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SpaceX, Nevada to launch reflective art project into space. Here’s what you’ll see from Earth

SpaceX is planning to launch a number of objects into orbit this year, including a sculpture from the Nevada Museum of Art.
SpaceX is planning to launch a number of objects into orbit this year, including a sculpture from the Nevada Museum of Art.
Screenshot, Nevada Museum of Art YouTube video

SALT LAKE CITY — SpaceX is planning to launch a number of objects into orbit this year, including a sculpture from the Nevada Museum of Art.

Why it matters: The sculpture, which will be "on exhibit" in space for two to three months, could be one of the most-viewed sculptures in human history, according to CBS News.

  • "We look at the sky and try to figure out what our destiny might be, or what our past might be or what the present might be. For me, the project is really just an opportunity for me to ask those big questions," artist Trevor Paglen said.

What’s going on: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will send nearly 70 satellites into Earth’s orbit in November, including this artwork.

  • Paglen’s sculpture, Orbital Reflector, when expanded, will go “from a package the size of a shoebox to a diamond sculpture the size of two school buses,” according to CBS.
  • "For me it was important to create a kind of catalyst for people to go out and to look at the sky and think about … the politics of space and public space," Paglen said.
  • Paglen worked with a team from the Nevada Museum of Art, which included experts who helped him construct the sculpture.

What it does: Sunlight will reflect off Orbital Reflector, which will make the sculpture “visible from Earth with the naked eye — like a slowly moving artificial star as bright as a star in the Big Dipper,” according to the project’s website.

Bigger picture: Space art has become a point of contention among astronomers, according to The Atlantic.

  • There are astronomers who believe art projects — like Orbital Reflector — don’t belong in space. They believe the objects will disrupt scientific discovery.
  • “This project brings nothing that we don’t have already,” said Mark McCaughrean, a scientist at the European Space Agency, according to The Atlantic. “We already have plenty of moving lights in the sky to engage the public with and draw them to the majesty of the night.”
  • “I think that most people would appreciate a little more reverence for the natural world rather than inserting yet another artificial structure,” said Caleb Scharf, the director of the Columbia Astrobiology Center, according to The Atlantic. “Paglen is highly creative, and has clearly delved deep into this work, but for those of us who spend our lives contemplating and communicating the cosmic, this seems to miss the critical point that the unobscured night sky is an endangered beast best seen in the raw.”