Per aspera ad astra – 50 years after the Moon
50 years after the Apollo 11 lunar landing, we are seeing another strong push for space exploration: from new and renewed space programs in developed and developing countries to innovative technologies and commercial services from private industry. Along the way, cultural production for outer space becomes crucial for humanity as we expand beyond the earthbound. In the past, the desire for exploration and expansion had a profound impact on how we imagined planetary futures. What shall we imagine now? In this exhibition, six projects from the Space Exploration Initiative of MIT Media Lab are asking the same question and bringing possibilities to the (im)possible space: All the projects were successfully deployed and performed in a zero-gravity parabolic flight last year. They are hopes beyond solutions, imaginations, more than facts. Our effort addresses outer space as a critical territory that must be inhabited—imaginatively, artistically, scientifically and collaboratively.
- Curator and author: Xin Liu (CN)
Medusae – From Deep Sea to Deep Space
Impenetrable darkness, extreme pressure, cold water and disorienting equilibrium. Deep sea creatures live in a world that is closer to outer space than to the land on Earth. Everything from the past and the past-to-be falls to the ocean floor. The world of the deep swallows and transforms all: organism, lava, plastic. If we mistake the deep ocean for empty, it is only because its fullness is just beyond the limits of our eyes. Home is a thin membrane above sea level and under the atmosphere. When we fly into space or dive to the ocean floor, the fabric of spacetime folds us into one darkness. Where ocean and outer space connect, we meet Medusae. Collaborating with fashion designer Yao Yu, Xin creates a mollusk costume of Medusae which “swallows” strips of cloth made from Parley’s ocean plastic® yarn. The costume will activate and grow in zero gravity during this flight. At the same time, Xin’s body performance will also be motion captured in 3D and rendered later in a deep sea video work.
- MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative, Parley for the Ocean
Maggie Coblentz (CA)
Food for Earthlings
Food is a key creature comfort in spaceflight, and it will play an even more significant role on long-duration space travel and future life in space habitats. The advancement of deep space exploration and the development of an interplanetary space tourism industry will make new cultural events and experiences never encountered before in human history possible. Thoughtfully designed foods and culinary experiences could allow humans to feel more connected to their loved ones and histories on Earth, as well as promote the beginning of a food culture that fosters deeper relationships with new worlds. “Food for Earthlings” is a collection of artifacts that are part of a restaurant concept for space. They were flown on a parabolic flight in July 2019 to test cooking techniques in zero gravity and inspire the evolution of a new space cuisine.
- MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative
Harpreet Sareen (IN)
The internal physiological architecture of a living plant appears silent to the environment and our daily activities. While we are able to see long term adaptations in these living creatures, plants also have fast and transient messenger signals invisible to the human eyes. Flourovine is a modified living plant with chemical markers injected inside its cells, wherein the intracellular messaging of plants is intercepted and exposed in another spectrum. The plant is exposed to various gravity changes aboard the Zero gravity flight that leads to instant Calcium signaling inside the plants. The permeable dye inside the cells reacts with Ca markers to produce signals visible to onboard microscope instrumentation. In the quest for exo-biology tools that grow plants, Flourovine exposes hidden messenger signals and envisions future instrumentation where our designed tools and botanical architecture share a deeper link.
- This project is supported by research grants through Parsons School of Design, The New School. We sincerely thank graduate research assistants Anna Garbier and Yating Wu for their efforts towards the project, and the Space Exploration Initiative of MIT Media Lab.
Manuel Muccillo (IT), Valentina Sumini (IT)
The SpaceHuman project arose from the vision of a possible future in which it will be common for humans to live and work in space. This scenario requires a deep insight in our design thinking today to enable a change and create an impact for human space exploration and better ways of coping with the challenges implied by zero gravity environments. SpaceHuman is a soft robotic device designed to facilitate the exploration of environments with reduced gravity in a view of democratization and openness towards access to space and its exploration. The analysis of the unique seahorse’s tail structure became the insight of the overall biomimetic design process. In fact, seahorses do not use their tails to swim; instead, they use them for gripping, protecting themselves, and grasping objects while floating. SpaceHuman, through its automated air chambers, will move and adapt to surroundings to restore body balance and cling to useful surfaces inside orbital housing or in Lunar or Martian villages.
- MIT Media Lab – Responsive Environments + Space Exploration Initiative, Sapienza – University of Rome. Supported by Digital Innovation Hub of Vicenza
Nicole L’Huillier (CL), Sands Fish (US), Thomas Sanchez Lengeling (MX)
Telemetrons: A microgravity orchestra
Instrument 1: Núcleo
Instrument 2: Satélite
Instrument 3: Monolito
Telemetrons is a series of musical instruments carefully constructed for the environment of microgravity. The free-floating ensemble consists of three musical instruments that have the agency to expressively perform themselves and construct a musical piece. This microgravity orchestra is composed of three instruments: Núcleo, Satélite, and Monolito. Each of them has a characteristic timbre and expression. Delicately calibrated sensors unveil specific sounds through the motion and dynamics of weightlessness. The performance of the instruments unveils a dance of non-human bodies and gravity. The environment of microgravity affords a unique medium for new modalities, future creativity, and contemporary space narratives. Today space research and exploration are limited and managed by few groups where corporations and elites are taking the lead. It is critical that we create a more inclusive platform to develop and explore the ideas that will change the course of everything on this planet. The democratization and liberation of space research are needed urgently. In this context, the Telemetrons are musical instruments with the objective of provoking thought about the production of culture in outer space, using music as a symbol of connectivity and dialogue. The Telemetrons ensemble suggests more subtle ways of relating to outer space, expanding narratives and agency, inviting the non-human into dialogue in order to challenge the anthropocentric, utilitarian, and extractive ventures that are taking over our space dreams. We seek to create sonic agents that can expressively compose surprising musical pieces that help us think about a space for everybody, a space to share, to create, and to listen. The possibility of imagining and speculating about alternative modes of agency and expression can help us decolonize our thoughts and imaginative projections for the future so outer space can still be a place for challenging the rigid structures of power imposed on earth.
- A collaboration between Nicole L’Huillier, Sands Fish, and Thomas Sanchez Lengeling, with the assistance of Hannah Lienhard. Project supported by the MIT Media Lab Opera of the Future group, and Space Exploration Initiative.
Alexis Hope (US)
Space/Craft: Exploring Sculpture in Zero-Gravity
Space/Craft explores sculpture in zero gravity. Making artistic works by hand is a fundamentally human act, but how will it transform when we begin to explore new planets? What non-existent forms of artistic expression does different gravity enable? Digital modeling tools allow us to break the laws of physics as we create, but we can’t replicate those processes on Earth. Space/Craft will explore the artistic processes and possibilities enabled by zero gravity by using a hot glue dispenser to “draw in 3D.” During each cycle of micro-gravity, the artist uses the mark-making tool to sculpt shapes inside of a containment cube. The thin strings of glue float into forms that could not be created on earth by the same process.
- Supported by the MIT Space Exploration Initiative (SEI) & CAMIT, the Council for the Arts at MIT
Xin Liu (CN) is an artist and mechanical engineer whose practice includes performances, art objects, scientific experiments and academic works. She considers science a language and technology a means to explore emotions, beliefs, and subjective experiences. Liu is the Arts Curator of the Space Exploration Initiative at the MIT Media Lab and an artist in New Museum and Queens Museum in New York. She has won numerous residencies and awards and has presented at the Sundance Film Festival, the Walker Art Center, the OCAT Shanghai, and the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz.
Maggie Coblentz (CA) is an industrial designer and researcher whose work explores the future of human life and culture in space. She pursues this at the MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative where she leads research on space food. She’s interested in building designed objects, systems and experiences that will allow humans to not just survive, but thrive in space. In her practice, Maggie makes speculative designs and gastronomic experiences that anticipate future global demands and promote unforeseen artifacts and foodways. Prior to joining the MIT Media Lab, Maggie received a master’s degree in industrial design from RISD and has a background in fashion design.
Harpreet Sareen (IN) is an Assistant Professor of Interaction and Media Design at Parsons School of Design, New York. He is the Director of the Synthetic Ecosystems Lab that focusses on biological futures and their implications in interaction design. Sareen is interested in the cybernetics of organisms and materials. His work is situated at the intersection of Material Science, Biology and Electronics and draws on the complementary abilities of the biological and artificial worlds. Harpreet terms this “Convergent Design” to create hybrid substrates and bionic materials that lend themselves to future ecological machinery, sensing systems and interaction design.
Valentina Sumini (IT) is a Postdoctoral Associate and a space architect at MIT Media Lab in Responsive Environments. She develops design and architectures for enabling human space exploration in extra-planetary environments, inventing new materials, new computational design tools and new construction techniques. Her research interests are related to integrating thorough knowledge of the structural properties of buildings, starting from historical ones, and new computational design methods to define form-finding optimization processes for designing in harsh environments on Earth as well as in Low Earth Orbit, on the Moon and Mars.
Manuel Muccillo (IT) is a product designer, design scientist, concept designer and artist born in Rome and trained at Sapienza University with a master’s degree in Industrial Product Design. In his research he focuses his attention on the themes of critical design as an engine for social innovation and for the new design horizons for the societies of the future.
Nicole L’Huillier (CL): Transdisciplinary artist from Santiago de Chile. Currently based in Boston, US, as a PhD candidate and research assistant at MIT Media Lab, Opera of the Future group, where she also earned a master’s in media arts & sciences (2017). Through installations, performances, sculptures, compositions, and multiple transductions, her work explores human and non-human performativity, rituals of membranal and resonant architectures, as well as vibration and sound as construction materials for spaces, identity, and agency. She works at the intersection of music, art, architecture, science, and technology to challenge perceptual conventions and to open the possibility of new imaginaries. Nicole is also part of the MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative, where she explores the experimental forms and implications of art, expression and culture in outer space. She is also an experimental musician, drummer, synth lover and one-half of the space pop duo Breaking Forms.
Sands Fish (US) is a designer, artist, musician, and futurist working in the United States. Previously a student at the MIT Media Lab and a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center, he speaks and teaches internationally, and runs a design firm for humans in space, working in collaboration with the Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative and as an affiliate at the Harvard metaLAB. His work focuses on how technology shapes human culture, and how these technologies are implicated in creating our future.
Thomas Sanchez Lengeling (MX): Formerly a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab in the Opera of the Future Group, Sanchez Lengeling’s research derives from his ambition to create seamless interactions between people and digital information, by giving extra perception and awareness using color and sound. This is possible by enhancing human communication and perception through the augmentation of human senses using technology. Also, his visual work ranges from organically propagated systems to self-rhythm visual art. He also works with different technologies and mediums such as light, colorimetry, hyperspectral cameras, sensors, radio frequencies, creative coding platforms, electronics, etc. He teaches workshops creative coding, color perception, new media art, and physics for science outreach programs. His creative work and interactive installations have been commissioned by festivals in Germany, Mexico, Italy, and Portugal.
Alexis Hope (US): Alexis is an artist, designer, and researcher based at the MIT Media Lab. She serves as the Design Director for the “Make the Breast Pump Not Suck” project, as well as the Creative Director of TEN FWD, a design studio focused on creating playful, experimental objects and experiences.