Cosmic Dancer Technical Specifications
Excerpt from Tate-in-Space Discussion December 12, 2002
For its integration in the Mir station the "Cosmic Dancer Sculpture" had to be both compact and lightweight. A weight limit of 1 kg and approximate dimensions of 35 x 35 x 40 cm were agreed to. The weight requirement was determined by the per kilogram cost of the launch and this influenced the ultimate proportions of the sculpture which were then optimized in insure easy movement of the sculpture inside the Mir station and, of course to meet my aesthetic criteria.
As a first step, I constructed several prototype sculptures out of wood to the above dimensions and painted them in various color schemes in my typical pointillistic technique. One of these prototype sculptures was then delivered to NPO Energia in Russia for cosmonaut training purposes in December 1992.
A pre-flight training exercise with the sculpture was conducted by the designated cosmonaut crew consisting of Gennadi Manakov and Alexander Polishchuk at the Mir mock- up located at the cosmonaut training facility at Star City, Russia. This exercise simulated the Cosmic Dancer in the Mir station by suspending the sculpture with a nylon mono-filament line from the ceiling and spinning it. A video recording and photographs of this exercise were made and delivered to me in January, 1993. Later in January, the two cosmonauts were launched to the Mir station for a six-month tour of duty.
Standard water-based acrylic polymer artists' paints were proposed for the surface finish. However, the paint used had to satisfy toxic out-gassing standards for the Mir environment. Samples of each color were sent to NPO Energia for testing and these were subsequently approved. The paints used were "Lascaux Studio Acrylic Paints" manufactured by the Swiss art materials manufacturer Alois K. Delthelm AG.
To prevent possible biological or germ contamination of the closed Mir environment, it was also required that the sculpture be sterilized by submersion it in an alcohol solution prior to launch. As acrylic paint reacts negatively to alcohol, a suitable varnish that could support the sterilization procedure and not affect the acrylic paint had to be utilized. A two-component epoxy transparent varnish was found that satisfied this requirement.
To minimize flammability and to ensure structural stability during the launch phase, hollow 40 mm square aluminum tubing with a wall thickness of 2 mm was chosen as a material and a local contractor was selected for its construction. The material was cut to the exact dimensions of the wooden prototype sculpture.
To meet the stringent weight requirements of 1 kg, the aluminum tubes had to be reduced by 20% of their original thickness. This was done by magnetic sanding all sides of the aluminum tubes in the necessary manner. The pieces were then assembled by welding.
The color scheme selected for the flight sculpture was based on the following criteria: (1) The sculpture had to have sufficient contrast with the Mir environment in order to insure that good images could be obtained on film and video and, (2) it should offer an "aesthetic" contribution to the cosmonauts living quarters.
With these two considerations as a guide, I chose a dominant green color scheme for the flight sculpture. This decision was reached after viewing photographs and video tapes of the Mir station interior which indicated a somewhat drab, technical environment crowded and cluttered with equipment, tubes and cables. In contrast, from the view portals, the cosmonauts could observe the blackness of space and the brilliant blue and white of the Earth. Green was also considered because of its association with terrestrial plants and the psychologically calming effects that associations with nature are reported to induce. In the photographs of the Mir interior made available by NPO Energia, there appeared to be very little of this color in its brighter intensities in the Mir station environment. It turned out that this choice of color was positively welcomed by the crew for these reasons.
The flight sculpture was thus painted in this color scheme with the Lascaux Studio Acrylic Paints, finished with the approved epoxy varnish and delivered to NPO Energia's agent in Germany Kayser-Threde GmbH in March, 1993.
Kayser-Threde carried out the sterilization procedures, dried the sculpture in an exhaust oven and vacuum-packed it for delivery to NPO Energia which was then responsible for the construction of a packing system necessary for its integration into the Progress launch vehicle. The Cosmic Dancer was launched to the Mir space station on May 22, 1993.
Final Note: The Cosmic Dancer probably could not have been flown on the the US space shuttle as NASA had a strict policy concerning the flight of non-scientific payloads. Also I believe the angular edges of the sculpture may have been considered to be too sharp - and thus pose a potential hazard to the space shuttle crew and equipment. Something to keep in mind if you are planning artworks for the ISS.