There’s a question Alice Gorman must get asked at every party she attends, and after reading her book I’m still not entirely sure of the answer: what exactly does a ‘space archaeologist’ do?
Let’s establish some boundaries. Gorman is not concerned with discovering if Stonehenge was a prehistoric observatory – that’s archaeoastronomy. Nor will you find her scouring antiques shops in search of old telescopes – leave that to Bargain Hunt. And while some define space archaeology as the use of satellite imagery to investigate ancient sites, the self-styled Dr Space Junk instead describes herself on Twitter as being interested in ‘orbital debris, terrestrial launch sites, antennas, planetary landing sites, and popular culture’. That’s about as good a summary as you’ll get.
There’s nothing left of Sputnik 1, which burned up three months after liftoff, but the USA’s Vanguard 1, launched in March 1958, is still in orbit – the oldest piece of human hardware in space. Naturally it holds a special place in Gorman’s heart, being ‘our first piece