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ars astronautica - space art by Arthur Woods

   Art To The Stars

Art to the Stars

An Astronautical Perspective on the Arts and Space

Arthur Woods (Update: March 2019)

Most people are probably not aware that the idea of space exploration began in the mind of the artist or that artists have been intimately involved in space exploration from the beginning. Yet long before the first rocket penetrated the atmosphere, artists were making the concept of humanity traveling beyond Earth’s atmosphere a reality.

This has led to a genre of art called Space Art sometimes referred to as AstroArt – two terms which can be used interchangeably when describing art related to artists who are inspired by or depicting outer space in their approach to art.

From an historical perspective, Johann Kepler's Somnium, written in 1634, is considered to be the first science fiction book about space. Both a scientific treatise on lunar astronomy and a remarkably foresighted science-fiction story about a voyage to the moon, it accurately stated that that the Earth’s atmosphere becomes gradually thinner as one travels further from the planet. Since the first use of the telescope in 1610 and before the invention of the camera, astronomers recorded their observations of the heavens by making drawings of their discoveries. An early example would be the sketch of the Whirlpool Galaxy made by William Parsons in 1845 who had just constructed the world’s largest telescope.  In the mid-nineteenth century artists De MontantA. De Neuville and Emile Bayard created woodcuts to illustrate Jules Verne's "From the Earth to the Moon" (1865) and its sequel "Around the Moon".  A few years later, James Nasmyth's illustrations were the first space landscapes to appear in a non-fiction book: "The Moon". Perhaps the most notable artwork depicting the night sky from this period would be Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night painted in 1889. Considered to be one of his greatest works, it depicts the view outside his sanitarium room window at night, although it was painted from memory during the day.

Astronautical Art and Astronomical Art

Astronautical art can be seen as an art form that specifically or purposely utilizes or integrates space technology and/or the space environment for its realization and as such, it could be considered as a counterpart to astronomical art which is rather dedicated to the visualization of outer space. Indeed, astronomy [1] is a natural science dedicated to the study of celestial objects beyond Earth’s atmosphere and astronautics [2] is about the theory and practice of navigation beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

These are just two of the different approaches to making art that is related to outer space which often overlap and, in the broad spectrum of contemporary art, include many other art making techniques and practices that may be considered sub-genres of these particular approaches. The cinema is a good example where astronomical and astronautical arts obviously overlap. Literature and music should also be included in the discussion. However, for purposes of conciseness, this description of the arts and space will be concerned primarily with the visual arts.

Astronomical Art

Astronomical art utilizes more traditional media such as painting and drawing and, more recently, digital techniques as an illustrative and predominantly realistic approach dedicated to the visualization of outer space phenomena such as such as stars, galaxies, planets, moons, comets, nebulae and other celestial objects and distant destinations.  Artists such as, Chesley Bonestell, Lucien Rudaux, David A. Hardy and Ludek Pesek were some of the major astronomical artists in the early days of space exploration and were actively involved in visualizing space exploration proposals with input from astronomers and other space experts anxious to spread the ideas and conceptions of the cosmos to a wider audience. Today, in the context of a broader art world, astronomical art embraces a number of styles that are not just realistic but includes abstract and impressionistic approaches.  The International Association of Astronomical Artists has over 150 members of this genre and celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2009 with the publication of The Beauty of Space -  a book featuring their members' art.

Astronautical Art

One of the early modern practitioners of an astronautical approach to space and art was artist Frank Malina who was also a pioneering space engineer and was co-founder of both the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the 1940’s and the International Academy of Astronautics in 1959 as well as being the founder of Leonardo – the academic journal on art, science and technology in 1968. His innovative kinetic artworks created in the 1950’s and 60’s often incorporated both astronomical and astronautical concepts and elements.

Thus the advent of spaceflight marks the beginning of the genre of astronautical art. Since then, artists began to initiate projects to explore outer space on their own artistic terms by proposing art concepts designed to be realized in the outer space environment, by utilizing space technologies and materials for their artistic purposes or with their own bodies and projects in micro-gravity or Zero-G environments. A few artists have also been astronauts and created artworks while in space.

Astronautical art has several broad categories.

  1. Art that depicts space hardware and/or spaceflight.
  2. Art designed for realization in the outer space environment.
  3. Art on Earth that is viewed from space.
  4. Art that is made in space.
  5. Art that is designed for space habitats.
  6. Art that is attached to space hardware such as rocket launchers and satellites.
  7. Art that relies on space technologies and/or materials for its realization.
  8. Performance art, either in space or in a simulated micro-gravity environment.

1.0  Art that depicts space hardware and/or spaceflight.

In 1962, four years after NASA was founded, Administrator James E. Webb recognized space exploration would make a profound cultural impact, in addition to advancing science and technology. He established the NASA Art Program to commission pieces from prominent artists that would illustrate and interpret the space agency's missions. Since that time, the art program has enjoyed the participation of such art luminaries as Robert RauschenbergNorman RockwellJames WyethNam June PaikPatti LaBelleWilliam WegmanMike and Doug Starn, and Annie Leibovitz.

Some of the early astronomical artists mentioned above also included space hardware in their imagery. Representational or illustrative works by present day artists, most notably those by Michael CarrollLynette Cook,  Mark GarlickWilliam K. HartmannJon Lomberg, Robert T.  McCall, Ron Miller and Pat Rawlings often appear in scientific magazines and in the publications of the space agencies depicting new discoveries and technological developments. Others, such as Don Davis and Rick Sternbach, have contributed their artistic skills to the television and movie industries. Many of these artists no longer work in traditional media such as oil or acrylics but now utilize digital art making techniques.

A growing number of contemporary artists have created gallery or museum installations that incorporate space technology or hardware into their manifestations. The London art agency The Arts Catalyst organized an exhibition called “Republic of the Moon”. Including artists Liliane Lijn, Leonid Tishkov, Katie Paterson, Agnes Meyer Brandis, and WE COLONISED THE MOON (Sue Corke and Hagen Betzwieser), Moon Vehicle (Joanna Griffin and ISRO scientist P Shreekumar)  the exhibition combined personal encounters, DIY space plans, imaginary expeditions and new myths for the next space age. The exhibition was animated with performances, workshops, music, talks, a pop-up moon shop by super/collider and playful protests against lunar exploitation.

2.0 Art designed for the outer space environment.

The Moon
In 1969, The Moon Museum,  a small ceramic tile on which American artists Robert Rauschenberg,  Andy Warhol,  Claus Oldenberg , John Chamberlain,  Forrest Myers and David Novros  drew designs that was supposedly covertly attached to a leg of the Intrepid landing module, and subsequently left on the Moon during Apollo 12. The initiator of the project, Forrest Myers tried to get NASA to approve and sanction the project, but as NASA was non-committal, Meyers eventually contacted a technician who apparently agreed to smuggle the tile onto the landing module.

On Aug. 2, 1971, Commander David Scott of the Apollo 15 mission placed a 3 1/2-inch-tall (8.5 cm)  aluminum sculpture and a plaque onto the dusty surface of a small crater near his parked lunar rover.  Called The Fallen Astronaut, a small human shaped figurine designed by Belgian artist Paul Van Hoeydonk  - was intended to commemorate those astronauts and cosmonauts who had lost their lives in the furtherance of space exploration. The plaque was designed and made separately by David Scott. Van Hoeydonck was given a set of design restrictions: that the sculpture was to be both lightweight and sturdy, capable of withstanding the temperature extremes of the Moon; it could not be identifiably male or female, nor of any identifiable ethnic group. The Apollo 15 astronauts and the artist apparently had an agreement that this event would not be commercialized which resulted in some controversy in subsequent years.

Planned for launch in 2020, Carnegie Mellon University is sending the first museum to the Moon aboard an Astrobotic lander. The project, called  The MoonArk, is designed as a gift of life and hope to future humans embodied by all the arts, enlarging the lunar mission to ponder how the Moon stirs the tides, the growth patterns of life, the rhythms of society, and how the Moon always continues to pull us further into the heavens. Under the leadership of artist Lowry Burgess and with more than 300 artists involved, The MoonArk is a highly collaborative and massively integrated sculpture that poetically sparks wonderment through the integration of the arts, humanities, sciences, and technologies.

In 2018, art collector and Japanese billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa in collaboration with Elon Musk and his BFR launcher announced the #dearMoon project to orbit the Moon in 2023 with the art collector and six invited artists.

"Fly me to the Moon. The Moon landing: 50 years on" is a major exhibition of space art being curated by Cathérine Hug at the Kunsthaus Zurich. Taking place between April 5 and June 30, 2019, the exhibition is a journey through the history of artists’ engagement with the Moon, from the Romantic era to the present day. Divided into thematic sections and featuring over 200 artworks, the exhibition focuses on topics such as lunar topography, moonlit night and the Moon’s shadow, ailments associated with the Moon, zero gravity and the Moon as mass media phenomenon.

British artist Antony Gormley has collaborated with the Yale astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan to create a virtual reality work, called Lunatick, which aims to recreate the sensation of walking on the Moon’s surface. The work is to be presented in London in April, 2019.

In 2003 the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Mars Express to the planet Mars. The Mars Lander called The Beagle 2 was to have sent its first signal back to earth letting the project team know it has landed in one piece. This signal was be a piece of music composed by the pop band Blur. On board was a work by British artist Damien Hirst designed to test if the instruments were still working accurately. The Beagle 2 crashed on its decent to the surface of Mars and these works could not be completed. More successfully was NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission which included a DVD with 4 million names collected from the public including a text based work called Monochrome (for Mars) by Australian artist Stephen Little. The European Space Agency included a CD containing messages and artworks on its Huygens space probe that landed on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan in 2005. Later, the Phoenix Lander which arrived on Mars in May 2008 contained a DVD called "Visions of Mars" containing science fiction stories and artworks about Mars. This project was originally launched in 1996 on the failed Russian "Mars 96" space craft but finally made it to Mars 16 years later.

U.S. Space Shuttle
Prior to the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, it was possible for artists to gain access on the space shuttle’s cargo bay via NASA’s ”Get Away Special” (GAS) program. Launched in 1984, Joseph McShane’s GAS experiment called S.P.A.C.E. contained a system of spheres used as a materials coating experiment, originally conceived of and viewed as artworks upon return to Earth.  In 1986, a project by Vertical Horizonsa company founded by  Ellery Kurtz, artist & Howard Wishnow, project coordinator, organized an art conservation experiment on board the Space Shuttle Columbia . The experiment was enclosed in a G.A.S. canister from NASA and placed in the cargo bay on a special mounting. Included in the canister as part of the experiment were 4 original oil paintings by Ellery Kurtz and other artistic materials in order to evaluate the effects of spaceflight on fine art materials.

Both of the above art projects had to have a dual art and scientific function in order to meet NASA’s requirements. However in 1989, Lowry Burgess's  Boundless Cubic Lunar Aperture flew on the space shuttle as a self-contained "non-scientific payload". This conceptual artwork included holograms and cubes made from all of the elements known to science and water samples from all the world's rivers as part of Burgess’s Quiet Axis artwork.

Falcon Heavy
On February 6, 2018 with the inaugural launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket, Elon Musk launched his personal Tesla Roadster with a dummy Staman as a passenger in the driver seat on a journey towards Mars. The live stream seen by millions will surely be remembered for it cultural impact. Was it space art? This remains to be seen and will need more analysis.

Orbital Sculpture
A highly controversial form of space art is that of orbital sculptures. The idea for such works can be traced to the 1960’s and the first Echo satellites which were launched by the US. These passive communication satellites – reflective spheres 30 to 40 meters in diameter - were significant because, in addition to their scientific objectives, many people actually saw these quite visible objects passing overhead in the night sky.

Space technology such as this was not lost on artists and the first such “art-in-space” concepts called “spaceworks” were proposed by Albert Notarbartolo  to “serve as beacons of man's presence in the solar system” which he began to sketch in 1971.  While he recognized the controversial nature of such concepts, he hoped that support for the launching of the first spacework would be obtained as a cooperative international venture under the auspices of the United Nations to symbolize the solidarity of mankind.  Since then, the few art-in-space proposals that have been publicized and developed to some degree have indeed sparked enormous controversy. Yet, most of the proposals have turned out to be technically, financially or politically unfeasible to realize.  Around 1980 (although in a less documented fashion), Jean-Marc Philippe “began to think of using space as an infinite canvas. His very first concepts included autonomous satellites with highly reflective surfaces or laser beam systems installed aboard multipurpose satellites. In his Celestial Wheel space artwork, laser beams would be relayed among geostationary- orbit satellites, creating a circle of 39 illuminated "stars" around Earth. Another project, Venus+, would utilize inflatable satellites also in geostationary orbit for defining 'the four corners of the sky' - lights to be seen first in the evening and to last till dawn. Another project called KEO  was a proposed space time capsule satellite which was to have been launched in 2003 carrying messages from the citizens of present Earth to humanity 50,000 years from now, when it would re-enter Earth's atmosphere. It was later delayed to 2006, then to 2007/2008, then to 2010/2011, then to 2012, then to 2013, then to 2015, followed by 2015/2016. Currently the KEO website cites 2019 as its launch, however, no actual date is set and information about its launch is vague.

In 1982, French artist Pierre Comte initiated a number of actions that may be said to have started a space art movement. They take on a particular interest when one considers their multidisciplinary character, in that they included:
• direct cooperation with scientists and engineers
• the constitution of the Association Internationale Arsat (AIA) to support the art projects
• an attempt at creating an evolutionary framework for his Arsat projects.

Comte’s   Arsat  (1984) - a solar sail type sculpture designed to create a brilliant star that would circle the planet - was selected as the runner-up in the Eiffel Tower 100th anniversary (1989) competition. Third place in the competition was Dieter Kassing, an  engineer working for the European Space Agency (ESA) proposed Space Disk -  a 50 meter in diameter object with a Morse Code message creating a “blinking star” in the night sky. The winning proposal called L'anneau Lumiere was submitted by the architectural Group Spirale (Alain Coquet, Jerome Gerber, Jean Jacques Leonard, Alain Robert, and Jean Pierre Pommereau). Their project consisted of a 24 kilometer in diameter ring of 100 six meter in diameter reflecting balloons which would have been visible as a circle in the sky larger than the Moon -   a concept that turned out to be technically unfeasible to realize.

Also in 1982, artist Richard Clar proposed his Space Flight Dolphin project as an interdisciplinary art-in-space SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project designed to be deployed in low-Earth orbit from the cargo bay of the U.S. Space Shuttle. Clar’s other art-in-space proposals include Alma da Aqua, Earthstar and Space – A Dangerous Place

In 1985, Arthur Woods initiated a project called O.U.R.S. - the Orbiting Unification Ring Satellite designed to celebrate the coming new millennium with a symbol of global peace and unity. This one kilometer in diameter inflatable toroidal sculpture was designed to be visible as a “circle in the sky” approximately one- quarter the size of the Moon. The sculpture employed a technology that under development by the European Space Agency in which a chemically impregnated membrane that would harden or rigidize in the presence of sunlight. The sculpture, as it was technically defined in 1988, would have weighed 19.7 tons and would require an entire Ariane 5 for its launch.

As a precursor, a six meter in diameter sculpture was proposed to celebrate the International Space Year (ISY) as the OUR-Space Peace Sculpture. In 1998, a "Letter of Intent" for the launch of the sculpture was signed with Glavcosmos, a commercial agency for the Soviet/Russian space program. In 1990, a full size inflatable sculpture was constructed by the major Russian space company NPO Energia and delivered to the artist. In the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, final funding for the project did not materialize in time for the International Space Year and the project was postponed. The deployment of the OUR-Space Peace Sculpture from the Mir space station was to have been filmed by the cosmonauts during a spacewalk and the video of the deployment transmitted live to Earth.

American artist James Pridgeon proposed the 1990 Goodwill Games Constellation - an orbital sculpture consisting of (seven, then reduced to two) inflatable Mylarized balloons 30m in diameter attached to a Kevlar tether several kilometers in length. This structure would create two stars symbolizing East and West, with a brightness equivalent to that of Venus.

Around 1990, Pierre Comte also introduced a multiple-light concept with the Arsat Double Star, where two spheres (30 m and 50 m in diameter) would be deployed and rigidized, remaining connected by a 2-km tether. The complex would be designed to rotate around its center of mass, tensioning the tether and causing the lights to show motions lateral to the orbital track.  A very similar project  called The Star of Tolerance was proposed by French businessman Nersi Razavi  in 1995 to celebrate UNESCO’s Year of Tolerance. Once launched and inflated, the two balloons, respectively 164 feet and 98 feet in diameter, would be tied to each other by a mile-long cable and would rotate around each other, circling Earth every two hours. Reflecting bright sunlight toward the darkened ground, they would be seen as a rotating binary planet.

Not technically called an artwork, Japan launched a mirror-covered satellite, "Ajisai," in August 1986, on board the maiden launch of its H-I rocket. The 85-inch (215 cm) experimental geodetic satellite is still in orbit and can be seen with binoculars.

Similarly in the US, the Starshine project comprised three spherical satellites fitted by the United States Naval Research Laboratory with small mirrors polished by students from around the world. The Starshine-1 and -2 satellites were launched on NASA space shuttle missions STS-96 in June 1999 and STS-108 in December 2001, respectively. The 19-inch diameter (48 cm) spheres were each covered in more than 850 mirrors. Starshine-3, which was almost twice the size of the earlier satellites and fitted with 1500 polished mirrors, was lofted into orbit on an Athena I uncrewed rocket from the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska in September 2001. It reflected light back at the Earth for two years, completing more than 7,400 revolutions.

In 2003  Jon Maxey  proposed the the International Peace Star a large reflective satellite with a humanitarian message.

In 2013, Arthur Woods and Marco C. Bernasconi  revived their previous collaboration  with the initiation of the S.O.S. - Space Option Star project - a 100m in diameter inflatable icosahedron as an interdisciplinary, multi-dimensional art, science, technology and educational project designed to inform and excite the world population about the many advantages of using space technology to meet the growing needs of the humanity as well being an example of the inherent commercial opportunities involved in space development. In parallel, they re-introduced the Space Peace Star project - a synthesis of the earlier O.U.R.S. and the OUR-Space Peace Sculpture projects. The Space Peace Star would be a reflective torus divided by a central cross with a diameter of approx. 22. meters  symbolically representing the astronomical symbol of planet Earth.

Although not specifically called an artwork, MAYAK, is the name of a reflective object in the shape of a pyramid that would be 3 meters in height which was designed to be deployed into orbit. The project was developed by a young team of Russian space enthusiasts. MAYAK was crowdfunded and successfully launched on July 14, 2017 on the Russian Soyuz-21a. The cubesat carrying the structure was deployed along with 72 other small payloads. However, the reflective structure failed to deploy. While the mission, if successful, would have resulted in the brightest object in the sky, it was also developed to test a way to de-orbit space debris.

Students from Japan’s Aichi University are planning to launch “an artificial star” into space, a device they say will be visible from Earth. The ultra-small cube-shaped satellite will be sent into orbit aboard the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) H-2A rocket scheduled to launch in February 2018. The satellite, which weighs around 1.65kgs  and measures 10cm on each side, will and will be fitted with eight beam-type LEDs and 24 wide-angle LEDs that can be activated using an amateur radio. It is thought the LED applications will make the satellite brighter than stars placed sixth on the order of apparent magnitude, a scale measuring a star’s brightness as seen by an observer on Earth. Sixth magnitude stars are barely visible to the naked eye. It is expected that the CubeSat mission will stay in orbit for seven years.

On January 21, 2018, Peter Beck, CEO of of Rocket Lab, a California based NewSpace company, launched The Humanity Star on an Electron rocket from their launch facilities in New Zealand. The 1 meter in diameter carbon fiber geodesic satellite was constructed out of 65 reflective surfaces creating a twinkling object in the sky. Orbiting the Earth once every 90 minutes The Humanity Star should be visible to viewers on Earth as the brightest star in the sky.

Trevor Paglen  has proposed to create orbital sculptures that he calls Nonfunctional Satellites which would be visible to the naked eye as a bright star in the sky. The Nonfunctional Satellite recasts the old question of "art for art's sake" within a different context, asking whether we can imagine something like "aerospace engineering for aerospace engineering's sake." In collaboration with the Nevada Museum of Art, his Orbital Reflector which is a diamond-shaped sculpture was launched by SpaceX in on December 3, 2018. The artwork which measures approximately 30 meters in length would be very visible to the naked eye. However, tracking difficulties due the the shutdown of the U.S. government has prevented the deployment of the sculpture pending clearance by the FCC. It is now a race against time before the sculpture's onboard electronics fail or the satellite de-orbits.

On the same SpaceX launch as the Orbital Reflector, was another space sculpture designed by the Bahamian-born, New York-based artist Tavares Strachan in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The artwork titled Enoch was a 24-carat gold Egyptian-inspired jar topped by a bust and welded to a CubeSat armature. The bust depicts Robert Henry Lawrence Jr., the first African American selected for the US space program, who died in 1967 in a plane crash while training a junior pilot and never realized his dream of traveling to outer space.

In January 2019. a Russian startup called StartRocket has announced that wish to create advertisements in space with swarms of tiny, light reflecting CubeSats.  StartRocket CEO Vlad Sitnikov, said the company’s plan for space-based advertising was inspired by Peter Beck's Humanity Star.

Artist Daan Roosegaarde wants to turn space junk into a spectacular light show which could be a replacement for fireworks at major sporting events. Working together with the European Space Agency (ESA) he created the Space Waste Lab Performance which would use high powered lasers aimed at individual pieces of debris as it passes in the night sky.

Much like Razavi’s project and the winning project by Groupe Spiral to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower  initial reaction to Peter Beck's  Humanity Star has also stimulated protest from some members in the astronomical community.  The initial reaction is very similar to that of astronomers when these types of artworks were first proposed, which loudly protested that such projects would interfere with their work. Some space scientists are afraid that these types of projects would lead to advent of using the night skies for advertising purposes. Their comments have been picked by the media and, in order to avoid controversy, space agencies in the US and Europe have been very reluctant to endorse such art-in-space projects (unless of course, they do so themselves). In reality, no astronomer or other organization complains loudly when the International Space Station - an object brighter than any star – passes over their communities and telescopes in the night sky.  However, so far, the main factor limiting the realization of highly visible orbital sculptures has been the high cost and complexity of such projects. It will be interesting to judge the reactions to Trevor Paglen's much larger Orbital Reflector - which is 30 meters in length - or the Japanese "LED satellite star" if and when these projects are successful in space.

3.0 Art on Earth that can be viewed from space.

A few artists have utilized space technology in orbit for the realization of their art projects on Earth. In 1980, American artist Tom Van Sant used a system of mirrors to create Reflections from Earth, and in 1986, Desert Sun which were recorded by a satellite passing overhead. French artist Pierre Comte used large sheets of black plastic to create Signature Terre which was photographed by the SPOT remote sensing satellite in 1989.

In 2014, UK graffiti artist INSA created a street art  project in Brazil he has dubbed GIF-iti - a technique similar to stop-motion animation but on a much grander scale - which involves painting a gigantic mural, photographing it, altering it then photographing again until it can be made into a loop-able clip, or GIF (Graphic Interchange Format). The animated artwork was  photographed from a camera-equipped satellite orbiting 430 miles above the Earth.

In March 2018, Kansas (USA) farmer and “cow artist”  Derek Klingenberg arranged (herded) about 300 of his cattle in a formation that spelled our the word  ‘hi’ as a “message” to the recently launched Tesla and Starman launched by SpaceX. The artist calculated the precise time window when a Planet Labs Earth observation satellite passed over his farm in order for it to successfully photograph the cow formation on the ground from orbit. His video of the project called Cow Space Art can be seen on YouTube.

4.0 Art that is made in space.

Former astronaut Alan Bean and cosmonaut Alexei Leonov have created astronomical art works based on their personal experiences outer space – both while in orbit and on the surface of the Moon. While not actually made in space, due to Bean unique experience of having been on the Moon, his paintings of lunar landscapes evoke “what it was like” for a human being to actually be walking on the Moon’s surface. Leonov is credited with making the first drawing in space - a small yet remarkable view of a sunrise on March 18,  1965 aboard the Voskhod 2 spacecraft .

Richard Garriott, the well-known video game programmer visited the ISS in 2008 as a “space tourist”. Not only did he take along an art exhibition incorporating art created by his mother, by various sculptors and art submitted by artists through a competition, Garriott did some painting during his time in space. Before his flight he practiced alongside his mother, an accomplished artist, on several zero-G flights with canvases and paint to experience the environment while creating zero gravity art.

Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté visited the ISS in 2009. His spaceflight was dedicated to raising awareness on water issues facing humankind on planet Earth, making his spaceflight the first, in his words, "poetic social mission" in space. The event was accompanied by a 120-minute webcast program featuring various artistic performances in 14 cities on five continents, including the ISS.

In 2009, NASA astronaut Nicole Scott brought a small watercolor kit to the ISS and painted a watercolor called The Wave which was  inspired by her observations from orbit. After her astronaut career she is devoting her time in the pursuit of art.

In 2013, Canadian astronaut Chis Hadfield created a YouTube sensation with his performance of Space Oddity - the first music video made in space -  while he was the commander of the International Space Station.

Miniature paintings by Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik were integrated into a student scientific Vibration Experiment” that was sent to the ISS in December 2015.

The US company MadeinSpace sent a 3D printer to the International Space Station (ISS). One can easily speculate how space art - in space - will soon be created and realized using these new technologies and opportunities. In a cooperation with MadeinSpace , Israeli artist Eyal Gever,  used this technology to make a 3-D printed artwork called Laugh on the ISS. The project began Dec. 1, 2016, when Gever and his team launched an app that converts the sound waves of users' laughter into a digital 3D model, or "laugh star." More than 100,000 people generated their own laugh stars throughout December,and app users then voted on their favorite laugh star. The winner was Naughtia Jane Stanko of Las Vegas, whose model was beamed up to the ISS and printed out on February 10,  2017.

Widely reported as the "first" 3D art work created in space, the printing of Laugh was followed just a few days later by Eduardo Kac's  Inner Telescope. Launched on November 17, 2016 to the ISS, this 3D artwork was created with the participation of  French astronaut Thomas Pesquet  on February 18, 2017. Inner Telescope was specifically conceived for zero gravity and was not brought from Earth: instead it was made in space by Pesquet following the artist’s instructions.  The work was fabricated from materials found in the space station. It consisted of a form that has neither top nor bottom, neither front nor back. Viewed from a certain angle, the form reveals the word "moi" [“I”, in French]; from another point of view one may see a human figure with the cut umbilical cord. This "moi" is the collective self, evoking humanity, and the umbilical cord cut represents our liberation from gravitational limits.  

Artists Ioannis Michaloudis and Isodora Mack are proposing a solution to the space debris problem by  gathering orbital debris  to create a gigantic parasol that could provide a sunshade for the planet.

Adrift is a project by UK artists Nick Ryan and Cath Le Couteur. The pair have produced a film, an interactive installation, and a website all based on the notion that space debris in outer space can be used to create music.

5.0 Art designed for space habitats.

Carried out in the context of the AustroMir mission in 1991, Austrian artist Richard Kriesche transmitted an interactive video performance called ARTSAT to the cosmonaut crew on board the Russian Mir space station who returned the altered signals after one orbit which then interacted with various devices on the ground.

In 1993, Arthur Woods’ Cosmic Dancer, an aluminum sculpture painted with acrylics was sent to the Mir space station.  Cosmic Dancer  was the first three-dimensional artwork specifically designed for a human habitat in orbit. It was designed to be an investigation of the properties of sculpture in weightlessness and an experiment determining the advantages and disadvantages of integrating art into the living and working environment of the cosmonaut crew. A video and photographic documentation was made by the cosmonauts of them “dancing” with the sculpture and they provided an informative commentary on having art included in their orbital habitat. The Cosmic Dancer project, which cost approximately 100,000 dollars to realize, was financed through the sale of an edition of 99 versions of the sculpture. The original sculpture, however, was never returned to Earth and may have been aboard the Mir when it was deorbited on March 23, 2001.

Two years later, in cooperation with ESA in the development of their EuroMir95 mission, The OURS Foundationa cultural and astronautical organization set up by Arthur Woods and Marco C. Bernasconi in 1990 to develop art projects for space, was responsible for organizing Ars ad Astra – The 1st Art Exhibition in Earth Orbit which organized an international competition that enabled 20 original A4 sized art works from different artists to be sent to the Mir station. These were: Alessandro Bartolozzi (I),  Peter Binz (CH), Werner Beyeler (CH), Michael Böhme (D), Marcy Burt Butz (CH), Michael Carroll (USA), Chris Couvee (NL), Karl Draeger (D), Peter Eickmeyer (D), Marilynn Flynn (USA), Rudolf Halaczinsky (D), Rudolf Hanke (D), Sarah Kernaghan (IRL), Mark Maxwell (USA), Edward Mendelsohn (GB), Elizabeth Smith (USA), Ruth Trapane (USA), Andrea Thüler (CH),Claudine Varesi (MEX) and Amy Zofko (USA).  The cosmonaut crew aboard the Mir consisting of Sergei Avdeev,  Yuri Gudzenko and Thomas Reiter served as final jury and selected a watercolor by Elizabeth Carroll Smith called When Dreams are Born as their favorite. Their announcement of the winner was communicated during a live transmission which took place as the Mir space station passed over the Euro Space Center in Transinne, Belgium on November 30, 1995. Smith’s work remained on the Mir while the other 19 artworks were returned to Earth and to the artists.

Primsa, a sculpture by artist Pierre Comte was taken to the International Space Station by French astronaut Claudie Haigneré in 2001. The sculpture consisted of 14 small painted spheres each 2.5 cm in diameter with seven limbs extending from its axis and was allowed to float in weightlessness. Over the years, astronauts and cosmonauts have often along taken art works with them on their missions into space – mostly small paintings or prints - including artworks by Pamela Lee, William K. Hartmann and Eric Victor.  Also to have flown art on the Mir station was the German artist Charles Wilp, (1932 - 2005)  who called himself an “artronaut”. Wilp also made a number zero-g flights and sculptures from the wreckage of an Ariane 5 rocket. In 2003, on the last flight of the space shuttle Columbia were two art prints called Coming Event by the German artist Michael Böhme whose work was also included in the 1995 Ars Ad Astra project.

More recent examples of artists exploring space in a contemporary manner includes: Takuro Osaka's "Spiral Top" a floating object with four arms and LED lights blinking intermittently, draws concentric circles and multi-spiral light traces in weightlessness while on the ISS in 2009.Osaka followed up this work  with "Auroral Oval Spiral Top" a similar LED work in 2011 also performed on the ISS."Message in a Bottle"  a work by Shiro Matsui in 2010.  During a spacewalk, crew members bring out a glass bottle and fill it with the vacuum of space. Then, the space-filled bottle is brought back to Earth.

In 2011, Arturo Vittori and Andreas Vogler designed a kinetic sculpture called AtlasCoeslestisZero which was sent to the ISS on the last mission of the US space shuttle. Also in 2011, Cosmical Seeds - a pair of musical instruments designed by metal artists So Negishi and Ayako Ono were sent to the ISS and played by an astronaut.

Space2, a binary artwork designed by the artist known as Invader was sent to the ISS in July 2014.

Campo del Cielo, Field of the Sky is the work of artist Katie Paterson, who melted down a meteorite found in Argentina, re-formed it into the same shape, and worked with ESA to give it a second ride back through Earth’s atmosphere when it was sent to the ISS and  it was returned to Earth aboard ESA’s cargo vehicle Georges Lemaître.

On June 29, 2018, The Contour of Presence - an interactive artwork by Mexican artist Nahum -  was sent to the ISS. The artwork will tell a story from outer space that explores the meaning of presence and the politics of existence. The inner workings of the piece consist of a series of mirrors arranged in a kaleidoscopic fashion, live-stream cameras, lights and motors.

In collaboration with the European Space Agency, artist Anna Hill has proposed and developed a number of artistic and educational interventions designed for realization inside the ISS.

6.0 Art attached to space hardware such as rocket launchers and satellites.

The Pioneer Plaque placed aboard the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spacecraft launched in 1972 and 1973,  was the first artwork to leave the Solar System. Astronomers Carl Sagan and Frank Drake designed the plaques and the artwork was prepared by Sagan's’ then wife Linda Salzman Sagan. As a message to a potential extraterrestrial encounter, it included a drawing depicting a man, a woman, the transition of a hydrogen atom, and the location of the Sun and Earth in the galaxy.

The West cigarette company commissioned German artist Andora to paint the outside surface of a Russian Proton rocket launched in 1992 with examples of his art and as an advertisement for the cigarette company.

The Rosetta Disk, the modern equivalent of the original Rosetta Stone, is a 7.5 cm diameter nickel disc containing a thousand languages ​​ collected and archived by the Long Now Foundation , based in the US city of San Francisco. Each page of text, miniaturized and recorded in the form of an image on the disk, could be read with a microscope. The  disc was incorporated into ESA's Rosetta probe launched in 2004 which rendezvoused with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014.

Artists are still hitching rides for their artworks on satellites. As part of their SYSTEM IV, Moving Plates project Swiss artist Andreas Baumann and Austrian artist Eva Wohlgemuthan fixed an engraved plate to the Cluster satellite FM 6 - Salsa which was placed in orbit after a successful lift off on top of a Soyuz-Fregat launch vehicle on June 16, 2000. More recently, German artists Ragnhild Becker und Gunar Seitz had their aluminum sculpture Weltraum Visitor affixed to the radar satellite Terrasar-X which was launched into orbit on June 30m 2006 atop a Russian SS-18 rocket – which once was a military ICBM.

In Japan, Tohoku University organized a competition for “1mm art” attached to a scientific satellite that was launched in 2009.

In 2012, Trevor Paglen, has attached an archival disc called  “The Last Pictures”  that shows 100 black and white images of life on our planet to the exterior of a communications satellite that blasted off into orbit.

The first 3D printed satellite in history, the ARTSAT2: DESPATCH was both a sculpture and a space vehicle. It was launched was launched as a secondary cargo load together with Hayabusa 2 with an H-IIA rocket on December 3, 2014. Developed as a collaborative initiative between Tama Art University and the University of Tokyo.  The satellite reached an elliptical orbit around the Sun and moved in an orbit between Venus and Mars. On 7 December 2014 the signal was received from a distance of more than 2 million km and on 15 December from a distance of 4.7 million km.

Launched on August 19th, 2015 a group of artists from the Pier 9 Creative Workshops had their artworks included on a Planet Lab's Dove 0C47  satellite which will stay in orbit for approximately 18 months.

NASA launched a We The Explorers campaign that's encouraging people to send in a piece of art for OSIRIS-REx, the first American mission that's expected to bring back a small sample of asteroid Bennu for scientists to study on Earth. The submissions, loaded on a chip, were launched in September, 2016.

In 2016, a Japanese H-2A rocket was decorated with a colorful manga art to raise awareness of space among children. The artworks, including two works by Chūya Koyama, were created by using 30,000 digital images of photographs and paintings sent by children across Japan, according to Kosada. One of the manga, which in total measured three-meters (nine-feet) tall and occupies the upper part of the 53-metre long rocket, depicted 12 jumping children.

Also launched in 2016, NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft mission to asteroid Bennu contains a DVD with several hundred creative works (poetry, art images, time-based media) stored on it. In 2023 it will return to Earth after 7+ years of active space exploration and with Earth art on-board

Nearly 900 pictures drawn by children in Switzerland will travel into space aboard the European Space Agency’s CHEOPS satellite in 2017 as part of a Swiss university collaboration.

On November 12, 2017, the space nation Asgardia an organization led by Russian businessman Igor Ashurbeyli launched a cubesat called Asgardia-1 with half a terabyte of data consisting of messages and images from its member citizens. The goal of Asgardia is to be recognized by the U.N. as a sovereign nation.

A number of artistic projects have been proposed by the various teams working for the Google Lunar Xprize to place artworks on the Moon. One of these is the MoonArk designed by  Mark Baskinger with Matt Zywica, Maggie Banks, Christie Chong, Bettina Chou, Adella Guo, Natalie Harmon, Deborah Lee, Deniz Sokullu and Carolyn Zhou that will be a platinum-engraved sapphire disk with input from more than 200 artists and designers.

7.0 Art that relies on space technologies and materials for its realization.

In 1995, American artist Richard Clar created Collision and later Collision II which he calls: “an orbital debris constellation sculpture in low-Earth orbit”.  Using a super computer, a simulation was made of the orbiting constellation of space debris as viewed from geosynchronous orbit. Composer Mark Mantel created a musical composition to accompany a video of the simulation.  "Star City" is a 4-channel DVD/Video installation by British artists Jane & Louise Wilson that was filmed at Star City, a Russian space-training center just outside of Moscow in the year 2000. In this work, the artists highlighted two sides of the former Soviet Union; the advancements of space travel are depicted alongside the worn, neglected physical spaces of a past era and a dense political history.  Wave UFO - a huge architectural sculpture of whale-like proportions (approx. 5m x 11m x 5m) created by Japanese artist Mariko Mori in 2003, brings together art, science, performance, music, and architecture in an integral work of art which fuses new technologies of computer graphics, video projections, and engineered structures in order to expand the art experience about a journey into space.

Artists such as r a d i o q u a l i a (Honor Hager and  Adam Hyde)  have used  radio telescopes to capture the sounds of the cosmos and integrate this into their musical compositions.  Ezra Orion Intergalactic Sculpture and Jean-Marc Philippe’s  Messages from Mankind to the Universe  have used radio telescopes to transmit messages and images into space. Artists Nina Czegledy, Peter McLeish and Anna Hill have incorporated cosmic atmospheric phenomena such as the aurora borealis into their works. Douglas Vakoch,  Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI Institute has organized workshops and  invited artists to assist in composing messages that may be understood by another civilization.   In 2009,  Daniela de Paulis, in collaboration with the CAMRAS radio amateur association based at Dwingeloo radio telescope in The Netherlands created OPTICKS -  a live audio-visual performance during which digital images were transmitted as radio signals to the Moon which were then bounced back to public venues on Earth.

In 2010, Christian Waldvogel worked with the Swiss Air Force to create "The Earth Turns Without Me". In this project, the Earth’s rotation was canceled by traveling westward in a military jet across the Alps at the speed at which the Earth turns in Switzerland (1158 km/h). Waldvogel has continued to incorporate space concepts into his contemporary art installations such as his Random Planet Production Machine and Globus Cassus in 2014.

Tweets in Space, a collaboration between Nathaniel Stern and  Scott Kildall beamed Twitter discussions from participants worldwide towards GJ667Cc – an exoplanet 22 light years away that might support extraterrestrial life. The work was performed on September 21, 2012 as part of the International Symposium on Electronic Art in New Mexico (ISEA2012).

In 2015, artist Jon Lomberg’s  One Earth Project  aims to beam pictures, sounds and other data representing the planet's inhabitants to NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on its way to Pluto.

Artist Richard Clar executed two moon-inspired projects that sent a part of Neil Armstrong back to the moon and created an introduction between the "light side" and "dark side" of the lunar surface. The transmissions, called Giant Step and Lune sur la Lune (Moon on the Moon),  were made on September 2, 2015.

In 2016, Canadian artist Terence Koh broadcasted the names of the Orlando shooting victims into space as a memorial that he has dubbed a “chanting ceremony”. Koh spoke speak the names of the victims into a microphone that  broadcasted the sound into outer space via an antenna installed outside of a  gallery.

Sarah Jane Pell is developing a spacesuit for an upcoming suborbital spaceflight planned for 2018.

8.0 Performance art in space including simulated space environments.

During 1979-80, videographer Richard Lowenberg collaborated with NASA on the Gravitational-Field-Day project which took performers up in a KC-135, in neutral buoyancy and other gravitational simulation experiments with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. French choreographer Kitsou Dubois has translated her zero-g experiences into contemporary dance performances and installations while US artist Frank Pietronigro  attempted - quite humorously - to apply paint to a canvas during a series of parabolic sessions.

Whereas Dubois’s and Pietronigro’s flights in the 1990’s had to be arranged through their country’s respective space agencies, today commercial zero-g flights are available to anyone and quite a number of artists around the world have recently taken advantage of this opportunity. Slovenian theatre director Dragan Zivadinov created the first theatre performance in a parabolic flight that was arranged by his co-patriot Marko Peljhan who has also assisted a number of artists and organizations in obtaining access to the Russian parabolic flight program.

The Arts Catalyst organization in the U.K. and the Zero Gravity Arts Consortium (ZGAC) in the U.S. have been quite active in this area and have arranged several zero-g flights for numerous artists as well as organizing exhibitions of these works. In Japan, a number of artists are collaborating with the Japanese space agency JAXA to arrange parabolic art experiments. Lyn Hagen,  also from the U.K, organized a zero-g parabolic event in Russia including the participation of artists Luke Jerram and Nasser Azam. Hagan and Jerram became ill in the early part of the flight, a quite common occurrence; however, Azam was able to add the finishing touches to several paintings that he had begun before the flight. It is remarkable to note that his work:  Homage to Francis Bacon: Triptych I sold in auction for $332,500 in New York at Phillips de Pury’s Contemporary Art Part II auction held on 14th November, 2008. Hagan's video Cat in Weightlessness became a YouTube hit.

Also in 2008, Bradly Pitts, carried out his zero-g project in the nude on the Russian Ilyushin 76 weightless trainer aircraft to create Singular Oscillations: Playback (2013), an eleven-channel video installation. Previously a propulsion engineer during the weightless testing of the MIT SPHERES project, an experiment now aboard the International Space Station,  Pitts, who has a B.S. and an M.S. in aerospace engineering from MIT, did 80 parabolas with NASA before launching his own project.

An installation called "in orbit" by artist Tomás Saraceno made with of steel wire and transparent orbits transformed the wide open space under the dome-shaped glass ceiling of Düsseldorf's K21 museum into a surreal landscape. The artist invited visitors to access the installation and move across the nets and in and out of spheres. Their movements caused vibrations - like in a spider web - which, combined with the lofty heights, created a fascinating spatial experience.

In 2014, the rock group OK Go filmed a music video for their song Upside Down & Inside Out in zero-g aboard a Russian I-76 MDK plane. In 2019 the group is teaming up with Jeff Bezo's  Blue Origin and The Playful Learning Lab to send children’s art projects into space aboard a reusable New Shepard spacecraft. Students ages 11-18 are invited to enter the “Art in Space” contest on or before midnight May 6, 2019.

A number of celebrities from the cinema and music industries have made reservation with Virgin Galactic to become citizen astronauts. Opera singer, Sarah Brightman planned to visit the ISS but has since canceled her flight. Artist, Michael Najjar, however is in training to be one of the first artists to take advantage of space tourist spaceflight once such flights commence.


The importance of the artist’s role in the exploration of outer space has had much to do with helping humanity to have a broader and more enlightened understanding of why space exploration and space development are such vital activities to the future well-being of our species. As this awareness grows, artists, with their sights set on the stars, will continue to be at the forefront of space exploration while helping to make the “Space Age” a reality.

Ars Ad Astra - Arthur Woods
(Latest update : March 8, 2019)