater archaeological site (Kenyon, 2020).  It is easy to accidentally damage the site when you are met with environmental challenges like quick moving currents, wildlife, and unexpected weather patterns (Kenyon, 2020). Risks like these can make this profession a dangerous one, so abundant caution and years of practice are the key to successful research outcomes. Still, this research remains invaluable. Over two thirds of the earth’s surface is covered with water, oceans and rivers that humans have been crossing and tossing items of precious historical significance into for as long as we’ve been here. The trouble lies in accessing them.


“Maritime Archaeology”. Archaeology: National Marine Sanctuaries Maritime Heritage Program.  NOAA.

 Blakemore, Erin. August 2, 2019. “How Underwater Archaeology Reveals Hidden Wonders”. National Geographic. National Geographic.

Egenrieder, Tim. June 19, 2014. “A Beginner’s Guide To Side Scan Sonar”. On The Water. On The Water.

Kenyon, Kimberly. April 29, 2020. “What Is Underwater Archaeology?”. Submerged NC. North Carolina Office of State Archaeology. 

 Adovasio, J.M.. Hemmings, C. Andrew. 2012. “Underwater Archaeological Excavation Techniques”. Exploring The Submerged New World 2012. Ocean Exploration NOAA.

Links To Further Reading:


Unveiling the Threat of Space Debris and the Kessler Syndrome

In this recent week of class, we covered the Kessler Syndrome. The concept arose in our course reading — Dr Space Junk Vs The Universe by Alice Gorman — and briefly appeared in our lecture notes. The Kessler Syndrome describes an extreme theoretical scenario where space debris collisions reach the point of self-replication, which jeopardizes or cuts off space activities (Whitt 2022). Learning about this theory prompted an investigation into the current issue of space debris and mitigation efforts. 

The present pace of the Space industry’s expansion is unsustainable and dangerous. There have grown to be 170 million pieces of space debris in orbit (Khlystov 2023). These “pieces” consist of small and large sections of dead satellites, flecks of paint, bolts, spent rocket bodies, and more (Khlystov 2023). The vast majority of space debris is small and untrackable due to technological limits in the U.S. Space Surveillance Network (Khlystov 2023). Space debris in LEO (Low Earth Orbit) travels roughly 17,000 mph, making any collision with space technology extremely detrimental (Khlystov 2023). These collisions produce more fragments, which exponentially worsens debris congestion. The Kessler Syndrome is a growing possibility. 

Space debris mitigation is categorized into short-term and long-term strategies. Short-term techniques address immediate risks, while long-term techniques reduce the total amount of mass and kinetic energy in orbit (Press 2023). Long-term strategies are therefore the most effective for preventing Kessler Syndrome. Some long-term strategies include deorbiting or lifetime reduction, using disposal orbits, and active in-orbit debris removals (Press 2023). 

Deorbiting involves retrograde propulsion, while lifetime reduction involves drag augmentation devices (Press 2023). Retrograde propulsion entails small rocket thrusters that direct spacecraft out of debris (Figure 1) (Press 2023). The spacecraft may be guided to a predetermined location on Earth or an orbit of a shorter lifetime (Press 2023). The latter is followed by an uncontrolled reentry and burn-up (Press 2023). Drag augmentation involves using devices, like inflatable balloons, to increase the surface area and thus drag of a spacecraft (Press 2023). Increasing drag accelerates orbital decay, which reduces orbital altitude (The Physics Teacher). The object may then reenter the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up.

Figure 1. A depiction of the mechanism behind rocket maneuvering thrusters. Photograph by F. Barbir.

Disposal orbits are regions that do not contain direct collisional hazards for spacecraft (Press 2023). Spacecraft often reorbit into disposal orbits at the end of their functional lifetime (Press 2023). Reorbitting uses two propulsive burns — similar to retrograde propulsion — to steer the spacecraft into a disposal orbit (Press 2023). 

Various schemes of active in-orbit removal technology have been devised. However, these propositions are too costly for practical implementation (Press 2023). One proposal was a “debris sweeper” with foam balls or braking foils that sift through debris to deorbit them (Press 2023). Another proposal was “space-based laser evaporation” (Figure 2) of debris material (Press 2023). Further discussion among space experts could produce more cost-efficient and feasible strategies. 

Figure 2. A schematic depiction of a space-based laser in function. Photograph by Alexander Rubenchik, Michail Fedoruk, and Sergei Turistyn.

While long-term mitigation techniques have been developed, their impact on the high concentration of space debris seems limited. Deorbiting, lifetime reduction, and using disposal orbits protect spacecraft by relocating them away from hazardous debris conditions and preventing additional debris generation. However, only in-orbit removal technology directly decreases the amount of existing debris. This technology is not currently viable. Consequently, space debris and the Kessler Syndrome are enduring threats. 

Additional Content:

Garcia, Marisa.  December 2, 2023.  “Airbus Detumbler for Satellite End of Life Addresses

Space Junk Crisis.” Forbes.  

Young, Chris.  November 24, 2023.  “11 Organizations Tackling the Space Debris Problem.”

Interesting Engineering.  

Reference List:

Barbir, F.  December 3, 2023  “Spacecraft Propulsion.” ScienceDirect Topics.

Fiolhais, Miguel. Gonzalez-Urbina, Luis. Milewski, Tomasz. Chapparo, Carlos. Ferroglia,

Andrea.  December 3, 2023.  “Orbital Decay in the Classroom.” Pubs.Aip.Org.

Khlystov, Nikolai.  December 3, 2023.  “We Have a Space Debris Problem. Here’s How to

Solve It.” World Economic Forum.  

Press, National Academy.  December 3, 2023.  “7 Techniques to Reduce the Future Debris

Hazard.” The National Academies Press.

Rubenchik, Alexander. Fedoruk, Michail. Turistyn, Sergei.  April 11, 2014  “The Effect of

Self-Focusing on Laser Space-Debris Cleaning.” Nature News.  

Whitt, Kelly.  September 20, 2022.  “Kessler Syndrome of Colliding Satellites Could Make

Low-Earth Orbit Unusable.” EarthSky.

Despicable Me and Archaeology: An Unexpected Connection 

Nearly everyone knows the story of Despicable Me and how the villain, Gru, tries to steal the moon. While this is a harmless part of a movie plot, the idea of taking and owning the moon is far from purely fictional. Even though the United States was the first nation to land on the moon, no country as of now owns the moon. In fact, “space activities are for the benefit of all nations, and any country is free to explore orbit and beyond [and] there is no claim for sovereignty in space; no nation can ‘own’ space, the Moon or any other body” (International Space Foundation). 

Meeting where the treaty declaring that the moon is nobody’s property was signed / The Wall Street Journal

The issue of owning the moon is not stagnant, however. In fact, some speculate that the conflict over owning the moon may even be so intense that it could set the moon up “to become the new Wild West… [as the question about who owns the moon] is no longer a rhetorical question but rather one that goes to the heart of a governance deficit that is likely to spur interstellar confrontation” (Manning, 2023). If any one country were to end up owning the moon, it could change the face of space archaeology as people would be able to take control of the moon and its resources. This could have the potential to go a couple ways: one, be positive and potentially increase growth in science and archaeology; or two, be negative by limiting essentially everything about the moon to one country, which would restrict who was able to make advances in science and archaeology. 

A picture taken of a view from space, made possible by improved technology / Literary Hub

But how does owning the moon even relate to archaeology? Well, as “the new space race fires up, scientists have proposed an entirely new field – planetary geoarchaeology – to study the imprints and objects humans leave behind” (Nicitopoulos, 2023). While some may argue that archaeology can’t be relevant in space because space junk and human contact with the moon isn’t old enough and because there is no digging happening on the moon. However, archaeology doesn’t necessarily have to involve those aspects, as archaeology is when humans “study the human past through the physical remains of past human activities” (University of Nevada Reno). This means that space debris and other spacecraft that have returned from the cosmos can be studied in archaeological ways. 

Understanding the moon and space in an archaeological way allows people to better understand what archaeology actually constitutes, and breaks the idea that archaeology has to look like it does in movies with pits and digs. 


Gershman, Jacob. “The Moon is a Huge Potential Resource. But Who Owns It?” The

Wall Street Journal. July 14, 2019.


“International Space Law.” International Space Foundation.

Manning, Robert A. “Who Owns the Moon?” Foreign Policy. May 2, 2023. https://foreign


Nicitopoulos, Theo. “Are We Entering a New Era of Space Archaeology?” Discover.

September 28, 2023.


Parcak, Sarah. “How Space Technology is Revolutionizing Archaeology.” Literary Hub.

July 16, 2019.


“What is Archaeology?” University of Nevada Reno.  about/archaeology

Further Reading:,accorded%20 equal%20rights%20and%20 access.

Pictures From Space Seeing What the Naked Eye Can’t

On December 25, 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope was launched into space. The telescope’s main focus was to study “every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth” (McQuilkin, Chakrabarti, Skoog 2023). The telescope is a huge feat for space exploration and understanding what is beyond our solar system. JWST has brought back information on the birthplace and death of stars, the emergence of galaxies, and even an understanding of the Big Bang. What if we could apply something similar to archaeology?

Figure 1 an image of the JWST Satellite before launch

Advanced satellites have similar impacts on archaeology as well, in that they help advance the field’s knowledge of the past. Egyptologist, Dr. Sarah Parcak, utilizes satellite imaging in her daily work life. The infrared technology was able to pick up signatures of different densities of minerals and material in archaeology sites. In Egypt alone, the satellite found “17 new ‘possible’ pyramids, 1,000 new tombs, and 3,000 new sites in total”(Space Satellite Archaeology). This technology is a huge step forward for archaeology. Using this method, archaeologists can now identify sites that wouldn’t have been previously known to the naked eye. Dr. Parcak herself was able to identify hundreds of archaeological digs in Egypt.

Figure 2. a zoomed in example of Dr. Parcak’s infrared picturing finding ruins

The ancient city of Ubar in a section of the country of Oman called Rub’al Khali, was discovered mainly by using satellite imaging. The archaeologists on site found information about the climate of the city, and an eight-sided structure was revealed, even the cause of the city’s fall. Researchers determined that the city quite literally fell to its abandonment. The city’s center was unknowingly built on a limestone cavern, and when the weight of it all became too much, everything fell into a massive sinkhole.

Continuing to use the satellite images, researchers were able to decipher trade routes that “were packed down into hard surfaces by the passage of hundreds of thousands of camels”(Maugh II 1992). The team of researchers deduced that the city of Ubar was a city of tent dwellers excluding the center keep was a stone fortress. Thought to be the living quarters of the monarch, the fortress “was ringed by eight walls, each about two feet thick, 10 to 12 feet high and about 60 feet long”(Maugh II 1992).

Works Cited:

McQuilkin, Hilary, Meghna Chakrabarti, and Tim Skoog. “A Year of Discovery from the James Webb Space Telescope.” On Point, July 19, 2023.

Research Outreach. “Archaeology from Space: Using Earth Observation Data to Unearth Our Past.” Research Outreach, November 8, 2023.,sites%20remain%20as%2Dyet%20undiscovered.

“Satellite Imagery in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Preservation.” Utilities One. Accessed December 3, 2023.

“Space Satellite Archaeology.” Space Satellite Archaeology – NASA satellite imaging – infrared. Accessed December 3, 2023.

“Ubar, Fabled Lost City, Found by L.A. Team : Archeology: NASA Aided in Finding the Ancient Arab Town, Once the Center of Frankincense Trade.” Los Angeles Times, February 5, 1992.

Images Used:

Further Readings:

Space Exploration Leads to the Preservation of Cultural Heritage

In the last couple of classes, the discussions included debate surrounding the advancement of space exploration and its importance to archeology. Some of my peers were under the impression that space exploration does not correlate with our current archeological practices. However, as our understanding and examination of outer space progresses we can interpret the history of Earth with increased accuracy. A couple of the technologies that are used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration are satellites and robotics. The main satellite used by NASA is the International Space Station. Part of the function of these instruments is to take photographs from space to provide an alternative perspective to supplement our current knowledge. For example, the ​​satellites that are used by NASA use “radio waves to send signals”(What is a satellite? 2023) back to antennas on Earth. The information that is sent in these radio waves consists of “scientific data”(What is a satellite? 2023) such as the photographs taken by the satellite. This information is an important supplement to Archeologists since it provides a new angle to archeological sites not visible from the ground. In particular, this data facilitates the protection and conservation of cultural heritage sites. For instance, as the number of ​​satellites in orbit increases, the frequency at which archeologists receive data will also increase.

Figure 1. This image shows an example of a NASA satellite orbiting around the Earth. (NASA to Showcase Earth Science Data at COP28 2023)

As a result, institutions like UNESCO can “identify potential threats to sites”(Rössler 2021) and alert proper authorities to resolve possible problems. Additionally, these images can predict the trajectory of environmental events and archeologists can take action if there are signs of harm. This is beneficial to the field of archeology because previously unpredictable tragedies that would destroy ancient sites and artifacts can now be preserved thanks to the implementation of space exploration. Furthermore, the continuing use of outer space will allow archaeologists to observe the extent to which external factors have on archaeological sites. The United Nations has used satellite imagery to examine differences from “a “before and after” scenario.” (Satellite Imagery Helping, n.d.) This could be extremely useful for the future of archaeology since it is unpredictable when catastrophic events may occur. If tragic sudden events happen, archeologists will be able to know the extent to which archeological sites were damaged. This advanced assessment will provide archaeologists with ample knowledge so that they can support restoration efforts after unfortunate and unexpected events occur. By archeologists having access to this information it will make their responses to these events quicker since they have a new perspective on what they already know.

Figure 2. This image shows the advancement over time of a city from an arial perspective photo taken by a satellite. (Ramirez 2017)


“NASA to Showcase Earth Science Data at COP28 – Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet.” NASA, November 29, 2023.

Ramirez, Fernando. “Google Timelapse Shows How Texas Cities Changed over 30 Years.” CHRON, December 8, 2017.

Rössler, UNESCO World Heritage. “N°98 – Monitoring World Heritage from Space.” UNESCO World Heritage Centre – World Heritage, April 2021.

“Satellite Imagery Helping to Monitor Cultural Heritage Sites under Threat.” UNITAR. Accessed December 3, 2023.

“What Is a Satellite?” NASA, July 25, 2023.

Further Readings:

Space, the Ocean, and Our Trash

Imagine the following scenario. You are taking a walk down the street and see an empty beer can on the side of the road. Your first thought is likely that it’s a piece of trash and should be disposed of. Maybe you even take the time to put it in a trash bin. Now imagine the same scenario, but the beer bottle has a label indicating it’s from the Revolutionary War era. Now the bottle probably has significantly more value as a historical artifact. The question is, when do we consider something trash, and when do we consider something as having enough archaeological significance to preserve its existence? 

A perfect example of this is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (See Figure 1), discovered in 1997 by Charles Moore, who used drones to find the massive expanse of plastics and other non-biodegradables (National Geographic 2022). As Alice Gorman says in her book, Dr. Space Junk vs. The Universe, “what is junk to most is what archaeologists find most valuable” (Gorman 2019, 118).  This is not only applicable to the context of extraterrestrial debris, but also to debris on earth. Even though it was only discovered in 1997, the patch had to have existed for years before then for Moore to have discovered it at the size that it was. While many marine biologists have pointed to the fact that the enormous garbage dump, growing by “an estimated 2.41 million tons of bottles, bags, and other polymer materials” (Deer 2021) each year, has caused serious damages to the surrounding oceanic wildlife, (see Figure 2), some of the trash discarded could provide valuable insights into life in the past. 

Also in her book, Gorman suggests the creation of a heritage list to determine which space debris should remain in orbit and which should be removed (Gorman 2019), something that could also be useful for future cleanup efforts in the garbage patch. Similar to how the Voyager Golden Records might someday provide insight into humanity for alien life, the presence of a mass garbage dump without the threat of being buried under layers of dirt and soil could provide future humans invaluable information regarding how we lived years before. Indiscriminate removal of all trash in the patch could potentially destroy years worth of artifacts. Currently, a number of different organizations are working to limit the spread of the garbage patch (National Geographic 2022) just as many spacefaring organizations are working to remove space junk from orbit. Alice Gorman has already established the importance of archaeology in extraterrestrial contexts, and by the same principles, archaeology should play an equal role in the cleanup of trash in a place that could hold objects of great cultural significance to certain groups and individuals. 

Just as leaving culturally significant objects in space increases the chance of collisions, leaving trash in the ocean causes undeniable environmental issues. However, it is the role of the archaeologist to determine what from humanity’s past should be removed, and what should remain as a reminder of our past. 

Figure 1:

The different garbage patches that make up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (National Geographic, 2022, Map courtesy of NOAA)

Figure 2:

Seal ensnared in a discarded net as a result of the damages of garbage in the ocean (USA Today, 2018, NOAA)

Other Readings

Information on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch:

Information on Garbology:


Gorman, Alice. Apr. 2019. Dr Space Junk vs the Universe : Archaeology and the Future. Sydney NSW, NewSouth Publishing.

National Geographic. 2022. “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” National Geographic. June 2, 2022.

Deer, Ryan. 2021. “The History and Future of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” Roadrunner Recycling INC. June 3, 2021.

NOAA. 2022. Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Article Image. National Geographic.

NOAA. 2018. Hawaiian Monk Seal Entangled in Discarded Fishing Nets. Article Image. USA Today.

Star Wars: The Question of Extraterrestrial Mining

Recent technological advancements have made private companies reassess their lack of expansion from the Earth to the stars. Many of these groups started with the objective of making scientific discoveries, but now they have a new motivation: to make a profit. The primary mission is to get to the Moon, or nearby asteroids, to harvest various materials. According to Faulconbridge (2023), the Moon is the most accessible object to us, at 384,400 kilometers away, and has large supplies of water ice, helium-3, and rare earth metals (REM) like “scandium, yttrium, and…lanthanides.” He describes this new thought process as the “lunar gold rush,” as tech groups put more emphasis on getting to the moon and other nearby celestial bodies. Asteroids are a valuable target as well because they may also contain various REMs, which are used in the production of computers and other important technologies (Yarlagadda 2022). 

Illustration of an excavator sitting on top of the moon in space
(fig. 1) Illustration of an oil rig on the moon (Image credit: Hart 2023)

David (2023b) notes how recently, private companies have made ventures into the development of space mining, trying to beat the government’s “competition” in the field. At the Space Resources Roundtable, 250 entrepreneurial groups showed up to pitch different “lunar economic models.” These models combined lab testing, economic policy, and legal arguments to form plans to capitalize on extraterrestrial resources. One such company, Intuitive Machines, plans to have an expansive catalog of probes, from drones that survey the land to rovers that mine deposits (David 2023a). Private companies could experience faster growth in this industry because they aren’t burdened by  concerns with diplomacy and bureaucratic red tape, like the government.

(fig. 2) Ben Bussey, chief scientist at Intuitive Machines. (Image credit: David 2023b)

Despite the opportunity for rapid growth in the industry, the overall cost of extraterrestrial mining projects could outweigh many of the benefits. The economic factor for many wealthy countries is how expensive it would be to get to the moon, maintain permanent sites, and get resources back, all to ultimately make a profit. Hart (2023) explains that building and launching a rocket can cost up to 26 billion USD. It’s a big risk to invest in lunar missions, further, there is little information on the returns from these investments. While making a profit is challenging, the industry could also ultimately harm countries like Zimbabwe, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as they export some of these same minerals for a great part of their GDP (Yarlagadda 2022).

In expanding industry to the Moon and other celestial bodies, it is important to remember the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and the Moon Agreement of 1979, which say that outer space cannot be appropriated by one country and space belongs to all of humanity. The way that the operation of mines would be decided and regulated implies breaking these agreements, and new policies would have to be put in place to create regulations. The argument can be made that we have not been good stewards of our own planet and industry’s expansion to another celestial body could result in the same substantial issues.


David, Leonard. 2023a. “Space Mining Startups See a Rich Future on Asteroids and the Moon.” Space. January 7, 2023.  

David, Leonard. 2023b. “Moon Mining Gains Momentum as Private Companies Plan for a Lunar Economy.” Space. July 30, 2023.  

Faulconbridge, Guy. 2023. “Explainer: Moon Mining – Why Major Powers Are Eyeing a Lunar Gold Rush?” Reuters. Thomson Reuters. August 11, 2023.  

Hart, Amalyah. 2023. “Mining the Moon: Do We Have the Right?” Cosmos. February 9, 2023.  

Yarlagadda, Shriya. 2022. “Economics of the Stars: The Future of Asteroid Mining and the Global Economy.” Harvard International Review. April 8, 2022.   

Image References

(Fig. 1): Hart, Amalyah. 2023. “Mining the Moon: Do We Have the Right?” Cosmos. February 9, 2023.  

(Fig. 2): David, Leonard. 2023b. “Moon Mining Gains Momentum as Private Companies Plan for a Lunar Economy.” Space. July 30, 2023.  

Further Reading

Wreckage of the Challenger: A recent example of Space Archaeology

The cosmos have always fascinated humanity. In the contemporary era, space is the subject of much research and speculation, to the point where various autonomous and crewed craft have been sent to drift among the stars. But not every Space Mission is successful. The path to the stars is much like the path up Mount Everest; guided by the bodies of those who failed in prior attempts. 

For the people of  America, the most significant of Space-Related disasters is the Challenger Disaster; on January 28, 1986, the spacecraft Challenger launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, only to explode in the air, leading to the destruction of the craft and the death of the seven astronauts on board, including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe. Salvage operations afterwards were able to recover some of but not all of the wreckage from the disaster; the force of the explosion as well as the various paths taken by the detached rockets led to the debris being scattered across a broad area of Ocean (Britannica 2023). A portion of the craft was rediscovered just over a year ago  off of Florida’s Space Coast in November of 2022. The re-discovery of debris from the Challenger is hailed as significant not merely because it recovers a piece of the craft, but because it has been labeled as a stellar example of Space Archaeology. 

“Space Archaeology” is a term coined by Australian archaeologist Alice Gorman that refers to the study of man-made structures (artifacts) made for space exploration or travel, such as satellites and ships, but also including the tools, machines, and debris left behind by space missions both on and beyond earth, such as landing craters on the moon or discarded command modules in the ocean (Gorman 2019) The wreckage of the Challenger fits that description to a T. 

The wreckage in question was found by some divers working for the History Channel in search of Second-World-War-Era Aircraft wreckage, who found some human-made debris poking out of the sand bearing the characteristic tile patterns of Space Craft Heat Shielding. The discovery was documented with videos and pictures that were sent to NASA, who verified the discovery as a missing piece of the Challenger (Independent UK 2022). So a group of divers preforming Archaeology, in the sense of the search for man-made artifacts to contextualize history, found a man-made artifact. The artifact in question happened to pertain to space exploration, so this most certainly could be considered “Space Archaeology.”

This is another addition to a long line of archaeological discoveries made more or less by accident, such as the discovery of the Lascaux caves full of Neolithic art by French teenagers in the 1940s, with the only difference being that the discovery is of a far more recently made structure. The re-discovery of the Challenger wreckage is significant because it shows of Space Archaeology is not simply a theoretical concept, nor is it merely concerned with artifacts beyond earth; it can be as close to home as the Florida coast, and as accessible to the public as cameras and scuba equipment. 

Fig. 1. The Crew of the Challenger. McAuliffe stands furthest to the left. Jan. 9, 1986. Photo from NASA Communications.
Fig. 2. Divers find wreckage from the Challenger off of Florida’s Space Coast. Image from the History Channel, uploaded to the History Channel official Twitter/X acct. (2022)

NASA Communications. 11/10/2022. “NASA views images, confirms discovery of Challenger artifact.”
Cook, Kevin. 2021. “The Burning Blue: The Untold Story of Christa McAuliffe and NASA’s Challenger Disaster.” New York City, Henry Holt and Co.

Works Cited
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. 10/16/2023. “Challenger Disaster.”
Kelvey, Jon. 11/10/2022. “History Channel Divers find piece of exploded space shuttle Challenger, says NASA.”
Gorman, Alice. 2019. “Dr. Space Junk vs. The Universe: Archaeology and the Future.” Cambridge, the MIT Press.

A Closer Look at the Archaeological Importance of the Vanguard 1

The Vanguard 1 satellite, launched by the United States in 1958, holds unique archaeological significance as the oldest human-made satellite still orbiting Earth. Though it was only the fourth artificial satellite successfully placed in orbit, Vanguard 1 set several space-age records, some of which stand over 60 years later (Dunbar, 2018). With no way to propel or navigate itself, Vanguard 1 serves as a virtual time capsule, recording six decades of human technological progress.

1.1 An image of the vanguard 1, which lost communication with NASA in 1964

In the context of the Space Race between the United States and Soviet Union, Vanguard 1 epitomized both national prestige and scientific experimentation. Weighing just 1.47 kg, the rudimentary satellite used two radio transmitters to study the shape of Earth and test the effects of space weather and orbital environment on satellite components (NASA, n.d.). After more than 240 million miles traveled, Vanguard 1 remains in excellent condition and likely will survive for at least another two centuries in orbit (Amos, 2018).

While vastly more sophisticated satellites launched in subsequent decades have since gone defunct, Vanguard 1 continues transmitting a faint signal that tells archaeologists about early space-faring methods and priorities. According to Alice Gorman (2013), space archaeologist at Flinders University in Australia, relic satellites like Vanguard 1 are primary sources for studying the technology and politics of the past. The ability of basic satellites to endure in orbit for far longer than intended offers insight into original engineering constraints and the unexpected durability of the earliest space hardware.

Much as ancient ruins on Earth offer a glimpse into old civilizations, Vanguard 1 and a handful other early satellites serve as time capsules from the dawn of the Space Age. Their longevity in the harsh environment of space is a testament to pioneering space science as well as a baseline record of sixty years of anthropogenic change. If orbital satellites are a defining feature of modern civilization, then Vanguard 1 represents the beginnings of that capability – the foundations of an archaeological record of humanity’s expansion into outer space.

Another relic of the Space Race is the Titan Missile Museum in Arizona which is a deactivated launch site built in 1963

Suggested readings

Joseph Howard


Amos, J. (2018). Early satellites reveal artefacts of Cold War. BBC News. Retrieved from

Dunbar, B. (2018). 60 Years: The First Satellite, the Race to Space. NASA. Retrieved from

Gorman, A. (2013). The Archaeology of Orbital Space. In P. J. Capelotti (Ed.), Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. Syracuse University Press.

Importance of Space Exploration on Children and their Toys

Space is seen as a vast, uncharted territory similar to how exploration of new lands by different nations across the world was seen in the past. Naturally, humans are enchanted by the unknown and will always harbor a feeling of curiosity. Our world is now too small for power-hungry, curious humans, so space is a new possible expansion to our territory, however, there are bound to be conflicts that arise.

The accessibility of space exploration is extremely limited due to both financial reasons and the safety liabilities. However, a large number of US citizens are heavily invested in America’s space-related feats despite the most major ones occurring approximately half a century ago. The pride in our nation and sheer impressiveness of space exploration has impacted careers according to a 2009 study that, “found that the Apollo program had inspired half of scientists surveyed” (Chatzky, Siripurapu, and Markovich 2021). People typically choose a career based on future salary or workload, so space is extremely important if many people are choosing their life career on a space-related historic mission. Additionally, the pride of America being on the forefront of space exploration is because of the American focus in today’s educational system. American schools’ display of these events sparks an interest in space in many children.

Figure 1. A variety of space toys collected over multiple years. Photograph by Phillips Toy Mart.

Referring back to the limited accessibility of space, despite people not being able to physically go into space, they demonstrate interest in space based on the items they buy. It is not uncommon to walk into a toy store and see toys depicting astronauts or spaceships. These toys are often beneficial to children because it creates an interest in science and technology which can later impact their career just like the Apollo mission. Learning about science at a young age can give children good communication skills, organizational skills, and allows them to form conclusions based on observational skills. All of these skills can be applied in life in analytical and problem solving situations. One can even walk into a grocery store and find “astronaut ice cream” which has not actually been used in space because it is too crumbly and chalky despite it being, “developed under contract to NASA for the 1968 Apollo 7 mission” (Jemison 2018). Companies are aware of the novelty and popularity of these galactically-labeled commodities and can now capitalize on it. This circles back to the idea that space is heavily related to capitalism. 

Figure 2. Astronaut ice cream on a store rack. Photograph by Smithsonian.

Additional Reading

Why STEM toys are important –,and%20adapt%20to%20new%20situations.

Vast array of space toys –


Chatzky, Andrew, Anshu Siripurapu, and Steven J. Markovich. 2021. “Space Exploration and U.S. Competitiveness.” Council on Foreign Relations, September 23, 2021.

Jemison, Micaela. 2018. “Space Is the Best Place to Eat Ice Cream.” Smithsonian Sparks, July 3, 2018.