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Nevada Museum of Art to launch $1.5M space balloon

November 17, 2018

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A museum in Nevada says it is about to send a diamond-shaped sculpture into space that will be visible to the naked eye at night.

The Nevada Museum of Art’s $1.5 million project will launch Monday from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, the Reno Gazette Journal reported . But while on Earth, it has not had a smooth ride, with some scientists deeming it obnoxious and a blemish on the night sky.

“If everybody loves a piece of art, then it’s probably not doing its job,” museum spokeswoman Amanda Horn said. “But if people are talking about it, then it’s already achieving its goal. It’s doing what it’s supposed to do.”

The 100-foot-long (30-meter-long) sculpture will be stuffed in a package attached to a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The sculpture that self-inflates as a balloon will burst from the package and remain in orbit for about 60 days before it burns.

It is made of a polyester film-like material and will look like a sparkle at night. It will orbit Earth once every 90 minutes, passing over the Reno area most nights.

The “Orbital Reflector” project is the idea of Berlin-based artist Trevor Paglen, who said the project was “designed as a provocation.”

“An opportunity to think about outer space, the geopolitics of the heavens, and the militarization of earth orbits,” he wrote in an essay. “It’s a project about public space, and a project about who gets to exercise power over our planetary commons, and on what terms.”

And, indeed, it has provoked some people.

“Adding another satellite like this brings nothing beyond what the many purposeful ones in orbit look like already. Or the many natural phenomena already there to enthrall. It’s a completely empty artistic statement,” Mark McCaughrean, senior adviser for Science & Exploration at the European Space Agency, tweeted in August.

A Kickstarter campaign and contributions from museum donors are funding the project.

People can track the balloon using the app Star Walk 2.

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