How do people live in orbit? Ask the space archaeologists


Archaeologists have investigated Human Cultures Around the Earth—So Why Not Study a Unique Society Outside of This World? A team is creating a first-of-its-kind archaeological record on the International Space Station.

The new project, called the Sample Quadrangle Collection Research Experiment, or SQUARE, includes hundreds of photos taken by astronauts inside the ISS living and working spaces. Humans have continuously manned the space station for decades, and the launch of the initial modules in the late 1990s coincided with the rise of digital photography. That meant astronauts weren’t limited to cans of film when documenting life in space, and astronauts — yes, that’s a thing — no longer had to remotely speculate about it.

But this is the first time archaeologists have coordinated to examine that photograph. Shot over 60 days last year, SQuARE’s photos show everything from anti-gravity hikes to meals enjoyed by astronauts. Justin Walsh, an archaeologist at Chapman University and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, thinks images like these are invaluable to social scientists who want to understand how people used limited tools and material comforts in space. “If we can put the data into a database — if we can find the people, places, and things in the photos — then we can start looking for patterns of behavior and relationships between people and things,” said Walsh, who presented his team’s initial findings yesterday afternoon at the Society for American Archeology conference in Portland, Oregon. .

Walsh co-founded SQuARE with Alice Gorman, an archaeologist at Flinders University in Australia. The main thing you want to learn is, “What are the social consequences of a small isolated society isolated from the earth?” What kind of human nature do you have, if you distance yourself from something as basic as gravity?

Modern archeology involves understanding people’s social world from the inanimate objects and built spaces they used, providing insight into people’s everyday lives. Scientists consider archeology to be closely related to, or part of, anthropology—but anthropological methods rely more on observation and interviewing. But interviews only tell part of the story. Psychologists have known for decades that people are poor judges of their own behavior. Memory can be distorted, and eyewitness accounts can be wrong.

“We’re looking for things that people don’t remember or even register when they’re describing what they’re doing in their lives,” Gorman says. “Our approach is that people can see what they’ve done, not just what they’ve done. he said. you did. This is what the archaeological record tells us.

The ISS inventory includes instruments, research equipment, food bags, cleaning supplies and other everyday items. The team had NASA and European Space Agency astronauts take daily photos from Jan. 21 to March 21, 2022, snapping images of them—”hard digging,” according to Gorman. Six spaces, including the galley table, in the starboard work area, on the port side of the US laboratory module and on the wall opposite the lavatory. Each photo occupies an area of ​​about 1 square meter marked with masking tape at the corners—hence the SQuARE moniker—and the team members took photos of a color calibration chart and a ruler to adjust the digital images. After collecting 358 photos, the archeology team has been checking for objects that show their use, as well as images from the same place in each photo.


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