Finding the Future in the Past

In 50 years of space history, more than 7,000 names have been assigned to mountains, volcanoes, craters, and other features on planets and moons in our solar system. These names, assigned by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), are used by planetary scientists in their post-mission analysis of images from space probes, orbiters, and landers. These names help us to think about distant planets not simply as astronomical data – as faraway formations of rock and ice – but as worlds.

Viking ship detail.jpg

Viking ship by Lorenz Frølich, in a frieze depicting the Danish conquest of England (1883-86). The Museum of National History, Frederiksborg Castle, A 5057.


The Viking 2 lander, exploring new shores in the vast cosmic ocean. NASA ID: PIA01522.

Why do we look to the past to think about the future?

Since NASA named its Mars mission the Viking program in 1968, the Viking voyages of exploration and settlement have become a metaphor for space exploration. Today, names from Norse mythology – Asgard and Valhalla, Loki and Thor – can be found on worlds throughout our solar system. In this exhibition, we will explore worlds populated by Norse dwarves and medieval knights, from the strange moons of the Jupiter system to the outermost reaches of our solar system. Why do the Middle Ages play such a big role in planetary place-making? Why do we use the past to think about the future? And what does this mean for the future of space exploration? 

Selection of items in this exhibition


Kedwards, Dale. 2021. "Writing Futures," Reception and Reinvention: Old Norse in Time and Space, accessed dd/mm/yy, 

Finding the Future in the Past