Riho Vendt discussed if the skill of building a spaceship is part of intangible cultural heritage at conservators’ research seminar

Kairi Janson | 16.01.2018

Although one wouldn’t probably connect space science with the work of conservators at first, the two are actually closely connected. On 11 January 2017, Senior Research Fellow at Tartu Observatory Riho Vendt took part of the Society of Estonian Conservators’ research seminar How the Researchers View Heritage and discussed if the skill of building a spaceship belongs to Estonian intangible cultural heritage.

Riho Vendt Eesti Konservaatorite Ühingu teadusseminaril

“The goal of the organizers of the seminar was to compare and understand how researchers of different fields understand heritage,” Vendt said. Research is a big part of conservators’ work and they often communicate with institutions of different areas. That is why representatives of many different institutions were asked to speak at the seminar: from University of Tartu (UT) Viljandi Culture Acadamy to Estonian Biocentre and from Estonian Academy of Arts to UT Institute of Chemistry.

In his presentation, Vendt discussed whether the skill of building a space ship is also part of Estonian intangible cultural heritage. Estonians are proud that we have become a space country and sent our first ever satellite – ESTCube-1 – to space. “But building space instruments and being successful in doing that is only possible if one has the knowledge,” Vendt stated.

The knowledge is what makes up the heritage. But heritage often tends to be something elementary that is taken for granted, Vendt said. Oftentimes people do not realize that the things we do would not be possible without heritage.

Building ESTCube would not have been possible without previous knowledge and skills. “Space instruments have been built at Tartu Observatory since the beginning of the 1970s. Almost every space station in the Soviet Union had instruments that had been built and developed in Tõravere,” Vendt explained. “The people who built these instruments are still here in Tõravere and their valuable knowledge has been passed to the students that built ESTCube by their supervisors.”

But they would not have started making space instruments in Tõravere in the first place if F. G. W. Struve had not worked and made research discoveries in Tartu in the 19th century. “Thus the skill of building a space ship is part of Estonian intangible cultural heritage – it means something valuable that is being passed on from generation to generation. Societies and groups recreate it over and over again, being influenced by their environment, nature, and history,” Vendt explained.

ESTCube itself has also left a heritage, Vendt said. The satellite mission has contributed to intangible cultural heritage (the skills and knowledge of the students), research heritage (e.g. the master’s and PhD thesis), cultural heritage (e.g. the photos that ESTCube-1 took), and the economic heritage (successful start-ups and contract with the European Space Agency).

It was the fourth research seminar of the Society of Estonian Conservators.