The Sciences

A Time Capsule Delivered to Space


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Artist Trevor Paglen suggests that the communication satellites in Earth's orbit will become the ultimate ruins of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, outlasting everything else on our planet. His latest project, Last Pictures, imagines this geostationary space junk as the singular evidence of our civilization. Last Pictures is a time capsule that will be launched into space on the Soyuz this fall. Once in orbit, the collection of 100 images tasked with "representing modern history" in the universe will join thousands of other satellites in geosynchronous orbit. The images have been micro-etched onto a silicon disk inside a gold-plated case that will be placed, barnacle-like, on the outside of the communications satellite EchoStar XVI.

According to the Library of Congress, there are already four time capsules in space: "A pair of gold anodized aluminum plaques on board the 1972 Pioneer 10 and 1973 Pioneer 11 spacecraft, featuring a pictorial message—and the two Voyager Golden Records, containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth, have been attached to spacecraft for the possible benefit of space travelers in the distant future." Adding to these, and the Last Pictures project, the proposed KEO satellite is set for launch sometime in 2013-2014 and is currently accepting messages that will be embarked onboard KEO via their website.

Research for the project, which includes a book of the same name, began in the Visiting Artists Program at MIT and continued as Paglen consulted with philosophers, scientists, engineers, artists and historians about what to include. The images included here are a selection from the disc. A display of the orbit-bound, gold-plated disc is planned at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City for fall 2012, and a partnership with The New York Public Library's LIVE from the NYPL program will debut the project with performances and conversations in New York's Bryant Park, coinciding with the EchoStar XVI satellite launch.

The Last Pictures disc, courtesy Trevor Paglen/Creative Time

Soyuz Fg Rocket Launch, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. NASA/Carla Cioffi

Old Operating Theater, St. Thomas Church, Southwark, London. Courtesy of Trevor Paglen.

Greek and Armenian Orphan Refugees Experience the Sea for the First Time, Marathon, Greece. Credit: Public domain.

Cherry Blossoms. Courtesy of Al Jazeera English.

Dust Storm, Stratford, Texas. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce.

Narbona Panel, Canyon de Chelly, Navajo Nation. Courtesy of Trevor Paglen.

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