The New York Times’ T Magazine has an exclusive story on Japanese artist Azuma Makoto’s project Exobiotanica, a project that saw two carefully-crafted plant arrangements (or in the case of the bonsai, a carefully-crafted plant) ascend to the edge of space.
Last Tuesday, Mokoto sent his plants up to the stratosphere. The bonsai pine tree was 50 years old, and came from Makoto’s personal collection. The bouquet was also carefully selected, as Makoto told T:
“I am using brightly colored flowers from around the world so that they contrast against the darkness of space,” he said. The scent of the flowers was stronger and more concentrated in the dry desert breeze than in their humid, natural environments, and the launch site was redolent with their perfume.
The launch site at Black Rock Desert in Nevada is probably best known for hosting the annual Burning Man festival. The plants made it all the way up to the stratosphere, and served as subjects for some truly spectacular photos. (The stratosphere is not technically space, but it is pretty far up. The stratosphere is where daredevil Felix Baumgartner jumped for his record-breaking skydive.)
Sadly, the bonsai and flower arrangement didn't survive their trip: photos taken of the flowers while in flight indicate that the arrangement, at least, disintegrated in transit. Luckily, the team was still able to recover the pictures.
There have been other missions to send plants to space, but with less aesthetic and more practical concerns in mind. In 2010, NASA sent flowers to space. They found that even in zero gravity the roots of the plants behaved almost as they would on Earth. Earlier this year, NASA sent ‘plant pillows’ up to the ISS to see if it is possible to grow vegetables in space. Growing food in space is considered essential for future missions to far-off destinations like Mars.
But even though space veggies are far more important to scientific exploration, they probably won’t be as pretty as this: