Space Park Research Report is an essay summarizing my research into the idea of parks in outer space while a Research Fellow with the Provisions Library in Washington, D.C. in 2013 and was published along with other residency reports in the library’s digital Provisional Research Journal Volume 1/4 ‘The Case for Space’. Provisional Research seeks to ‘provide free and accessible public information on creative projects, sharing strategies and practices for social change with an ever-expanding readership.’
SPACE PARK RESEARCH REPORT
Outer space is usually considered a new frontier, but it isn’t as new as it once was. Over 40 countries with operational space programs maintain over 800 active satellites and have plans for manned missions to Mars, revisiting the moon, and mining asteroids. Humans have so thoroughly occupied space, in fact, that we are encountering problems associated with any long-term living situation, in particular dealing with our trash.(1)
The situation bears some resemblance to points in the history of other frontiers, such as the expansion into the American West, when the National Park Service was established to set aside and protect land from exploitation. And as such, as others have suggested as early as 1984,(2) it is not too early to consider the establishment of a park system in space. Such a park today would of course be different than Earth parks, but based on similar principles. It would protect pristine, unvisited ‘wilderness’ areas, and additionally protect sites and objects important to human history in space.
Many man-made objects on other planets, large and small, as well as defunct satellites still in Earth orbit(3) are part of an international initiative for heritage designation(4) and are studied by archeologists specializing in the material culture of space exploration.(5) Tranquility Base, the first human landing site on the moon, is actively promoted for declaration as a World Heritage Site, complete with tracks, experiments, tools dropped on the surface, and litter.(6) Since no one wants to see the footprint from the first step on the moon run over by a rover, or landed on by a probe, guidelines have been established to protect this site on upcoming moon landings,(7) a tiny step toward a recognized space park site.
Page spread from Heidi Neilson’s Tranquility Base, a visual catalog of items left at the Apollo 11 landing site made with photos of miniature handmade models in diorama settings.
Preserving extraterrestrial areas without human history or any life that we know of, the two easiest arguments for protection, is a more remote idea. There are a number of philosophical arguments for maintaining wilderness on Earth. Astrobiologists Charles S. Cockell and Gerda Horneck, in their studies of Mars, isolate the points in these wilderness arguments which apply to a landscape without life: the classroom argument (it can teach us), the art gallery argument (wilderness is a place of natural beauty), the necessity argument (we need wilderness to create a complete concept of culture and civilization), the intrinsic value argument (land and ‘things’ have value in their own right), the future generations argument (protect land for future generations), and the unknown and indirect benefits argument (we don’t know it and it might be beneficial later).
Cockell and Horneck propose a planetary park system for Mars based on a combination of these rationales, choosing areas with particular scientific, aesthetic and historical value.(8) Adapting the definitions of wilderness from the US Wilderness Act, they outline criteria for a comprehensive park system on the surfaces of other planetary bodies, separate from designated areas of exploration. A list compiling the sites on Mars and other proposed space sites and objects identified as preservation-worthy can be found at the end of this essay. This summary could be used as a starting point for delineating a planetary park system, while the especially complicated particulars of ownership, management, law, and administration are worked out in the coming decades.
Valles Marineris, the ‘Grand Canyon of Mars,’ a site proposed for park designation, image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.
In the discussion of the preservation of outer space, the elephant in the room is space itself. Cockell and Horneck’s comprehensive thinking lays a solid foundation for protection on extraterrestrial bodies, but not for protection of volumes of space. Once the argument to preserve stark and lifeless places is accepted, why not designate volumes of space itself as protected? I’d like to extend their proposal to include consideration of these volumes, in an approach that engages space on its own terms: not only its planetary formations and human residue analogous to what we know on Earth, but also its utterly alien attributes, its vast emptiness and the astrophysical phenomena that shape it. The apparently lifeless void, with the absence of any attribute other than position to characterize it, could be thought of as a different kind of spacescape. Can we apply the arguments based on ideas of cultural preservation and scenic/aesthetic value, and adapt the definition of a park to respond to astrophysical phenomena previously alien to human experience?
The park system proposed for Mars broadly defines wilderness as “an area of planetary surface (with its communities of life, if they exist) untrammeled by people, where people are visitors (even in the form of robotic craft) who do not remain.“ If we replace ‘area of planetary surface’ with ‘defined area anywhere,’ space fits this general definition.
Could space also qualify as ‘wilderness’ under the more specific requirements of the proposed Martian park system, adapted from the US Wilderness Act?
- An area generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable.
In space this appears to be true if we go beyond the debris in Earth’s orbit.
- It has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.
Yes, one can find abundant solitude in space.
- It has at least 5000 acres of land or is of sufficient size to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition.
Size is certainly sufficient just about anywhere in space.
- It may also contain ecological, geological or other features of scientific, educational, scenic or historical value.
While space is unlikely to contain ecology, it might have some geologic interest in the form of very occasional dust, and it might have historic value, if it can be determined that an historic spacecraft such as one of the Pioneers or Voyagers passed through it. More importantly, it might contain something of educational or scientific interest; a unique gravitational position such as one of the LaGrange points, for example, might qualify a volume of space for protection.
What about scenic value? Can we recognize space as scenic? The areas outside of earth we’ve to date identified as preservation-worthy are land-based; they at the very least have a form to them, where we can recognize a particularly bleak kind of beauty, the “magnificent desolation” Buzz Aldrin found on setting foot on the moon. But since space has no form, how can we see it as beautiful?
We do have precedents for recognizing and appreciating blackness and nothingness in modern and contemporary art. Here are a few examples from the world of art which we can take as cues for appreciating space itself aesthetically.
Ad Reinhardt is best known for his black paintings. He wasn’t thinking about outer space that we know of, but he was concerned with painting nothing, and completely avoiding representation. His intention was to “push painting beyond its thinkable, seeable, graspable, feelable limits.” It was his idea that they represent both the end of Western tradition and the beginning of a new mode of perception, since they create perceptual demands radically different from those of Western painting. Because the paintings require an act of focusing so demanding that it changes the state of viewers’ consciousness, the black paintings reflect some of the values of the Eastern cultures Reinhardt became progressively involved with.(9)
photo by Flickr’s ‘cuartogolpe’
Mark Rothko’s color field paintings are often associated with meditative and spiritual experiences, culminating in the Rothko Chapel, completed after his death. Fourteen large apparently black paintings created using layer upon layer of color surround visitors in the octagonal chapel, and serve as, some people have put it, windows to the beyond—as if you are looking at the infinite.(10)
In the realm of earthworks, Michael Heizer works with concept and a meditation on negative space, where the form of the work frames emptiness. His piece Double Negative does this directly with the landscape, where large gaps were carved on either sides of a ravine, so one envisions a continuous bridge between the two gaps. “Double Negative is composed of space itself: it is a void. Although massive in scale, it is barely palpable. The two sunken enclosures call to each other across the great chasm of the escarpment, providing an experience of vastness conveyed through the arrangement of space that is compellingly distinct from the intrusive, space-occupying character of traditional monuments. One is inside this piece.”(11)
Walter DeMaria’s The Lightning Field also frames space in such a way as to change our awareness of it. The numerous vertical poles are spaced widely and evenly in a grid measuring a mile on the side. The ability to see the poles changes greatly with proximity and light. The ability to perceive the poles in a grid as a whole has to do with imagining and extrapolating experienced distance—seeing them and walking the space between them.
The Lightning Field was intended to be experienced directly and as such (combined with the remote location and restricted visitor policy) it has become a destination.(12) It is a kind of contemporary pilgrimage site for those seeking a perceptual contemplation experience meditating on geometric perfection embedded in nature.
Perceptual experience is also inherent in Carsten Höller’s work; pieces which alter the audience’s physical and psychological sensations. His sensory deprivation baths, long twisting slides, and other work transfer the viewers into seekers of experiences beyond themselves.(13)
This kind of perception-change and experience-seeking pilgrimage may be a precursor to how space parks could function. Especially in areas of pure space, one imagines that our existing experiences of the notion of distance, direction and perspective do not apply when confronted directly with space and its extreme physical forces, inasmuch as we can understand them. Space tourists now are greatly motivated by wanting the experience of weightlessness, of defying gravity itself.
Space tourists experience zero gravity. [image source]
The experience of a space park could also be a purely conceptual one, based on the understanding that the area is delineated and exists, however intangibly and remotely. This is a main idea in Amy Balkin’s piece Public Smog,(14) a fluctuating park in the atmosphere that is constructed and opened to the public through financial, legal or political activities. For example the park has been opened a few times by the purchase of emission offsets in regulated emissions markets and then withholding them from use from polluting industries. The Public Smog initiative also includes an ongoing attempt to submit Earth’s atmosphere for inscription on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
The motivation for establishing a system of space parks which include terrestrial and space areas will be at least in part for the scenery—for a place for reflection and inspiration. The appreciation for space landscapes needs to encompass both the traditional terrestrial-based ‘sublime landscape’ derived from a 19th –century landscape aesthetic and from a modern and contemporary minimal aesthetic. Appreciating a void as scenery might be the beginning of a bigger transformation in thinking:
“Humans ought to preserve those places that radically transform perspective. Just as it was a good thing for medieval Europe to be dislodged from its insularity, challenged by the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution, it will be a good thing for Earthlings to be unleashed from the Earth-givens. We can reduce human provinciality with the diverse provinces of solar-planetary nature. In space, so much is scrambled—what counts as day or night, year or season, hot or cold, up or down, bizarre or normal, what counts as land, sea, sky, the feel of gravity. These disorienting, unsettling discoveries will expand our juvenile perspectives. For intellectual and moral growth one wants alien places that utterly renegotiate everything in native ranges. These will prove radical places to understand, not merely in the anthropic sense that our roots lie there, but in the nonanthropic sense that they uproot us from home and force us to grow by assimilating the giddy depths and breadth of being. Those who cannot be seriously confounded by nature have not yet seriously confronted it.”(15)
Space Park Sites and Items
Sites and objects in space or on planetary surfaces which have been identified by experts as noteworthy and/or preservation-worthy, to date. In the future this list might also include designated areas on additional planets and volumes of space itself.
Area to include Apollo 11/Tranquility Base site and nearby Surveyor 5 4
Area to include Apollo 12 site, Surveyor 3, Apollo 14, S-IVB 16
Apollo 15 site 16
Apollo 16 site 16
Area to include Apollo 17 site and Luna 21 16
Luna 9 4
Luna 16 4
Lunokhod 1 (first moon rover) 4
Mars 3 18
North pole, a section of 17
Olympus Mons 17
Pathfinder landing site 17
Valles Marineris, an eastern part 17
Viking 1 landing site 17
Viking 1 probe 4
Viking 2 probe 4
Venera 3-14 4, 18
SPACE: IN EARTH ORBIT OR NEAR EARTH-SUN ORBIT
Chandra spacecraft (x-ray observatory) 4
Courier 1B 19
Dong Fang Hong 19
Explorer 7 19, 20
Hubble Space Telescope 4
Kepler Space telescope 4
Luna 1 19
Luna 3 4
Mariner 2 (Venus flyby) 19
Ofeq 5 19
Pioneer 4 19
Planck satellite 4
Snoopy (Lunar Module ascent stage from Apollo 10 mission) 19
Spitzer infrared space telescope 4
Symphonie I 19
Syncom 3 (Early Bird) 19
Tansei 1 19
Timation 1 19
TIROS 1 (first weather satellite) 19, 20
Transit 4a (first nuclear power sources on spacecraft) 20
Transit 4b (first nuclear power sources on spacecraft) 20
Telstar 1 (first active telecommunications satellite) 20
Vanguard 1 19, 20
Vanguard 2 20
Vanguard 3 20
Westford needles and release capsule 20
Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) 4
Zond 3 19
SPACE: SOLAR SYSTEM BEYOND EARTH-SUN ORBIT
Giotto (flyby of Halley comet) 4
Galileo (now satellite of Jupiter) 4
Huygens (on Titan, Saturn’s moon) 4
Hyabusa (Asteroid Itokawa) 18
Minerva (microrover meant for asteroid Itokawa but now in heliocentric orbit) 18
NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendevous) – Asteroid Eros 18
Pioneer 10 19
Pioneer 11 19
Vega (flyby of Halley comet) 4
Voyager 1 4
Voyager 2 4
- NASA Orbital Debris Program Office: http://orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov/ (July 31, 2013)
- William K. Hartmann, “Space Exploration and Environmental Issues,” Environmental Ethics 6, no 3 (1984): 227-39.
- Robert Barclay and Randall C. Brooks, “In Situ Preservation of Historic Spacecraft,” in Ann Garrison Darrin and Beth Laura O’Leary, eds., Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology, and Heritage (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press), 679-699.
- Mikhail Marov, “Space Achievements as World Heritage,” in Clive Ruggles and Michel Cotte, eds., Heritage Sites of Astronomy and Archaeoastronomy in the context of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention: A Thematic Study (Paris, France: ICOMOS [International Council on Monuments and Sites] and the International Astronomical Union, 2010), 233-237.
- Beth Laura O’Leary, “Evolution of Space Archaeology and Heritage,” in Ann Garrison Darrin and Beth Laura O’Leary, eds., Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology, and Heritage (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press), 29-44.
- Beth Laura O’Leary, “One Giant Leap: Preserving Cultural Resources on the Moon,” in Ann Garrison Darrin and Beth Laura O’Leary, eds., Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology, and Heritage (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press), 757-778.
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA’s Recommendations to Space-Faring Entities: How to Protect and Preserve the Historic and Scientific Value of U.S. Government Lunar Artifacts (Washington, DC: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2011).
- Charles S Cockell and Gerda Horneck, “Planetary Parks: Formulating a Wilderness Policy for Planetary Bodies,” Space Policy 22 (2006): 256-261.
- Barbara Rose, ed., Art-as-Art: The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt, (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1991), 81.
- Pat Dowell, Meditation and Modern Art Meet in Rothko Chapel, National Public Radio, http://www.npr.org/2011/03/01/134160717/meditation-and-modern-art-meet-in-rothko-chapel (March 1, 2011)
- John Beardsley, Earthworks and Beyond, (New York, NY: Abbeville Press, 1998), 17.
- Geoff Dyer, “Poles Apart: Notes from a pilgrimage,” The New Yorker, April 18, 2011, 62.
- The New Museum, “Carsten Höller: Experience” is the most comprehensive US exhibition to date of the artist’s engaging work. http://www.newmuseum.org/exhibitions/view/carsten-hoeller-experience (accessed July 31, 2013).
- Amy Balkin, Public Smog, http://www.publicsmog.org/ (accessed June 15, 2013)
- Holmes Rolston, III, “The Preservation of Natural Value in the Solar System,” in Eugene C. Hargrove, Beyond Spaceship Earth: Environmental Ethics and the Solar System (San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books, 1986), 179.
- P.J. Capelotti, “Culture of Apollo: A Catalog of Manned Exploration of the Moon,” in Ann Garrison Darrin and Beth Laura O’Leary, eds., Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology, and Heritage (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press), 421-441.
- Charles S Cockell and Gerda Horneck, “A Planetary Park System for Mars,” Space Policy 20 (2004): 291-295.
- Robert Gold, “Spacecraft and Objects Left on Planetary Surfaces,” in Ann Garrison Darrin and Beth Laura O’Leary, eds., Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology, and Heritage (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press), 399-419.
- Daniel E. Clemens, “Orbital Artifacts in Space,” in Ann Garrison Darrin and Beth Laura O’Leary, eds., Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology, and Heritage (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press), 347-362.
- Alice Gorman, “Heritage of Earth Orbit: Orbital Debris–Its Mitigation and Cultural Heritage,” in Ann Garrison Darrin and Beth Laura O’Leary, eds., Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology, and Heritage (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press), 381-397.