Me, My Afro and the Saturn V, Cape Canaveral 1972


One artist I interviewed for this research, Brazilian sculptor Maui Réple actually wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up. He applied himself to the sciences in high school and, in the 70’s, he tried to get into the ITA school in Brazil (the Institute for Aeronautical Technology) which, in America may be the equivalent of entering MIT. Not managing to enter the school he realized that art was his path. As an artist he thought he would never get into space so he stopped pursuing his dream. This is where The ISADORA Module for the Arts and Humanities for the International Space Station comes in. Just the vision of it, I hope, will inspire artists, who have dreams of going into space, to stick to those dreams. It is no longer so far-fetched to think that an artist will get into space. The technology exists, and there are now a number of artists and businesses willing to knock down science’s monopoly on space exploration.

But since something like an extra module for the International Space Station (ISS) is such an expensive project, (at least a half a billion dollar project for a pressurized tin can 11 meters long by 4.5 meters wide), this research is meant to be just a beginning; a cleanser for the eye, a document to make the art and space community aware of the possibilites of such an endeavor. With this research, I hope to inspire some artists with the possibilities of creating art in space. I hope to have unveiled a number of research and development opportunities for engineers who will designing such a module. And I hope to open the space community’s mind as to how artists work and how, in a collaborative effort, they could start implementing an art program through which the ISADORA Module would be administered.

I interviewed a number of artists about what their needs and desires would be for creating art in low earth orbit. (see interviews). And I came up with desires that went beyond just creating art. Artists were concerned with astronaut downtime and expressed a strong interest in collaborating with the science community. So, in chapter T minus 1, I present a design based on the interviews. My design is essentially what I call the most "spacious space in space". My design for the ISADORA Module takes full advantage of the diameter of an industry standard module. ISADORA is also multi-purposed in its functions, quite neutral aesthetically, giving the perception that it is empty. Also based on the interviews I have given it enough windows to inspire artists who wish to explore existential issues: their relationship with mankind, the Earth and the universe. But I also realized that a module for the arts and humanities for the ISS must double as a lounge in order to accommodate the desire to simply live in space and collaborate with astronauts. Giving The ISADORA Module lounge-like features will optimize the full potential of artistic contribution to the expansion of space exploration.

Of course... I wanna go, dammit!

As an artist I am excluded from space exploration. I can’t go into space because I don’t have a degree in physics, mathematics, engineering or one of the life sciences. Only people with degrees in these fields are allowed to apply to be astronauts or missions specialists and, hence, define space for the rest of humankind. I wrote to NASA once for the application and when I received it I realized that in a sense I was being discriminated against. I’d rather not play the discrimination card here for I know it is not deliberate but there is, nonetheless, a total hard science bias on what space exploration should be. So in order for me to justify my desires to go into space I decided I would design a place to which I could go. An actual venue in space equipped for artistic production.

I have always wanted to go into space for space has always been close to me. As a child my best friend's father worked on the Saturn V engines. My dad would go to Cape Canaveral to accompany foreign dignitaries to launches. He always brought back patches of Apollo and SKYLAB missions to my brothers and me. I wasn't much of a "2001: A Space Odyssey" fan. The movie "Silent Running" starring Bruce Dern was my favorite movie as a child. It was space with activism attached to it. I think that that 's when my eco-political sensibilities were aroused; when that poor little robot was left to tend to the last forest of the Earth floating under a glass dome out beyond Jupiter. That might have been the movie to instil in me some sort of love for the planet and it's (our) relationship with space.

I grew up near a planetarium in Washington DC and frequently attended the showings. The hallway leading to the planetarium was dark and in one of its walls was a large aquarium like structure containing the planets of our solar system which were painted Styrofoam balls with wire orbits running through them. This installation was illuminated by black light. I knew all the planet's names at a very early age. These planets glowed in the UV light …. this was a different space… there was something very satisfying about standing so close to these planets with my nose pressed against the glass.

But what caused me most awe in this planetarium was a lightbox with a transparency of Haley's comet with the words: To return in 1986. That was so far away for me. This was the early 70's. I missed the moon walk. I was too young and slept through it. But I do remember the Apollo and Skylab launches. I went to Disneyworld and Futureland was my favorite place. But I left disappointed because I couldn't ride Space Mountain. Not because I wasn't tall enough for the ride, simply because it was still under construction. The future wasn't ready for me. Then my family moved to South America months before the inauguration of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. This was a huge frustration for me and that museum would be the first place I would visit 8 years later when I finally returned to the States for the first time to go to art school.

But at no point did I ever consider being an astronaut. The hardware of space fascinated me. In my high school library in Brasilia I learned of Boeing's plans for giant solar panels that would orbit earth and beam down power in the form of microwaves to cities around the globe. The space shuttle was under construction and I was fascinated by its fabulous array of protective tiles. I was quick to redesign the Shuttle adding passenger seats to its payload area; drawings I did by tracing the shuttle from the cover of a Time Magazine. I wish I still had those magic marker drawings… I made some attempts at writing some sci-fi myself - stories about lunar colonization. And then there were the covers of the first two Boston albums which, to me, seemed to reflect my desire to inhabit space in a different way.


Boston's 1st and 2nd album covers

My art school years were ridden with visits to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Air and Space in Washington to watch IMAX films like Blue Planet and Hail Columbia. Art and space were both high on my preferences but not yet linked up in my consciousness. I was just somewhat schizophrenic in my pursuits.

Clay model of the moon city of Alto Canaveral with a performing arts center.
- Ricky Seabra 1999

All these preferences started to come together years later after doing performances throughout Brazil and Venezuela when I started to be obsessed with a city on the moon with a performing arts center. For a number of years during my spare time I occupied myself with sketches and clay models. The notion of dance in 1/6 G suddenly became very fascinating. I didn't imagine so much what I would do up there but I pictured more what companies like Alwin Nikolai, Mummenschanz, Pina Bausch or Momix would do up there. I imagined a future in which dance companies would be able to do residencies on the moon. They would stay up there a few months in order to adapt to their new environment… get used to leaping 5 times higher, giving them time to recalculate their number of entrechats or whatever they did in the air before they landed on the stage again. Grand performances would be broadcast live to Earth. "Liiiive from Alto Canaveral!" But I was always aware that this was a somewhat distant future… not in my lifetime.

Getting Real

Everything came together during a period I was living in Rio de Janiero. All was perfect. All was fantasy. Rio can be so wonderful with its gorgeous mountains and sexy people. But suddenly I learned the hard way that Rio was like Space; paradise and perilous - a place where the views are stunning, breathtaking, soothing. The dangers, however, real, harsh, looming. Rio was treating me well until I got mugged in a neighborhood called Santa Teresa. Interestingly enough the first drawings for an art module for the International Space Station came thereafter. With the mugging in Rio I was confronted in one quick blow (to the mouth) with the harshness of Rio. As I write these words I look back at this period and wonder if my reaction to design the art module for the ISS was a consequence of a "get real" process. The lunar performing arts center wasn't realistic. That probably won't happen within my life time. It was pure day dream… living in a safe Rio was also pure day dream… It was all fantasy. But my fear in Rio thereafter, my disappointment, my process of "getting real" might have made me get real about my space desires:

Get real!… Don't think of dance on the moon. Think of it in Low Earth Orbit!

Because this is a project that I consider very realistic, very possible. Actually of all my visionary projects, I consider it the least visionary. Keeping it real, do-able and plausible has been part of my thinking since the beginning. One of my first sketches was even to recycle the MIR station… not to de-orbit it but to refurbish it into a multi-studio art venue. But I decided to concentrate my efforts on the ISS because MIR seemed too hopeless a re-furbishing job. I was told at times to design concepts using inflatable modules and even the recycled external tanks of the Shuttle. But I knew that that involved developing new systems, and my concern in this project was keeping it real… do-able right now with the technology that exists today and, most importantly, within my life time!

Because I wanna go dammit!!!


The International Space Station is the largest international aerospace project ever undertaken with the participation of sixteen nations. It will be 100 meters long and have a work, stowage and habitation volume of two 747s. It travels at 28,000 kms per hour orbiting once every one and a half hours carrying a crew of three to four (originally seven). Experiments will be taken to the station to study material, life and earth sciences. Studies into the effects of long-duration spaceflight on astronauts will also be conducted along with research in fluid dynamics, combustion, life support systems, radiation hazard countermeausres to name a few. The ISS or Alpha, as it is sometimes referred to, is touted as offering, in the future, business and education opportunities. There is actually room for an ISADORA Module on the Russian side of the station. As for all components, The ISADORA Module will have to fit either in the payload of the Space Shuttle or atop an Ariane V or Russian Proton Rocket in order to be launched. To find out where the ISS is over Earth right now click here. To find out the exact time the ISS will pass over you (it is the brightest object in the night sky) click here and choose your city.


I knew that the idea for artists going to the ISS would be highly controversial; a political and budgetary nightmare. So I decided to keep the project as simple as possible to show the space community that this IS possible and that the only hurdle is a political and financial one. The more I talked about the idea to people the more they smiled… The reactions were lovely and made me even more passionate about an art module.

I started to speak at space conferences. Space engineers and scientists faces lit up at the idea of the ISADORA Module. But those inspired faces did not change the fact that the space program has a huge hard science research bias.

Ricky Seabra speaking at ISS Forum 2001 in Berlin

The space program is over 45 years old now and, with such a marvel as the ISS itself being built, it seems only logical that artists also be permitted to partake in this adventure. No, it's not just about being fair or democratic about who goes into space. I believe we are simply at a point (not to mention sophisticated enough) of recognizing that there are other dimensions to space that can be explored beyond that of the purely measurable.

There is something quite relevant to my research into the ISADORA Module about a scene in the Robert Zemeckis movie "Contact" by Carl Sagan in which Jody Foster, who plays a scientist, is sent on a machine to make contact with other beings. She plays a die-hard, sceptic scientist and much of the movie debates who would be an appropriate representative of Earth to send to make contact with another intelligent life form. The film posed the question if a scientist, politician, a person of faith or a military person should engage in the contact. During her journey through space and worm-holes she witnesses a exquisite space phenomenon of galactic proportions from within her pod. As she radios back to Earth, she says she has no words to describe what she is seeing...

...moved to tears, she says: "You should have sent a poet".


So if we do send poets or other artists (which I have faith we will do one day), how do we go about designing a module for the arts? What will the poet, the artist need?

For the past 30 years space modules have been designed to accommodate the needs and tasks of cosmonauts and astronauts working in the hard sciences. Thegrowing number of artists (who I will talk about in chapter T minus 8) wishing to create art works in space and executing art, theatrical and dance works in parabolic flights demonstrate a need, in the near future, for an alternative module for the ISS; a platform in which artists could engage in artistic investigation in Earth's orbit. To this end I have proposed the ISADORA Module for the Arts and Humanities; a module tailored to the needs and desires of artists.

I chose ISADORA Duncan as the namesake for the module. She was the mother of modern dance and a radical explorer outside the realm of rigid choreography. She represents a paradigm shift in dance culture and beyond; a shift possibly as potent to the one that artists will experience on orbit. ISADORA was also such a refreshing name because it wasn't just another Italian or Portuguese navigator's name such as Columbus, Cassini, Magellan or Greek God's names such as Apollo, Saturn or Mercury.

Portrait of Isadora Duncan, montage by Little Shiva/The Ministry of Fun

How to design a venue that will be stage for such a mind-boggling experience? Where to begin? For it is seems impossible to predict what artists will produce in space. So I decided to probe what artists to best… imagine. I researched 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. More importantly, however, is that the interior architecture of ISADORA must be able to embrace the artist in his or her journey into the vast poetic potential of space.

Admittedly it is difficult to say what musicians, theatre makers, choreographers and poets will do aboard the ISADORA Module. Some people suggest that the same thing can be said about what scientists will do on the ISS.1 The space community is divided into manned and umanned spaceflight. It is actually possible to find many space scientists who doubt the value of such an endeavour as the ISS. However, I believe it is more than likely that the voice of the artist, heard from outerspace, will enchant audiences around the world and further fuel the dream of manned space exploration, broadening our perception of space and ourselves in ways that science can not.


An email from Rich in the USA:

Even an engineer-Philistine can see that you are proposing something of great value here. I would have to say that the greatest contribution that manned space flight has yet to make to the world is in the arts, despite the fact that the vast majority of people who have travelled in space have little training in the arts and are generally not encouraged to explore the artistic and philosophic possibilities of their experiences. What you propose is really not a new thing, but an embracing of what we really already know: That the reason for people in space has far more to do with the human spirit than with specific technical benefits. If you have a mailing list, put me on it. I'd call my congressman for this idea. It's much better than any of the other reasons I've heard given for the ISS.


A Philistine, but not completely barbaric, engineer.


Proceed to T minus 9

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