The View From Here

The Space Age is Downright Ancient

Written by: developer

Last month, I was fortunate enough to attend the annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC), held in Guadalajara, Mexico. Guadalajara is a high-tech center of Mexico, and the Mexican Space Agency was eager to show the world its interests, plans and capabilities to an international audience of several thousand attendees.

I think most people, whether they are in the space business or not, commonly think of the “space age” as something that began in 1957 with the launch of Sputnik. Perhaps we should be a little more inclusive and open-minded with that date. I’m suggesting humans interest, passion and attempts to understand the universe date back centuries.

In the main auditorium at the Guadalajara Expo Center, on constant display, was an impressive photo of El Caracol.

El Caracol is located in Mexico and was built by the Mayans. Archaeologists believe it was built as early as 600 AD. From 800 AD to 1200 AD it underwent extensive upgrades and improvements.

What is utterly staggering about this structure is when any modern person looks at it, what does it look like? Why did the Mexicans use this image as the IAC event logo?

Most people will almost automatically realize that it resembles modern Earth-based observatories. As it turns out, the Mayans were fascinated by the heavens and dedicated much study and resources to trying to understand the sun, moon, planets and stars. El Caracol was, in particular, designed and built around intense study of Venus. They considered Venus a second sun, and was their god of war and decided major military campaigns based on the position of Venus. Additionally, El Caracol has many windows that enabled them to know when the equinoxes and solstices would occur.

The Maya were hardly the only advanced and ancient civilization that studied space. Much of the remaining and surviving ancient structures on Earth had celestial significance.

Our Mexican hosts at the IAC were sending a message that Mexico has long been interested in space. Today, we look at our own accomplishments in space with pride, and rightfully so, but we are hardly the first age of humans who wondered about space and began to comprehend the universe.

This article is part of Space Watch: November 2016 (Volume: 15, Issue: 11).