Plenary: Associate Professor Alice Gorman

Love on a high-grav world: social and cultural aspects of adaptation to variable gravity 

With the exception of a small group of people currently orbiting Earth in the International Space Station, all human activities take place against the backdrop of 1 unit of Earth gravity. This is such a ubiquitous constant in terrestrial life that its effects on human culture are barely remarked upon. Soon, however, more humans are likely to engage with variable gravity environments. The predicted growth in the space tourist market for sub-orbital flights will provide paying customers with an experience from higher gravity to free-fall, all in a flight of 15 minutes. Spacefaring nations such as the US, Russia and China are planning crewed missions to lunar orbit and eventually the lunar surface. Perhaps, someday, people will live on Mars. 

These different gravity environments create challenges for the health and growth of human bodies, and the design of the habitats and infrastructure that allow humans to survive off-Earth. However, I argue that this is only half the story. Gravity also plays a role in structuring social relations, the emotions, and the embodied experience of an environment. This includes aspects of class, gender and posthumanity . Taking the high-gravity worlds of science fiction writer E.E. Doc Smith as a starting point, this paper is an exploration of the different ways we can understand the influence of gravity on human culture both on and beyond Earth. 

Dr Alice Gorman is an internationally recognised leader in the field of space archaeology and author of the award-winning book Dr Space Junk vs the Universe: Archaeology and the Future (MIT Press, 2019). Her research focuses on the archaeology and heritage of space exploration, including space junk, planetary landing sites, off-earth mining, and space habitats. She is an Associate Professor at Flinders University in Adelaide and a heritage consultant with over 25 years’ experience working with Indigenous communities in Australia. In collaboration with NASA and Chapman University, she is part of a team conducting the first archaeological study of the International Space Station. Gorman is also a Vice-Chair of the Global Expert Group on Sustainable Lunar Activities and a member of the Advisory Council of the Space Industry Association of Australia. In 2021, asteroid 551014 Gorman was named after her in recognition of her work in establishing space archaeology as a field. She tweets as @drspacejunk and blogs at Space Age Archaeology.