The ISADORA Module is a design proposal for an Arts & Habitability Studies module for the International Space Station. For the past 45 years space has been defined by the hard sciences. My project focuses on giving artists a platform in which they could engage in artistic investigation in Earth's orbit. To this end I have proposed the ISADORA Module for the arts; a module tailored to the needs and desires of artists. I interviewed 20 artists to find out what an art module would need to contain in order to accommodate the many types of professionals within the arts (keeping the design within the constraint of fitting into the Shuttle payload). It will be the most spacious space in space: a volume 4.5 meters in diameter x 9 meters long. The module will be attached to the nadir port of FGB 1, the Zarya Module on the Russian side of the International Space Station. The ISADORA Module is a means to incorporate, in the most feasible way possible, the Arts and Humanities into space exploration.
The artists interviewed expressed a desire for basic audio-visual requirements: video-cams, sound systems and computers. Desires also revealed the need for a wider range of basic art supplies that spans as many disciplines as possible. But artists spoke mostly of existential issues, a desire for peace and quiet but also a desire for challenge. There appeared to be a conflicting desire of having a place with corners and straight edges versus a dimensionless environment with no references of up or down. So, in order to make ISADORA more conducive to artistic challenge and innovation, the studio is designed without a subjective vertical (without horizontal or vertical references) so that the paradigm shift of being in orbit is experienced to its fullest.
An overall impression that my interviewees gave me is that artists don’t only want to go into space to do art. They want to rethink how we should live in space, or better, rethink the current way astronauts and cosmonauts are already living in space. Artists spoke of "a place to see things grow", "a place for scientists to get away from their research". Oddly enough there were many references to a cozy, soft and even furry place at times. Did Paco Rabane's furry room for Barbarella really have that much of an impact on visions for space travel?
In order to accommodate artist's desires to create in space and the concern for how we live in space, I designed ISADORA to, at the click of a button, transform itself from a dimensionless performance studio into a comfy lounge for socializing with a subjective vertical (or up and down). It will become as one interviewee put it: a centerpiece for feeling at home on the International Space Station. A lot of the ideas expressed by the artists interviewed are actually very relevant to habitability questions for current and future space missions. After all, the greatest justification given by NASA to build the ISS is to experiment how we will live and work in space. Therefore, ISADORA could also serve as a platform for habitability studies.
A large leftover group of concepts from the interviews, however, reflected the almost unanimous desire to collaborate with the scientists aboard the International Space Station. So, in order to forge a relationship between the arts and the space community (before launch, on orbit and upon return) I lay out a blue-print for an art program within a space agency. This entity would be responsible for developing and managing ISADORA. An autonomous art entity or division within the space agency that will build ISADORA will ensure that art projects do not become mere PR events for the agency’s other divisions and are not curated by people who do not have an art-related background. To preserve autonomy and command of ISADORA is to preserve artistic innovation in space.
I am convinced that the ISADORA Module is the most logical follow-up to manned spaceflight programs. This design proposal is very relevant to the current needs of the space industry and the gradual opening of space to non-conventional users. A good balance will have to be struck between all those interested in using ISADORA as a performance venue and a place for habitability research. The new space-tourism industry will certainly want to make use of ISADORA to test designs that improve the quality of life in microgravity. ISADORA will serve as a test-bed for research in astronaut well-being as well. Habitability research carried out by artists and designers in the ISADORA lounge will yield verifiable research into architecture of future space stations, bases on the Moon, Mars spacecraft design and Mars habitation architecture. But most importantly ISADORA will be a vehicle to explore the poetic potential of space; an experience that will most certainly broaden and deepen our perception of the Universe, our Earth, and Ourselves.