2 03 2009


“If I were to create art in space, it would be composed of light.” Souichi Noguchi, the Japanese astronaut, commented after the STS-114 mission to artists at a debriefing session held at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts & Music in October 2005. He stated that through his visual experience in outer space, he felt that light had an artistic
potential in space. The statement was a great inspiration for me as a creator of light art and as a professional who conducts studies on space and art, and gave me the opportunity to write this paper. (Mission Debriefing Session by Astronaut Noguchi, 2005)

In 2008, when the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) “KIBO” will be docked to the ISS (International Space Station), the pilot mission for artistic experiments will begin. Prior to this mission, since 1996, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) has been conducting research on the effective application of cultural-social sciences to JEM, and since 2000, has carried out experiments pursuing the theme “Potential of Art in Space”.

The artistic experiments in the space shuttle by astronauts Doi (STS-87 Mission, 1997) and Noguchi (STS-114 Mission, 2005) are from this project. The present paper will report on the artistic experiments that started in 2000 and introduce the designs of the art pilot mission to be launch in 2008, and discuss the potential of art in space.

Since 1996, JAXA has been conducting research on “Researches on the utilization of JEM from the viewpoints of humanity science and sociology” (Report No.1998-006) with experts in the fields of sociology, literature, psychology, religious science and art. It is in anticipation of the fact that, in the near future, human beings will be staying in the ISS for long periods of time and a mini-earth society will be organized. It will become a stage for cultural and social science experiments and a new ethical concept, view of the world, the earth and the universe, will be conceived. After 4 years of discussions, a collaborative project with the art society began in 2000 with the following objectives: “Basic understanding of the space environment”, “Pursuit of the meaning of human existence in space”, “A new model to ‘integrate’ scientific technology and the cultural-social sciences using the space environment”.

Mr. Itsuo Sakane (President of IAMAS) was invited by NASDA (National Space Development Agency of Japan) to give a lecture and stated, “Space exploration is a global project for the survival of humankind. Such an undertaking has never been attempted before, and since there are no past examples of art in space, it is essential, like space development, to collaborate with many other disciplines and genres”, and introduced the project for a new comprehensive form of art. In October 1999, Tomifumi Godai, President of the International Astronautical Federation and Executive Vice President of NASDA, gave a talk titled “Renaissance in the Space Age” at the 50th IAC (IAC 1999) held in Amsterdam and spoke about the project. The French space agency, CNES-Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales showed interest in the project, which was proposed to the countries around the world. In Europe, there were already such movements by artists. The KEO Project (KEO) was backed by the city of Paris, and the British experimental art group Art Catalyst was using a Russian test aircraft to conduct artistic experiments in zero gravity (Russian parabolic flight). However, JAXA was the first government space agency to adopt an artistic project for a pilot mission, and it is expected to generate discussions on the future operations of ISS.

JAXA carried out collaborative studies on the theme, “Art in Space” with Tokyo National University of Fine Arts & Music between 2000 – 2003, and with Kyoto City University of Arts between 2001 – 2004. In the same period, research and its results of the Feasibility Study Project within JAXA were reported by Ochanomizu University in 2001, Musashino Art University between 2001 – 2002, and Tokyo Space Dance Company in 2003. The following is a description of the parabolic flight experiment in 2003, the Sound Wave Sculpture, which was one of the collaborative studies. Using aerial vibration, patterns created by the micro-particles (styrene foam pellets of 2mm in diameter) inside a cylinder form different shapes and movements to the sound of music. Since the resonance caused discrepancies in the density of the air inside the cylinder, stripe patterns most prominently appeared in micro-gravity. By increasing the variation of music with sound source of 1,000 to 10,000 Hz, a show of a wide variety of movements can be expected. At the First Gwanju Design Biennale, Korea, 2005 (Lee, 2005), an interactive artwork with the participation of the viewers was created by using an electronic instrument (Theremin) as the sound source. In 2004 and 2005, a group of students experimented with a further developed type and showed it at the “Parabolic Flight Education Program in Japan”. (Japan Society of Microgravity Application, 2006)

JAXA is working on cultural-social science projects at the ISS to find answers on how to apply the new view of the world seen from outer space, what to think of it, and what to pass down to posterity. Approximately one year from the start of the actual operations of “KIBO” has been designated as the pilot mission period (around 2008 to 2009). In order to conduct preliminary experiments with artistic themes from the cultural-social sciences, we sought for ideas.

As a result of evaluation taking into account the technical conditions and the purpose and significance of the cultural-social application, JAXA and the selection committee chose the following 10 themes as candidates for the space experiment. (ISS/KIBO Cultural, Humanity Science and Sociological Application/Pilot Mission)


Title: Hiten (Flying asparas)
Leader: Setsuko Ishiguro (Honorary Professor)
Description: Flying asparas on wall paintings in Dunhuang and Houryuji Temple will be
Ochanomizu University) recreated in orbit.


Title: Formative Experiment with Water Spheres
Leader: Takao Fujiwara (Professor, Kyoto City University of Arts)
Description: Experiment to apply vibration to water spheres to create shapes that are
unattainable on earth.


Title:  Sumi-Marbling on Water Spheres
Leader: Takuro Osaka (Professor, University of Tsukuba)
Description: Using the unique Japanese technique of sumi-marbling, create patterns on water spheres.


Title:  Spiral Top  
Leader: Takuro Osaka (Orifessor, University of Tsukuba)
Description: Using the after-image effect, light art that performs in zero-gravity.


Title:  Space Garden
Leader: Shiro Matsui (Associate Professor, Kyoto City University of Arts)
Description: Creating a garden inside the ISS in space to portray the Japanese perception of nature.


Title:  Bright Neurons
Leader: Hitoshi Nomura (Professor, Kyoto City University of Arts)
Description: Images of radiation visualized by high-resolution camera affected by cosmic radiation.


Title:  Fashionable Life in Space
Leader: Michiyo Miyanaga (Assistant, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts & Music)
Description: Fashion based on the study of physical changes (esp. legs) in zero-gravity.


Title:  Capturing Space
Leader: Shiro Matsui (Associate Professor, Kyoto City University of Arts)
Description: Capturing and packing the air (vacuum) in space.


Title:  Space Modeling
Leader: Yuichi Yonebayashi (Professor, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts & Music)
Description: Making human figures with clay in tebineri (hand-pinching) style in ISS, and
collaborate with children on earth.


Title:  “Moon” score by ISS astronauts
Leader: Hitoshi Nomura (Professor, Kyoto City University of Arts)
Description: Photograph the moon of different ages from ISS, and create music regarding the photographs of the moon as musical notes.

Zero Gravity Water Art
The earth, which is a water planet, is known as the miracle planet, the planet of life. In the 4 billion year history of life on earth, it is said that life crawled out of the water to the land, and then continued to evolve eventually into mammals. Human beings have now taken the step out of Mother Earth into space. We are now facing a time in which the unbroken line of life on earth is making great strides. Water, which produced life on earth and has been instrumental in the evolution of life on earth, will float in mid-air. The Greek philosopher Thales stated, “It is water.” “It” is the nature, the archê, the originating principle. (Aristotle, 1959) Water, the origin of all things, will be disengaged from earth, and various types of stimulations will be applied to water spheres to elicit organic patterns and changes in color.

“Marbling Painting on Spheres of Water”
“Marbling Painting on Spheres of Water in zero-gravity” will be created as a symbolic objet d’art of the earth, a biosphere. (Lovelock, 1987) Using as a reference the images of the experiments conducted inside the space shuttle by Dr. Donald Pettit during his nearly six-month flight from November 2002 to May 2003 (Pettit, 2003), marbling paintings will be created by pouring sumi-ink on water spheres floating in zero gravity. Marbling is a painting technique that has been around since ancient times and enjoyed across the borders. Fluids, such as sumi-ink and surface active agents that have different surface tensions, will be poured on to rotating water spheres, creating beautiful patterns similar to drifting clouds in the earth’s atmosphere. The patterns on the spheres will be blotted onto dome-shaped Japanese washi-paper, fixed and brought back to earth for display. This proposal was conceived by an experiment to fixate a water sphere in mid-air using high-frequency sound, and was supported by the JAXA Science Project Team and University of Tsukuba, Zero Gravity Kinetic Art “If I were to create art in space, it would be composed of light.” Souichi Noguchi, Astronaut. “When I stepped out of the space shuttle on to the ground, for a moment, I could not keep up with the movements around me.” Chiaki Mukai, Astronaut. (Chiaki Mukai, interview at JAXA, Nov. 7, 2002, Apr. 6, 2007) As an artist who employs light as a medium, I found these comments by the astronauts extremely interesting. “The Spiral Top” The spiral pattern is a motional phenomenon in space. The pattern can be found in infinite places in the world, from the DNA double helix, fingerprints, spiral shells, plants, typhoon clouds to the Galaxy. The Spiral Top is a top that has been designed to leave traces of spiral patterns of light in mid-air. When the structure with blinking LEDs on some of its arms is rotated and pushed forward, traces of the multiple spiral patterns created by the light will appear in the air. Furthermore, when the center of gravity of the structure is shifted, reverse motion will occur. The intricate spiral traces will create a three-dimensional drawing of light that can only be perceived in zero gravity.

Although the traces of light are visual after-images, it would be interesting to see the difference between the visual effect in zero gravity and that on earth. Since this involves visual physiology and the discrepancy cannot be recorded by a camera, an appropriate method for verification, such as a questionnaire, is being considered. This proposal, which has a fun, entertaining feature, was inspired by the astronaut, Chiaki Mukai, who had mentioned that, immediately after she had returned to earth from space, when she moved her gaze, the visual scene she saw was unstable and winding, and by the reverse motion of a pair of pliers observed in zero gravity. (Debriefing by Mamoru Mouri.)

Looking back in history, there were always pioneers who had visions that transcended the existing norms when initiating a new era. In that regard, astronauts are transcendentalists for they have acquired a view from outer space. Irrespective of their will or intentions, the astronauts are deposited in an arena of an entirely new notion of creativity.

Every single one of them are said to be deeply moved when they see the earth from space and are overcome by a profound feeling of love for the earth. Some of them say that it would be interesting to know what sentiments and ideas would artists and poets project if they were to have the same experience. (TV Interview of Koichi Wakata at NASDA Head Office, Feb. 13, 2002. Mission Debriefing Session by Souichi Noguchi at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts & Music, Dec. 18, 2005)

Modern art started with the expansion of the “artistic” concept that anything could be art. The artistic experiments at the ISS will be pursued as a model of this expanded artistic concept. On the other hand, the changes in spatial recognition and vision acquired from the experience in space might well lead to discussions about the existing
“artistic” concept. The important point achieved by this study is to share the experiences of the astronauts. In other words, it is the acquisition of the vision “to see oneself from the outside”. It is to feel the irreplaceable value of our home planet and to objectify the confrontations and egoism that afflict us by looking at the earth from the extraordinary environment of space, and then to speak to the hearts and souls of the people and deliver the opportunity to reexamine the perceptions and values of the present world. In order to achieve this goal, it is essential that art (figurative, performance, visual images, music, etc.) as a more effective tool of communication is discussed.



Aristotle (1959). Keijijo-Gaku Metaphysics. (Takashi Ide, Trans.) Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten. Debriefing by Mamoru Mouri. Retrieved Aug. 2007 from the website: Earth and Space. The scientific experience of microgravity:

IAC 1999 (International Astronautical Congress) and Mr.Godai’s article. Retrieved Aug. 2007 from the website Space Applications Dominate IAF Conference:

ISS/KIBO Cultural, Humanity Science and Sociological Application (Pilot Mission). Retrieved Aug.

Japan Society of Microgravity Application (2006). (Vol.23, No.1, pp38~39). KEO. Retrieved Aug. 2007 from website:

Lee, S.-J., Rhi, J., Eun, B., & Park, I.-S,. (2005). Light in to Life-Future Life-Asian Design. Organization of Gwangju Design Biennale 2005 (pp114~115). Gwangju, Korea.

Lovelock, Jim E. (1987). Gaia-no jidai, Gaia: A new look at life on Earth. (Jun Hoshikawa, Trans.) Tokyo, Japan: Kousakusha.

Mission Debriefing Session by Astronaut Noguchi (2005, Nov.18) Art In Space. A collaborative study by Tokyo National University of Fine Arts & Music and NASDA (National Space Development Agency of Japan). National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) was changed to the new organization JAXA in 2003.

Pettit, D. (2003). Dr. Donald Pettit’s Experiments with Water. Retrieved Aug. 2007 from the NASA Website:

President of IAMAS (Institute of Advanced Media Art and Science). Retrieved Aug. 2007, from the IAMAS Website:

Report No.1998-006. (1998, March). Researches on the utilization of JEM from the viewpoints of humanity science and sociology. IAS (International Institute for Advanced Studies, Kyoto) Russian parabolic flight.

STS-87 Mission (1997, Nov. 19 ~ Dec. 5).

STS-114 Mission (2005, July 26 ~ Aug. 9).

Theremin (1920). An electronic instrument invented by Russian inventor, Theremin, in 1920. Also known as Thereminvox. Volume and registers change by placing hands over transmitter.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: