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Podcast: Science With A Twist

Episode Summary

Many of us have created time capsules — boxes filled with objects from when we were growing up — and buried them in the backyard for future generations to discover. However, a group of experts from various fields have taken this to the next level and created a time capsule that will be sent to the moon.

In this episode of Science with a Twist, our host Sung-Dae Hong welcomes Dylan Vitone, Mark Baskinger, and Matt Zywica. Mark, Dylan, and Matt are associate professors at Carnegie Mellon University, School of Design, and the creators of one of the ultimate time capsules — the mysterious and innovative MoonArk.

Mark, Dylan, and Matt share the story behind the project and the people involved, give details about the object's design, and explain how it’s being tested on its preparedness for space expedition.


Video Highlight

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Guest Profiles



Dylan Vitone

Associate Professor, Carnegie Mellon University, School of Design

Carnegie Mellon UniversityMoonArk

 

Where to find him: Website



Matt Zywica

Associate Teaching Professor, Carnegie Mellon University, School of Design
Carnegie Mellon UniversityMoonArk

 

Where to find him: Website


Mark Baskinger

Associate Professor, Carnegie Mellon University, School of Design
Carnegie Mellon UniversityMoonArk
 

Where to find him: Website



Noteworthy: Described as part conceptual art project and part time capsule, the MoonArk is intended to be a representation of the present state of the planet and its people — for humans to discover and learn from in the distant future. The project was started in 2008 and has grown to include 60 team members from 18 institutions and over 250 contributing artists, designers, educators, scientists, engineers, choreographers, poets, writers, and musicians.

 


Quotation marks
"We had to cook this MoonArk in order to make sure nothing was going off the gas. And we didn't have a precise laboratory. We didn't have a precise mechanism to do all this stuff. And Thermo Fisher stepped up and provided us with all the equipment we needed to run these rigorous tests."

Dylan Vitone
Associate Professor
Carnegie Mellon University, School of design

Key Insights



The MoonArk is both conceptual art and a time capsule. Almost 15 years ago, the idea was to create a time capsule carrying fragments of the world as we know it today and send it to the moon to be discovered in the distant future. Today, the project has 60 members from 18 institutions and over 250 contributing designers, scientists, poets, musicians etc. Mark Baskinger, one of the first to get involved with the project, shares what it was like at the

beginning. ''The MoonArk was a conceptual idea concocted by a few pioneering faculty members here, namely, Red Whitaker in the Robotics Institute and Lowry Burgess, former Dean of the College of Fine Arts. And their thought was that if Carnegie Mellon were to go to the moon, it can't just be the sciences and the technologies and that side of campus represented and that the arts would surely have something to contribute.''

 

Working on MoonArk was creative and exciting but challenging. As our guests say, creating an object like the MoonArk goes beyond making it look nice. It has to be safe and resilient to different conditions. ''We wanted it to be beautiful and aesthetic. So we went about making it with no real knowledge of what it was going to take to get it there. So, when it was time to put the rubber on the road, we were like, 'Oh, my goodness. It has to go through all this different, rigorous testing,''' says Dylan.

 

Many components are handmade. What makes the MoonArk astonishing is the amount of work, especially manual work, that’s been put into its creation. ''[...], a sculptor metal worker made quite a contribution to this project. It was amazing to visit and watch him do this under the monitor, zoomed in significantly — getting to see the intricacy of the work that was a part of it. But the biggest issue was whether those micro welds would be strong and consistent enough to be able to sustain the rigorous trip that the MoonArk was going to go through,'' explains Matt.





Quotation marks
"There are certain processes that this object would go through,— the trip to the moon, and the conditions of the moon. We had to make sure that it was prepared for that. We're hitching a ride to the moon; we had to make sure none of the components being used for this particular flight would damage any of their equipment."

Matt Zywica
Associate Teaching Professor
Carnegie Mellon University, School of design


Episode Highlights



The Story Behind MoonArk and the People Involved

''The MoonArk began around late 2008 or early 2009 as a conceptual project that would join Carnegie Mellon's first attempt at building a lunar lander to go to the moon at that time, 2012. It was originally seeded by the Google Lunar X Prize.

 

We were one of the competing teams that, over the years, did rather well with seed funding and enough support, and CMU was able to spin out a new company called Astrobotic, a private space-faring agency located in Pittsburgh.

 

And so, Astrobotic became the carrier and the designer of a lunar lander that would take commercial, academic, and all sorts of private payloads to the moon. Its main mission was to create this ferrying operation to move between the surface of the Earth and the surface of the moon on a consistent basis,'' Mark explains.



The Design of the MoonArk

''It was incredibly tricky and paralyzing at times. And we realized early on that things were going to be left off, and we just couldn't be accountable for everything.

 

The analogy we often use is of moving through a city and the idea that you might hear different languages or poetry [and there’d be different] smells. So, moving through a complicated space and making it a sensorial experience of what it's like to be on Earth now.

 

So the MoonArk is essentially four different, fairly small chambers. So we have a total of nine ounces that's divided over four different chambers. The size is a little smaller than half of a Coke can. And the four chambers speak about the complexity of being a human now.''


The Testing Process to Ensure the MoonArk Is Ready for Its Expedition to Space

''There were certain processes that this object would go through on the trip to the moon and due to the conditions on the moon. And we had to make sure that this object was prepared for that. We're hitching a ride to the moon; the equipment that's being used for this particular flight — we had to make sure that none of our components would damage any of their equipment. [...]

 

The bakeout became very crucial for us. The various samples underwent a vacuum test as well as the temperature test through the vacuum oven. And it helped to confirm that what we had was going to be properly prepared and that there wouldn't be any issues along the way. And so it was a very crucial part of the process — in addition to a lot of other tests that we had to go through.''