Giving a talk at NASA, JPL. Oct 2016 / by Ekaterina Smirnova

You know when your dream comes true... that tingling feeling like on the 1st day of the year, very bright and light. Visiting NASA, was just that for me. Growing up we all hear this abbreviation of 4 letters N.A.S.A. It associates in your mind with something grand, space exploration and technologies on the edge of our time and the future.

I was so honored and humbled to be invited to give a talk at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of NASA in Pasadena, CA. My talk was about the art project 67P, which is inspired by the space mission Rosetta, ESA, as well as the connection between science and art, it's mutual relationship and importance to each other. During the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS/EPSC) symposium, the week prior to my talk, I found many pieces of evidence that scientists need artists to translate their work to the rest of the world. Likewise, artists often get inspired by the research that is done by the scientists. During the talk I underlined that my goal was to present the data about the comet 67P in an artistic way. I explore the comet through different perspectives: visually, three-dimensionally, virtually (Augmented Reality, AR) and even through hearing and smell, while basing my project on such data as spectroscopy, magnetometry, chemistry and more.

At the end of the 30 minutes slide-show presentation I invited my listeners to interact with my paintings using AR - my latest project, based on spectroscopic data by OSIRIS (an instrument on board of Rosetta). My guests were able to use a free AR application to view a virtual layer on top of my paintings, to reveal hidden data. I create a parallel between the information that could be viewed only via special instruments, to build an awareness of the amount of research that is done to observe the otherwise invisible. *AR experience will be soon available on my website!

Bonnie J. Buratti, PhD

Bonnie J. Buratti, PhD

Prior to the talk my host and the organizer of this event Bonnie J. Buratti, PhD, Senior Research Scientist, Principal Scientist and Supervisor: Comets, Asteroids, and Satellites Group, invited me for a tour around the JPL site. I was very excited about this tour, it is very hard to get to visit NASA, the security is very strict and you can only visit JPL by a special invitation or with an organized group tour, that must be done months in advance. The JPL site is like a small town with 15,000 people. There are many buildings and it seems to be very confusing, Dr. Buratti for example had a map which we used often to get to one place or another. In the center of the town there is a garden, which sometimes gets wild animals like deer and even a wild panther! I have no idea how animals are able to get in, there is a wall around the site and the security is letting in only humans that have ether their passes or have their names on the list of guests.

I visited the Space Mission Control Center! They call it "Dark Room" for a reason, it is indeed very dark inside. Only the large monitors and LED blue lines that repeat the shape of the tables seem to provide light. All operations and communications with the spacecrafts happen there. On the monitors you would see the data sent/received from various missions including Cassini and Voyager! I did not want to leave there, just sit and observe from above what is going on for hours. 

I was of course very interested to visit the Spacecraft Assembling Room. Sadly there was not actual crafts in progress there, I was luckier at the European Space Agency where I saw BepiColombo in progress. But it is still very exciting to see the scale of the room and it's organization. It is very bright there and very clean. A mannequin in the center of the room was dressed in a special suit and a mask that reminds of a surgeon outfit in a way.

Next exciting stop of my tour was the Mars Yards. Everyone knows the Mars Rover. I was surprised to find out that it is much larger than I thought it would be. I saw a full model with all of the instruments and solar panels on display at the Museum at JPL, but here at the Mars Yards there was one that was actually operational. Six wheels are designed to be very flexible so the rover could move easily on any ground and here at the yard you would find a landscape that resembles Mars with various samples of sand, rocks and pebbles. I could not stop myself and took a picture with this fascinating machine.

My trip was almost like a trip to the future, and yet it is our present, with the technologies moving fast forward and our explorations reach far outside of the planet Earth. Science is AWESOME! And arts... arts help the science to be heard and understood.

I would like to thank Bonnie J. Buratti for this memorable visit and thank everyone who came for my talk.