NEW YORK CITY — There’s a ring of man-made satellites orbiting Earth that will outlast human civilization.
To send a message to the future, artist Trevor Paglen decided to micro-etch 100 images on an ultra-archival disc created by Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers and blast them up there.
With the support of Creative Time, Paglen finished the five-year project, and “The Last Pictures” will soon launch on the satellite EchoStar XVI.
Encased in a gold-plated shell, the images will circle Earth for the next 5 billion years, ready to be found by a curious extraterrestrial.
I met Paglen at his book-filled downtown apartment overlooking a giant swath of New York harbor.
Q: How did you come to conceive of this idea?
A: I was interested in secret satellites, the idea that you could go out and see things that aren’t acknowledged to be there.
I wanted to know how long it takes for a satellite to come down once it’s been put up into orbit. And then I realized that once you go up to very high altitudes, particularly in the geostationary orbits around 36,000 kilometers (22,356 miles), they never come down.
Q: So you thought, let’s put some art among the dead machines?
A: I thought maybe we should insert some humanity into that, make some kind of cultural mark on one of these spacecraft to acknowledge the fact that we’re putting these things out into time.
I thought this would be sort of a poetic gesture.