Through February, one can listen to communications originating from satellites in Earth’s orbit at the Huntington Library.
This communication amounts to essentially a “hello” from one of the 19 NASA satellites conducting Earth science research for the agency, but the installation through which they communicate is nevertheless captivating. The outdoor installation, which melds auditory art and architectural design with science and technology, is designed to promote interest in NASA’s current projects.
“It’s sort of like an ecosystem,” said Dan Goods, a visual strategist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, about the installation he helped conceive. “Our satellites are studying our ecosystem, so we needed it to feel like one.”
Goods’ ecosystem, dubbed the “Orbit Pavilion,” is essentially a large aluminum nautilus shell crossed with a colander, with the central dome festooned with dozens of speakers fastened symmetrically around the interior. The speakers are programmed to emit natural sounds — such as crashing waves — that correspond to the particular satellite with which it is communicating.
At times, the speakers are broadcasting in real time. At other times, a day’s worth of transmissions are condensed into a sort of symphony. While in real time, the active speaker corresponds directly with the satellite’s position in orbit, Goods said.
“If you had a laser pointer, you’d hit that satellite,” Goods explained to the crowd gathered Friday, Nov. 11, for the installation’s opening.
Goods and his partner, fellow JPL visual strategist David Delgado, first conceived such an exhibit nearly a decade earlier when they were getting their start with JPL. Goods eventually met sound engineer Shane Myrbeck at a conference and was excited he met someone who worked with “surround sound on steroids,” as he put it.
Later on, NASA decided to sponsor a World Science Festival in New York, prompting Delgado to ask, “Why don’t we do the ‘sound thing?’”
Enter Brooklyn architect Jason Klimoski, who designed the shell shape of the installation and incorporated the necessary openings to resemble time lapse photography of the North Star.
“It just blew our socks off,” Delgado said, drawing the correlation of using a sea shell to “listen to the ocean.” “This shell lets you hear out into space, hear these beautiful sounds that Shane thought of.”
Susan Callery, manager of Earth Science Public Engagement at the local JPL, said this project was just one of many produced by “The Studio,” a group of eight designers including Goods and Delgado who work promote NASA’s work.
“Science is hard to get across to people and art is an important way to make it accessible to them,” she said.
Jennifer Cheng, who serves on the Huntington Library’s board of overseers, worked to bring Orbit Pavilion to the site as part of the “Five” project her family is funding. Orbit Pavilion was first exhibited in New York last summer.