Monday, September 28, 2015

Preserving our Space History: An Interview with Space Library Curator Robert Godwin

          By Chuck Black

As the owner and founder of Apogee Space Books, the space curator of the Canadian Air & Space Museum (CASM) and a frequent contributor to the Commercial Space blog, author Robert Godwin knows that there is a great deal of disparate information from a wide variety of online distributors like Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, You-Tube, Linked-In, Amazon and others which provide a steady stream of mostly "decontextualized" content chronicling our recent history of space exploration.

Author/ publisher Robert Godwin in the Burlington, Ontario based Apogee Books storage facilities checking out a few of the hundreds of boxes of data and documents slated for the eventual inclusion in the Space Library. According to Godwin, while the current Library contains just under 31,000 pages, documents and files, there are another 300,000 hard copies, pages and distinct electronic files which are currently in storage but could be added to the repository. The big problem is funding the tech support and precautionary monthly data back-ups required to keep the library online and functioning. Photo c/o Chuck Black.

He thinks that there is a better way to organize and curate the information, which is often biased, incomplete, difficult to corroborate and released through channels which don't provide any incentive for knowledgeable people to share their findings with others.

His solution is the Space Library!

"Knowledgeable people with important information relating to our space history are growing old and dying and their families are simply throwing their documents, files and papers in the garbage," said Godwin, during a recent interview. "The Space Library can provide a way to preserve these documents by incentivising the public release of this information in a way which can be easily understood and used."

The Space Library starts with the mediawiki engine, a free software open source package written in PHP (originally for use on Wikipedia) which is infinitely scalable and capable of managing multiple contributors who don't need to know how to write code.

The main page of the Space Library highlighting the mediawiki origins of the data container in its graphic design. The current funding model for the Library is the same model used by, which charges a fee to access genealogical and historical records. Graphic c/o the Space Library.

To this wiki container, Godwin added the ability to embed video/ audio and the capability to track citations, authors and users. "We've built a customized hyperlinking mechanism which not only tracks usage and where the new user was referred from but also allows the author or contributor to charge for access and the use of data," said Godwin. The fee for use structure acts as an incentive for contributors, who are paid depending on the number of times their contributions are accessed.

Unlike Wikipedia, the Space Library doesn't allow for anonymous credentials to be used by those wishing to gain access. Knowing who wrote an entry will go a long way towards assuring the credibility of the information provided, said Godwin.

Space Library content is expected to include;
  • "Lots and lots of NASA stuff" collected over a period of almost two decades as background material for dozens of Apogee published books on a variety of space focused topics starting with "Apollo 8 The NASA Mission Reports," in November 1998, which was developed at the request of retired astronaut and second man on the Moon Buzz Aldrin. 
  • A comprehensive index of NASA 16mm film footage from the 1960's and 1970's along with a listing of NASA still photographs. Godwin hopes to "eventually add a complete index of films and photographs," to the Library.
  • Original journals published in the 1920's from the German Rocket Society; a complete index of Journals of the British Interplanetary Society; and digital copies of the much rarer Bulletin of the British Interplanetary Society, edited by renowned science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke.

An appendix to chapter 11 of the June 10th, 1961 NASA document on "A Survey of Various Vehicle Systems for the Manned Lunar Landing System," coordinated by H.O. Ruppe from the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center Future Projects office. The complete document is typical of those available online at the Space Library.

  • A place for patents issued by governments worldwide to space scientists and engineers covering the early years of spaceflight. 
  • First generation radio recordings from the early Lunar science conferences and press events.
  • Audio interviews with most of the early leaders of the US space program.
  • Rhett Turner's original Voice of America audio broadcasts covering the Apollo Moon landing, which included interviews with Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and many other rare conversations and press conferences, comments from Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, plus Don Beattie, the program manager for the Apollo lunar surface experiments, Werner Von Braun, the director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and the chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle.
Chuck Black
Over time, it's also expected that most of the books published through Apogee will be added to to the library.

For more information on the Space Library or to sign up go to To contribute to the project, contact Rob Godwin at Apogee Books.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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