Shawn Graham head shotThe following excerpt is from the Nick Ward article “Preparing for Space Travel“. The full article is available online.

As long-distance space travel transforms from a science fiction fantasy to a near-future reality, humanity is faced with a complex challenge: Can people socially and culturally adapt to and survive spending years hurtling across the universe in a contained, artificial space?

Shawn Graham, a digital archaeologist and historian at Carleton University, is working with the International Space Station Archaeological Project (ISSAP) to record and analyze the rich material culture onboard the International Space Station (ISS) after more than 20 years of human occupation.

“As far as we know, no other beings have ever left their home planet,” says Graham.

“We are documenting this not only to preserve the past, but also to understand what it means to be human.”

And to prepare for the future.

For Graham, this research is essential for understanding a brand-new facet of the human experience.

“If we’re going to be serious about space flight,” he says, “we need to understand how spacecraft create places for human dwelling and interaction, and how human interaction affects those dwellings in turn.”

In addition to reviewing key procedures and policies associated with the ISSAP, Graham was asked to develop a digital data-entry system to help researchers make archaeological sense of human activity on the ISS.

He brought on Carleton History and Data Science master’s student Chantal Brousseau, a recent Digital Humanities Award winner, who built upon his initial sketches using an open-source image annotation tool.

Together, Brousseau and Graham have created an application capable of processing and analyzing photographs of various spaces within the ISS. These snapshots will be dutifully taken by astronauts on an almost hourly basis as part of their research duties while aboard the station.