How Plausible is ISADORA?

So how plausible is something like an ISADORA Module? Pretty plausible if you ask me. Some activities are already going on within the space industry that point to an ISADORABLE*2 future. The first that I will point out is the Washington-based company Space-Hab which is planning to develop an alternative commercial module to be attached to the Russian side of the ISS (more specifically the nadir port of the Zarya module). That's where I propose to place ISADORA, by the way. Their plans for it are ambiguous to say the least and seem change with the month. At the STAIF 2000 conference in Albuquerque their public relations person spoke of news being broadcast from space. Not very profound if you ask me. I don't now how different news from space will sound nor if enough happens on the ISS which is worthy of live broadcasts to the whole world. But this module which they call Enterprise does sporadically make it into the news. Allegedly it exists mostly on paper and that they have hired Russian space hardware provider RKK Energia to build it.3

Washington-based SPACEHAB's proposal for a dual purpose commercial module
for stowage and broadcasting.


Launches, Lies and Video-tape

There is more than just one company out there interested in launching alternative modules to the ISS. Boeing along with Krunichev announced that they would re-furbish Zarya's back up module (a module built in case Zarya suffered a launch mishap) to become to be a commercial space module and that it would be docked in the same port as Space-Hab's Enterprise module. This enraged Space-Hab who asserts its right to dock its commercial space module to the Russian side of the ISS.4 This may not be art but may well be the pilot for the first soap opera in space! Boeing stated that among other functions their commercial space module will accommodate multimedia, scientific and communications equipment.5

Then speaking of multimedia, back in the late MIR days, Amsterdam-based MIRCORP, which had plans to keep MIR on orbit by renting it out to the private sector, revealed plans for a "reality TV show". It was to be called "Destination Mir" and the idea was that more than a dozen civilians could sign up for Russian cosmonaut boot camp and contestants would be disqualified from programs over a period of several weeks. They would be competing for one seat on a trip to the space station. Deals were in the making with the producer of "Survivor", Mark Burnett. But this made for a lot of tension between NASA and the Russians. The Americans didn't want to see the Russians investing any more time and money in MIR and it ended up having to come down. Still not art but it was an attempt of the entertainment industry to break into the space market. Now, MIRCORP have announced plans to build a "minispace station" for space tourists.

BEOS, (which at the time was a subsidiary of Daimler Chrysler Aerospace and is now part of Astrium and which in a few years will probably be part of something else) toyed with the idea of "cultural utilization of the ISS". They had represented German artist Charles Wilp's idea for what he called the Michaelangelo Module. An idea that, like the Enterprise, was also ambiguous and seemed to involve fine artists going into space to paint. BEOS was later attracted by my ISADORA Module idea and supported my website for one year. But now, disappointingly enough, as a division at Astrium, they are now engaged in studying the feasibility of a reality TV show similar to the "Destination Mir" program for the ISS; a program they call "Space Commander."

Another commercial television venture for space occurred on the Academy Awards in March of 2001. NASA director Dan Goldin and producer of the Academy Awards Gil Pates engaged in secret negotiations for the opening of the Academy Awards of 2001 to begin the ceremony with a live broadcast from the ISS. The broadcast showed a live video link up to the ISS. The astronauts had a life-size cardboard version of the master of ceremonies Steve Martin which they ejected from the ISS. The image of Steve Martin shot down to Hollywood for the opening ceremony where he then jumped through a screen onto the stage.

Just a month later retired NASA engineer and businessman Dennis Tito rattled the space world by paying the Russians 20 million dollars to visit the ISS as the first space tourist. In 2002, Mark Shuttleworth, a young internet billionaire also paid the Russians 20 million dollars to go the ISS. He even bought the Proton re-entry capsule in which he returned. What a souvenir to come back from space with!

What was nice about these space "hacks", if you will, was that the Russians showed the Americans that they are still major players in space and CAN and WILL do whatever they damn well please up there. But it is interesting to note how schizophrenic the space industry can be. In 1999 a conference sponsored by Daimler Chrysler Aerospace in Bremen, Germany organized an International Symposium on Space Tourism. Two years later in Berlin at the ISS conference, space tourist Dennis Tito (who had just returned a week earlier from space) wasn't even mentioned because of the brouhaha that ensued between the Russians and Americans over his trip to the ISS. That makes two taboos in space now: Talking about sex and talking about Tito. Actually only one person mentioned Tito at the ISS Forum in Berlin: a professor emeritus of Kyoto University. In a talk about access to space he suggested:

"that those who live in the ISS should not be selected only from the countries that pay for the project but also from other nations including the poorer nations, which make up the greatest proportion of the world's population. Sadly, reality shows us that the space program is moving in the exact opposite direction, as evidenced by the American businessman who, for a fee of 20 million dollars, was allowed to ride on the ISS in April and May of this year. In the future, will the ISS become the exclusive playground for millionaires?"6

I agree with the professor's first comment about opening up the ISS to poorer nations but in Mr. Tito's defense, I must add a comment from an interview that Tito himself gave to

It is hard for me to fully convey what it was like to be weightless for eight days, but then, I'm a businessman. Just think of how magnificently poets, writers, musicians, composers, teachers, filmmakers, painters, journalists and other creative individuals would be able to communicate the beauty and inspiration of spaceflight.7

The first space tourist Dennis Tito aboard the ISS, May 2001

Tito also reiterated these statements about artists being sent into space before a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill only a few weeks after he returned from space. Tito added that ordinary citizens should be flying into space, not just wealthy individuals. He added, "I think this could be done by bringing the citizen-astronaut program back into existence and reserve seats on the shuttle for private citizens." NASA had established a program to fly private citizens into orbit via the space shuttle, a program that was curtailed after the tragic Challenger explosion in 1986 and the loss of its crew, including teacher Christa McAuliffe.8

But what I like about Tito's comment is that, he places an importance on the arts above tourism. I believe in the opening of space to everyone, I believe that the arts should be incorporated into this subsidized exploration phase of space in which we live. Some people in the space industry defend that the ISS is open to business and that the it can reap profits. Others will tell you that no profit is possible from a research lab which depends on massive state subsidies. What I'd like to see now is for the arts and humanities to also receive these kinds of subsidies for space exploration and artistic research aboard the International Space Station together with the science community. We artists DO have something to offer the body of knowledge of space exploration.

Finally, what has been publicly discussed is tourism and entertainment. Not necessarily the activities I would hope for ISADORA. But they suggest, nonetheless, an opening of space beyond the hard sciences. I would like to conclude this chapter by mentioning a video produced by the National Endowment of the Arts and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that talks about art in space. This video is called "Windows on Mars" and was produced for NASA's Mars Millennium Project with a subsidy from the Getty Foundation. It is geared towards children and was made available to kids all across America through through public libraries. The video talks about the importance of culture in future exploration and colonization of the Red Planet. It even showed interviews with children, NASA scientists, architects and high profile artists talking about what kind of art they would do on Mars! It’s a nice idea and a well produced video but manned Mars exploration is still so far off while the International Space Station is just overhead. Why couldn't the question have been posed about including the arts on the ISS? Why keep the arts in this far-off visionary realm of space exploration when it can be easily achieved now, right over our heads on the ISS?

In order for artists to get up there artists will have to be more vocal. One scientist once asked me at a space conference where I intended to get the money to do art exploration in space. I looked at him straight in the eye and said the exact same place you have been getting your money for the past 45 years: the government. But critical mass is important here. Artists will have to engage in some sort of art-in-space activism if we are to get into space. The odds are against us in America on a political level although the American public seems to respond positively to the idea of an alternative exploration to space. In Russia the obstacle is financial. Ironically, they have a far more capitalistic approach to opening space and will let non-conventional users (tourists and artists) go as long as we foot the bill. But in America politicians will have to be convinced for they are more resistant to opening space up to 'looney artsy types'. Space tourism entrepreneur and millionaire Robert Bigelow likes to say that NASA stands for "No Access to Space for Americans". And if he feels this way as a rich space entrepreneur imagine what we artists are going to experience.

But do not despair! The avant-garde is alive and well and a few artists have already managed to engage in making art in parabolic flight AND in space. Don't believe me? Read on…


Email from James in the USA

Pretty interesting ideas. I must admit, tho', that I am one of the scientist/engineer types, but I can easily see your point. You seem to be fighting the same arguments given against computers with modern GUIs that were used by the old-time professional computer people and their claim that "A command line is more powerful and necessary." The same people that once claimed that there would never be a need for more than 5 computers in the world.



Proceed to T minus 8

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