Tag Archives: missions

We need to protect the heritage of the Apollo missions



Parts of the Apollo missions remain on the Moon, here you can see one of the legs of the base of the lunar landing module.
NASA

Alice Gorman, Flinders University

It’s 50 years since the two Apollo 11 astronauts – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin – spent 22 hours collecting samples, deploying experiments and sometimes just playing in the Sea of Tranquillity on the Moon.

In doing so, they created an archaeological site unique in human history.

Now, with what’s been called the New Space Race and plans to return to the Moon, the Apollo 11 and other lunar sites are under threat. We need to protect this heritage for future generations.




Read more:
How big is the Moon? Let me compare …


Apollo 11’s archaeological site

The archaeological site of Tranquillity Base consists of the hardware left behind, as well as the marks made in the lunar surface by the astronauts and instruments.

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin with the seismic experiment and other equipment left on the Moon.
NASA

The hardware component includes the landing module, the famous flag (no longer standing), experiment packages, cameras, antennas, commemorative objects, space boots and many other discarded objects – more than 106 in total.

Around these objects are the first human footprints on the Moon as well as the tracks the astronauts made walking around, and the places where they dug out samples of rock and dust to take back to Earth for scientific analysis.

The artefacts, traces and the landscape constitute an archaeological site. The relationships between them can be used by archaeologists to study human behaviour in this environment so different to Earth, with one-sixth terrestrial gravity and no atmosphere.

Assessing the heritage value

Not only this, but the site has heritage value for people on Earth. To assess this, we can look at a number of categories of cultural significance. Those in the Burra Charter are widely used across the world for heritage assessment.

Historic: There is no doubt that, as the first place where humans set foot on another celestial body, this is a very important place in global history. It also represents the ideologies of the Cold War (1947-1992) between the US and the USSR.

Buzz Aldrin leaves a footprint on the first Moon landing.
NASA

Scientific: What can we learn from the site? More particularly, what questions would we no longer be able to answer if Tranquillity Base was damaged or destroyed?

This is not just about archaeological research into human behaviour on the Moon. Apollo 11 has been exposed to the harsh lunar environment for 50 years. The surfaces of the hardware are accidental experiments in themseves: they carry the record of 50 years of micrometeorite and cosmic ray bombardment. Finding out how well the materials have survived can also provide information about how to design future missions.

Aesthetic: This type of cultural significance is about how we experience a place. While we can’t assess it in person, there are films and photographs that give us a feeling for the place. This includes the light, shadows and colours of the lunar surface from the perspective of the human senses. The aesthetic qualities have inspired many artists and musicians, including astronaut Alan Bean who devoted his post-Apollo 12 life to painting the Moon.

Astronaut Alan Bean deploys some experiments during his Apollo 12 mission on the Moon.
NASA

Social: This is about the value that contemporary communities place on the site. For the 600 million-plus people who watched the television broadcast of the landing, it was a life-changing moment representing the ingenuity of human technology and visions of a space-age future.

But the mission did not mean the same for everyone. Some African-Americans protested against Apollo 11, seeing it as a waste of resources when there was such great economic and social disparity between white and black communities in the US. For them, it was a sign of human failure rather than a triumph.

The larger the community that has an interest in a heritage place, the higher its level of social significance. It could be argued that Apollo 11 has outstanding universal significance, like places on the World Heritage List (unfortunately the World Heritage Convention cannot be applied to space).

What are the threats?

In the past few years we have seen an increase in proposed missions to return to the Moon. Some have stated their intention to revisit the Apollo sites, by human crew or robot – and this could lead to the removal of material, for souvenirs or science.

But the sites are both fragile and unprotected. The two primary risks to their survival are uncontrolled looting, and damage from abrasive and sticky lunar dust.

Look at the dust thrown up by the Lunar Roving Vehicle driven by astronaut John W. Young during the Apollo 16 mission. Both dust and rover are still on the Moon.
NASA

Removing material from the sites damages the integrity of the artefacts and the relationships between them. A casual visit could erase the original footprints and astronaut traverses. The corrosive dust disturbed by surface activities could wear away the materials.

Dust was a problem for all the crewed lunar missions. Apollo 16 commander John Young said: “Dust is the number one concern in returning to the Moon.”

The dust can be stirred up by plumes from landing or ascending vehicles, driving vehicles, walking on the surface, or, in the next phase of lunar settlement, by construction and industrial activities, such as mining.

Attempts at protection

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 forbids making territorial claims in space. Applying any national heritage legislation to a place on the Moon could be interpreted as a territorial claim.

The US states of California and New Mexico have placed the Apollo 11 artefacts left on the Moon on a heritage list. They can do this because, under the treaty, the US legally owns the artefacts. But this does not protect the site itself.

Note the footprints on this image of astronaut Charles M. Duke junior on the Apollo 16 mission.
NASA

NASA has established a set of heritage guidelines for its sites on the Moon. The guidelines propose buffer zones around these areas, inside which no-one should enter. They make recommendations for approaching the sites to minimise dust disturbance.

In May 2019, a bill called the One Small Step to Protect Human Heritage in Space Act was introduced to the US Congress. Its purpose is:

To require any Federal agency that issues licences to conduct activities in outer space to include in the requirements for such licences an agreement relating to the preservation and protection of the Apollo 11 landing site, and for other purposes.

But the bill applies only to Apollo 11 and does not have similar requirements for the five other Apollo landing sites. It also applies only to US missions. It’s a step in the right direction, but there is still much more to be done.

The plaque left on the lunar module base during the Apollo 11 mission.
NASA

Only in the last decade has the idea of space archaeology gained legitimacy. Until recently, there was no urgency to establish an international framework to manage the cultural values of lunar heritage.




Read more:
Why the Moon is such a cratered place


Now we’re in a new situation. On Earth, it’s common for industrial or urban activities that disturb the environment to be subject to an environmental impact assessment, which includes heritage.

Even when there are no laws to force companies to pay attention to heritage, many consider it important to seek a Social Licence to Operate – support from stakeholder communities to continue their activities.

Everyone on Earth is a stakeholder in the heritage of the Moon. Fifty years from now, what will remain of the Apollo 11 and other sites? What new meanings will people draw from it?The Conversation

Alice Gorman, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and Space Studies, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Friday essay: dreaming of a ‘white Christmas’ on the Aboriginal missions



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Christmas Dinner, Mt Margaret Mission 1933.
State Library of Western Australia

Laura Rademaker, Australian Catholic University

This story contains images of people who are deceased.

Aboriginal missions, which existed across Australia until the 1970s, are notorious for their austerity. Aboriginal people lived on meagre rations – flour, sugar, tea and tobacco – and later, token wages. At some missions, schoolgirls wore hessian sacks as clothes or skirts made from old bags.

Christmas, however, was a joyful time on them. Old people remember Christmas for food, gifts and carols. But the celebration had a sinister edge. For years, missionaries hoped the joy of Christmas would replace Aboriginal traditions. But Christmas actually became an opportunity for creative cross-cultural engagement, with Aboriginal people adopting its traditions and making them their own.

The food was a respite from the usual diet of damper, rice or stew. On the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory, missionaries would shoot a bullock, and the old women remember feasting on beef and mangoes on the beach.

Oenpelli Mission (Gunbalanya) Christmas, 1928.
National Archives of Australia

Missionaries used food to attract people to church. Christmas might be the only day of the year that it was distributed to everyone. Cake was a favourite. On Christmas Day at Gunbalanya in western Arnhem Land in 1940 the superintendent called it “the happiest we’ve experienced here. Ten huge cakes for Natives – no complaints – 106 at service” (suggesting that church attendance was linked to cake quantity).

For elders on Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria, turtle-egg cake was a highlight of Christmas in the 1940s. As Jabani Lalara recalled:

We used to have a lovely Christmas … In front of the church, that’s where they used to put the Christmas tree and that’s where we used to get a present. Especially like cake, used to make from turtle egg. I love that cake. True.

Gifts were another drawcard. On Christmas 1899, the Bloomfield River Mission in far-north Queesland was said to be “overflowing” because Aboriginal people “heard there would be a distribution of gifts”. These included prized items such as handkerchiefs, pipes and knives. At some missions, Santa (often the superintendent) distributed gifts.

Father Christmas arriving at Mt Margaret Mission in a rickshaw, 1945.
State Library of Western Australia

However looking back, old people have mixed feelings about the gifts. As much as they loved them at the time, they discovered their treasures were only toys that white children had rejected. As one person told me:

We didn’t have much in them days, it was tough, but we were happy. We were happy with those secondhand toys at Christmas from the Salvation Army. We didn’t know they were secondhand toys at the time. I found out in my later years.

Christmas rally church service, Fitzroy Crossing Mission, 1954.
State Library of Western Australia

Missionaries and Aboriginal people alike loved carols; they were an opportunity for shared enjoyment. Tiwi women look back fondly on their time singing with nuns. Said one woman:

Sister Marie Alfonso, she used to play organ and all of us girls used to sing in Latin, but we still remember… Every Christmas [the old women] sing really good. They all can remember that Latin. It’s really nice.

There were also nativity plays, with Aboriginal children proudly performing for their communities. Said another:

When there was Christmas or even Easter Day there was a role-play… On Christmas Day I used to read. Three of them was the Wise Men and the other one was Mary and the other young boy was Jesus.

Christmas at Nepabunna, C.P. Mountford, 1937.
State Library of South Australia

Behind the lightheartedness came an agenda. As one priest commented, Christmas was to be a “magnet” to draw people into missions. Ultimately, missionaries hoped the celebration of Jesus’s birth would prove more attractive than Aboriginal people’s own ceremonies.

For those who would not settle on missions, Christmas was used against them. At Yarrabah in Queensland the “unconverted heathens” were invited to join the festivities, but their exclusion was symbolised by them walking at the back of processions, sitting at the back of the church and being the last to be served their meal.

Aboriginal Christmas

In missionaries’ eagerness to use Christmas to spread Christianity, they started to use Aboriginal languages (with Aboriginal co-translators). At Ngukurr in southern Arnhem Land and Gunbalanya, the first church services in Aboriginal languages were Christmas services (in 1921 and 1936).

Aboriginal people loved carols, so these were the first songs translated. On the 1947 release of the Pitjantjatjara Hymnal, Christmas carols were the most popular (The First Noel sung in parts being the favourite). On Groote Eylandt, translation began with Christmas carols, nativity plays and Christmas readings in the 1950s. At Galiwin’ku on Elcho Island in Arnhem Land, the annual Christmas Drama was in Yolngu Matha from 1960.

Translation was meant to make missionary Christianity more attractive, but it opened the way for more profound cultural experimentation. Aboriginal people infused Christmas with their own traditions. On the Tiwi Islands, in 1962 there was a “Corrobboree Style” nativity on the mission told through traditional Tiwi dance. Dance traditions missionaries had previously called “pagan” were now used by Tiwi people to share the Christian celebration.

At Warruwi on the Goulburn Islands in western Arnhem Land, Maung people began “Christmas and Easter Ceremonies” from the 1960s, blending ceremonial styles with Western musical traditions as well as their own music and dance. At Wadeye, in the Northern Territory, “Church Lirrga” (“Liturgy Songs”) include Christmas music, sung in Marri Ngarr with didjeridu. The Church Lirrga share the melodies of other Marri Ngarr songs that tell of Dreamings on the Moyle River.

Many who embraced Christianity sought to express their spirituality without missionary control. At Milingimbi in the NT, Yolngu people developed a Christmas ceremony with clap sticks and dijeridu outside the mission and free of missionary interference.

Mt Margaret Mission Christmas, 1933.
State Library of Western Australia

At Ernabella Mission in South Australia in 1971, people began singing the Christmas story to ancient melodies, with the permission of their songmen. Senior Anangu women at Mimili, SA, later sang the Pitjantjatjara gospel to their witchetty grub tune, blending Christmas with their Dreamings and songlines.

Christmas was woven into community life. Just as introduced animals found their way into Aboriginal songs and stories, Christmas became part of the seasons and landscape, as Therese Bourke explained at Pirlangimpi on the Tiwi Islands:

They used to have donkeys [here] and the donkeys used to come round in December. And my mother’s mob used to say, “they’re coming around because it’s Christmas and Jesus rode on the back of one.”

The missions transformed into “communities” under a policy framework of self-determination in the 1970s, although missionaries themselves often remained active in the communities for decades. Meanwhile, many Aboriginal people have mixed memories of the missions – fondness for some aspects, anger at others – including Christmas.

The ConversationBut regardless of the missionaries, Christmas became an Aboriginal celebration in its own right. Some missionaries even came to appreciate Aboriginal ways of celebrating Christmas in line with their Dreamings. Though missionaries had wanted to replace Aboriginal spirituality with a “white Christmas”, it became a season of deeper meetings of cultures.

Laura Rademaker, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Modern History, Australian Catholic University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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