Astronauts Become Archaeologists To Document Space Station ‘Excavation Sites’

In a recent scene familiar to many, even those not well versed in the discipline, a researcher marked out square areas to catalog the layers of content buried within. These “test pits,” which were similar to squares made at the sites of ancient cities and past civilizations, were based on a basic technique practiced by archaeologists.

Only this time, the researcher was an astronaut and the “excavation sites” were on board the International Space Station (ISS).

“We are extremely excited and proud to announce that the first archaeological survey conducted outside of Earth began today,” the team behind SQuARE, or Sampling Quadrangle Assemblages Research Experiment, wrote in a blog post on Jan. 14. “NASA astronaut Kayla Barron sets up an experiment consisting of six sample areas in as many modules that the team will document for us every day for the next 60 days.”

Related: International Space Station at 8:00 PM: A Photo Tour

That same day, NASA noted that SQuARE was underway in its daily summary of activities aboard the space station.

“SQuARE is an investigation that aims to document features within six defined locations around the ISS over time,” the space agency wrote. “The idea is to see the ISS as an archaeological site and each of the plazas as a ‘test pit’.”

social sciences in space

Barron, a flight engineer for the Expedition 66 crew, used Kapton polyimide tape, a common adhesive used on the orbital complex, to mark the corners of 1-meter (39-inch) squares in five areas chosen by the Archaeological Center of the International Space Station. Project. Selected sites included the galley table at Node 1 (“Unit”); the starboard workstation on Node 2 (“Harmony”); two science shelves, one on the front walls of the Japanese “Kibo” and European “Columbus” modules; and the wall facing the WHC (the waste and hygiene compartment, or toilet) in Node 3 (“Tranquility”).

The sixth square, which was placed on one of the racks on the port side of the American laboratory module “Destiny”, was chosen by the crew based on what they considered interesting to document.

The SQuARE mission patch was designed by @cheatlines for the International Space Station Archaeological Project. (Image credit: ISS Archaeological Project)

Daily photography began the following week, with a ruler and color calibration chart added to each shot for reference. For the first month, the plan was to take photos at the same time every day, followed by a second month at random times, giving the team behind the study a chance to assess which approach was most effective for their needs.

The key to both months of documentation was that the astronauts did nothing with the items inside the squares beyond what they would in their normal course of daily use.

“We have given specific instructions to the crew not to move any items,” Justin Walsh, co-principal investigator for the International Space Station Archaeological Project and an archaeologist whose research has included human activity in space, said in an interview with collectSPACE. .com. “We want to capture the moment as it is, not as you might think we’d like to see it.”

The photographs will be transmitted to Earth for analysis. A team of people, including specialists from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and Axiom Space, a commercial space services company, will help identify the objects captured in each frame.

Migrations in microgravity

Archaeologists on the ground use test pits to quickly sample an area so they can gain a better understanding of the entire site. The same is the intention of SQuARE.

“What we will learn is how objects circulate around the space station and how long they stay in one place. It’s about the patterns and routines of everyday life in microgravity,” said Alice Gorman, Walsh’s counterpart as co-principal investigator. of the studio. and one of the world’s leading scholars in the field of space archaeology. “If the same type of artifact appears frequently in all six squares, which cover areas used for working, eating, and conducting experiments, then that may indicate that it’s an artifact with high multifunctionality — the kind of thing you want to make sure you have plenty of.” when you’re on a space station orbiting the moon or on the surface of Mars.

NASA astronaut Kayla Barron, seen photographing an experiment, installed the squares for SQuARE by the International Space Station Archaeological Project. (Image credit: NASA)

The photographs can also expose crew habits and routines that may inform future spacecraft designs, Gorman told collectSPACE.

“There may be Velcro patches on the walls that are never used and others that always have objects attached to them. We can document that and make hypotheses about the activities and behaviors that cause this pattern. We can then make recommendations for placement of these ‘gravity surrogates’ in newer space habitats, to increase crew efficiency,” he said.

SQuARE is just the first in a series of studies that the International Space Station Archaeological Project hopes to conduct aboard the orbiting complex. The team applied to the National Science Foundation for the necessary funding for seven different experiments that would ask astronauts to perform a variety of activities, from rubbing surfaces to recording sound and making videos discussing their experiences.

As the first foray into space, SQuARE has the potential to provide new insights into astronaut activities from the perspective of a new frontier field.

“Since this is the first archaeological data collection ever attempted in a space habitat, we’re not exactly sure what we’ll find. It is an experiment, after all,” Walsh and Gorman wrote. “But we are confident that the results will illuminate aspects of life in space that no one, not even NASA, has known about before.”

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