Articles

Art in Space

July 15, 2019



You may know that the first human to spacewalk
was cosmonaut Alexei Leonov. But did you know that he was also the first
human to make art in space? In 1965, while wedged into the tight quarters
of the Soviet space program’s Voskhod 2, Leonov sketched an orbital sunrise with some
colored pencils he’d customized by attaching them to a box with thread. He later made a painting of his experience
of floating above the earth. But we’re not going to focus on that because
that’s just art about space, and today we’re talking about art actually in space. Which there’s been a lot more of than you’d
think. NASA was established in 1958 and created an
art program just four years later, commissioning portraits of astronauts and inviting artists
to visit their facilities and document their efforts. NASA thought it was important to commemorate
these historic events, and expected artists, in the words of program advisor and National
Gallery director John Walker, “…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange
new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner
meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race.” NASA’s art program produced great work then,
and continues to this day, taking seriously the mission established at its outset. But the first time a work of art was created
on earth to be sent into space was maybe, possibly in 1969, when Apollo 12 launched
on November 14, and may have carried with it, a tiny ceramic chip just like this one. Artist Forrest Myers had the idea to get six
artists together and make a miniature museum to put on the moon. To contribute he tapped Andy Warhol, who made
this drawing that is supposed to be his initials AW but also really looks like both a rocket
and male genitalia. David Novros and John Chamberlain made circuitry
inspired drawings. Claes Oldenburg made his signature Mickey-Mouse-like
figure, which he had explored before and would stick with after. And Robert Rauschenberg wows with a single
hand drawn line. Although to be fair, he had made some cool work through the NASA Art Program that same year. And Myers himself contributed a symbol he
called “interconnection.” So how this came to be was that Myers was
part of a group called E.A.T., or Experiments in Art and Technology, founded by Rauschenberg
along with artist Robert Whitman and Bell Labs engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer. The whole point was to see what would happen
when you brought together artists and engineers. And Waldhauer helped inscribe the postage-stamp-sized, iridium-plated ceramic wafers with the same cutting edge technology then used to make
telephone circuits. Waldhauer also had a friend at Grumman Corporation
who was working on the moon lander, and who remains unknown but reported back that the
chip did successfully make its way on the mission, signing off with the likely-to-be-a-pseudonym
“John F”. If it did make it on board, it’s thought
that the chip is somewhere between blanket layers on a leg of the module, along with
the family photos and other small safe, lightweight items secretly placed there by those working
on the spacecraft. You’re seeing such good pictures of it because
Myers made an edition of about 40 of the chips, so we thankfully have the privilege of knowing
what it looks like, while imagining the one maybe possibly resting up there on the moon. We are certain that an artwork was sent into
space in 1971 with the Apollo 15 mission. And that is a small aluminum sculpture titled
Fallen Astronaut made by Belgian artist Paul van Hoeydonck. He was commissioned to create a memorial for
those who had died in the space exploration effort, and it had to be light, sturdy, and
able to withstand extremes of temperature. It also needed to be neutral in terms of gender
and ethnicity. Along with a plaque listing the names of fourteen
deceased American and Soviet astronauts, the sculpture was installed on the surface of
the moon on August 2, 1971. It was a small but meaningful way to recognize
the lost, which also happened to leave us with an extremely potent, apt image of a tiny
figure amid a vast landscape. When Pioneer 10 and 11 launched in 1972 and
73, they both carried with them gold-anodized aluminium plaques that were attached to antenna
support struts in order to help shield them from erosion by interstellar dust. The idea has been credited to science reporter
Eric Burgess, who presented the concept to Carl Sagan, who went on to develop the design
with help from Sagan’s wife Linda and astronomer Frank Drake, who was involved with the search
for extraterrestrial intelligence. With NASA’s blessing, they had three weeks
to resolve the design, which includes a schematic representation of the hyperfine transition
of hydrogen. That’s intended to help decode the radial
pattern below that describes the relative position of the sun and 14 pulsars to the
center of the galaxy. There’s also a diagram of the solar system,
and the trajectory of the spacecraft past Jupiter. Then we’ve got a silhouette of the spacecraft
shown to scale with two figures meant to represent a human man and woman. These were supposedly inspired by Leonardo
da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man–which would have been hilariously misleading for aliens. But this depiction was called out as problematic
from its outset, the woman’s genital region smoothed over because of obscenity concerns,
the man being the one to take the lead to give the wave, and the general failure to
make the figures appear anything other than caucasian, something Sagan had hoped to avoid. Anyhow, the whole point was to assist any
being who might encounter the craft in figuring out something about where it came from and
who put it there. The likelihood of that aside (!), both Pioneer
10 and 11 are still out there. Hurtling toward different constellations and
unlikely to pass near any stars for two to four million years. Sagan was also responsible for the famous
Voyager Golden Records that launched in 1977, which–with their spacecraft–are the farthest
human-made objects from Earth. Voyager 1 left our Solar System in 2012 and
Voyager 2 in 2018, each carrying with them small metal plaques identifying their time
and place of origin, and 12-inch gold-plated copper phonographic records, containing sounds
and images selected to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials. It’s cover includes handy instructions for
how it might be played, and it’s contents include a rather beautiful mix of sounds like
footsteps and rain, greetings in 55 different languages, music from a variety of traditions,
from Beethoven’s Fifth to a performance of pan pipes from the Solomon Islands, and
a series of understandably low resolution images, which are at turns beautiful and striking
and also amusing. Now in the 1980s NASA initiated their “Small,
Self-Contained Payloads” program, known as the “Getaway Special,” when they realized
they wouldn’t make full use of the volume and weight capability on every mission. So they offered individuals and groups the
chance to fly small experiments aboard their shuttles, like one in 1986 designed by artist
Ellery Kurtz and environmental psychologist Howard Wishnow. Four oil paintings by Kurtz were loaded into
a test canister, and orbited 98 times around the earth with the space shuttle Columbia,
over the course of 6 days. Afterward, the paintings were assessed and
found to bear no signs of degradation despite extreme conditions. Now we know. 1993 brought us the launch of a sculpture
by Arthur Woods called Cosmic Dancer, the first 3-dimensional artwork specifically designed
to be experienced in microgravity. Made of painted, welded aluminum tubing and
weighing just 1 kilogram, Cosmic Dancer was brought to space by the Soyuz-U2 rocket, released
on board the Mir space station, and allowed to move about. The intent was to investigate the properties
of sculpture in the situation of weightlessness, but also to underline the importance of, in
its maker’s terms, “bridging the terrestrial and extraterrestrial environments of human
civilization.” The possibilities of three dimensional art
in space were further explored in 2009 and 2011 with Takuro Osaka’s Spiral Top, performed
aboard the International Space Station in the Japanese Experiment Module. It was a spinning top whose LED-illuminated
arms created aurora light traces when spun in microgravity, with random shifts in the
light arcs due to the object’s changing center of gravity. In case you’re worried Mars has been neglected
on the art front, fret not. The European Space Agency sent a work by Damien
Hirst on board the unmanned Beagle 2 on its 2003 Mars Express mission. Hirst was invited to create one of his signature
spot paintings for the flight, this one with a concrete function, as an instrument calibration
color chart. He used pigments that could withstand the
conditions. And the test card would have been used as
a reference chart for scientists back on earth if Beagle 2 hadn’t dropped completely out
of contact. It was presumed destroyed, until 2015 when
it was spotted by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on the planet’s surface. But it’s not the only art out there. NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover placed two
copies of a digital artwork by Australian artist Stephen Little on the surface of Mars
in 2004. And in 2008, the Planetary Society dispatched
a collection of recordings to Mars with NASA’s Phoenix Lander. Conceived as “a message from our world to
future human inhabitants of Mars,” the archival silica-glass mini DVD is encoded with messages
from earthlings and a collection of writings, art, and radio broadcasts about our knowledge
of Mars and visions possible futures there. If this is leaving you a little bummed that
you don’t have access to a major rocket to get your art into space, please know there
are other ways. In 2014, Makoto Azuma launched his work into
space using a specially designed balloon and frame from Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. For his series Exobiotanica, Azuma propelled
a 50 year old white pine bonsai tree and a bouquet of flowers nearly 100,000 feet into
the stratosphere. Six cameras mounted to a frame took stills
of the journey, capturing the artist’s goal of seeing “what kind of beauty shall be
born… by giving up the [plant’s] links to life–roots, soil, and gravity.” And in 2016, David Haines and Joyce Hinterding
launched what they called their Sound Ship, descender 1, into the stratosphere from New
South Wales, Australia. under a specially rated helium balloon that
bursts once it reaches zero pressure. The artists designed air blown instruments
into the structure so that it would react to air pressure, wind currents, and gravity
along its way and produce sound. It also had multiple tracking and recording
systems on board that captured the unique composition, and a parachute was deployed
to bring it safely back to earth. The recent expansion of the space game beyond
government agencies has been a boon for those hoping to get art out there. A work by Tavares Strachan created in collaboration
with the LA County Museum of Art launched in December 2018 on a SpaceX Falcon 9. Titled Enoch, Strachan’s work brings light
to the story of Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr, the first African American astronaut selected
for any national space program, who died in a plane crash while training in 1967. The satellite holds a 24-carat gold jar topped
by a bust of Lawrence, modeled after canopic jars used in ancient Egypt to enshrine organs
for entombment. Bringing together a variety of beliefs about
the afterlife, the jar was blessed pre-flight at a Shinto shrine in Fukuoka, Japan, designating
it as a vessel for Lawrence’s soul. And it’s title refers to the biblical Enoch,
who was able to forego death and proceed directly to the afterlife. The artist shared his aim “to put someone
into space who didn’t get the chance to go.” And it is up there, and will continue to circle
the Earth for a number of years to come. Not all space art efforts are successful,
of course. Trevor Paglen’s Orbital Reflector launched
on the same SpaceX rocket as Enoch, but didn’t work out quite so well. His was made of polyethylene coated in titanium
dioxide, and was designed to be released into orbit and then inflate into a 100 foot-long
diamond-shaped balloon. The satellite was supposed to have no other
function than being exactly what it was, able to reflect the sun’s light and be tracked
as point of light in the sky from Earth. Due to a variety of issues, they didn’t
get the permission to inflate it at the right time, and now it’s just floating somewhere,
not quite achieving its goal of encouraging “all of us to look up at the night sky with
a renewed sense of wonder, to consider our place in the universe, and to reimagine how
we live together on this planet.” But in a way it kind of did, because most
of these projects exist in our imaginations more so than in our physical experience. By merely learning about them or seeing pictures,
this art can be incredibly effective at reactivating our wonder at the night sky, and our appreciation
for our place in the universe. And this isn’t even all of it. Even Space Invader has invaded space. And there is much more in the works, including
a project called MoonArk from Carnegie Mellon planned to be sent to the moon aboard an Astrobotic
lander in 2021. Weighing only 8 ounces, the tiny sculpture
is the collaboration of many and contains hundreds of images, poems, music, nano-objects,
mechanisms, and samples from earth. Yes, all of these projects are very cool and
interesting. But what they do for me is underline a key
truth. And that’s that everything that has ever
escaped the atmosphere is art. The machines and computers that make it happen
are art. The insane dedication and cooperation of the
whole effort is art, as is the mind power and ingenuity and bravery and innovation it
involves. Every photograph that has ever been captured
in space is art. Each image more miraculous and thought-provoking
and awe-inspiring than pretty much anything you’ll find in a museum. But what art proper has done is help us imagine
space, and appreciate it, and deepen our understanding of it. Rather than help us communicate with otherworldly
beings, I see the key role of art in space as helping us to learn about ourselves, and
our irrepressible drive to bring art with us wherever we go. PBS is bringing you the universe with SUMMER
OF SPACE, which includes six incredible new science and history shows streaming on PBS.org
and the PBS Video app, along with lots of space-y episodes from PBS Digital Studios
creators Thanks to all of our patrons for supporting
the art assignment, especially our grandmasters of the arts, Vincent Apa and Ernest Wolfe. Follow me over to IT'S OKAY TO BE SMART to
check out their Summer of Space episode on THE END OF NIGHT.

You Might Also Like

22 Comments

  • Reply Tatiana Kuznetsova July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    Why didn’t they straight up make a sculpture on the moon out of the moons ground material

  • Reply Cenit Magnitud July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    I'm more bummed out from not having archival silocon glass DVD technology.

  • Reply Layila Faon July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    What a stunning painting 😍 this looks all so mysterious great

  • Reply DangerMouSe July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    1960s artists ruined the industry to this day. Their artwork speaks for itself

  • Reply BOOGY110011 July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    Carl Segan! How ignorant! Didn't include LGBTQ+ or Africans or Asians or Indians and American Indians and Aborigines.
    OMG. We must catch up them and replace. Cost should be cover by only white male's.

    (joke)

  • Reply TheBrodudemanguy July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    Yeti's!!!!!!!

  • Reply Iana Araújo July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    Halfway through this video I started crying and didn't even know why

  • Reply Melanie Thiessen July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    14 pulsars to the center of the galaxy would make a great band name. Or maybe a title for a new John Green book.

  • Reply stareng100 July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    So launching a Tesla into space is not qualified as art?

  • Reply DAYBROK3 July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    I had the chance to be one of a group of artists who’s mini works from Canada sent up in one of those high altitude balloons. I have the book on it. I noticed that the watercolour was different from the what stayed on earth.

  • Reply Qilorar V July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    Not sure why, but but this video made me cry, maybe because of the sentiments, but really the ideas are beautiful. Thank you for this knowledge

  • Reply tt563 July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    AA woman is a tonic!

  • Reply adam hack July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    I love your videos so much, i can only image how much work is put into it. cudos. <3

  • Reply tiber574 July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    Art needs a second job to keep from starving. Art followed it’s passion and now does not understand why it lost interest after it got difficult.

  • Reply tiber574 July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    13:39 When did Apollo 8 take the picture ‘Earthrise’? You typo’d the caption.

  • Reply PogieJoe July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    Uh I love this show.

  • Reply Dylan Searcy July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    Wouldn’t the plants die

  • Reply john July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    they should have sent d. hirst to the moon, and left him there.

  • Reply cuallito July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    I was 3 minutes into your video before I noticed your shirt.

  • Reply sub __ July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    Nasa: We're actually sending artwork in space.
    Andy Warhol: l'm gonna send the drawing of a penis that looks like a rocket.
    Robert Rauschenberg: *hold my beer.
    Sends a line drawing 😅😅😅
    Edit: One of my favourite 20th century artists.

  • Reply Byronic Tonic July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    Neil Degrasse Tyson would give that space shirt a 10/10.

  • Reply Naomi L July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    This video combines two things I love deeply, and does it so well!

  • Leave a Reply