Considering that a postal worker can’t just drop a package off at the International Space Station, astronauts onboard rely on their handy 3D printer that operates in microgravity conditions to create new tools and replace parts while in orbit. Now, an artist could become the first to use that space-based 3D printer for art.
Israeli artist Eyal Gever and Made In Space, the company that designed and built the ISS’ 3D printer, have been creating a sculpture based on a human laugh called, appropriately, “#Laugh." To put this project together, Gever is currently asking people around the world to record their laughs to a smartphone app, which will render it into a 3D model, Alyssa Danigelis reports for Seeker. Through the magic of crowdsourcing, the app’s users will then be able to vote on their favorite, which will be uploaded to the ISS.
“The earliest cave paintings were of human hands which were a way of proclaiming and celebrating the presence of humanity,” Gever says in a statement. “#Laugh will be the 21st century version of that—a mathematically accurate encapsulation of human laughter, simply floating through space, waiting to be discovered.”
This isn’t Gever’s first go at 3D printed art. For years, he has used the technology to create all sorts of eerie scenes, such as models of black liquid bursting from a museum’s walls and what looks like a wave lifted straight out of the ocean. In this case, Gever had to decide just how he would visualize laughter. In developing the app, Gever decided to give participants two options: a pyramid-shaped model and a donut-like ring. The sound waves are then mapped onto the chosen object’s surface to create a 3D model, The Economist reports.
The sculpture will be printed within the International Space Station and remain there. It will not be released freely into space. That's a good thing. As humans started sending spaceships and satellites up into our planet’s orbit during the last century, the skies have gotten very cluttered with what’s now called “space junk.” Things from chunks of old satellites to tools dropped during spacewalks are now circling the globe at rapid speeds, and even the most minuscule objects can cause serious damage to space-based equipment.
“An object up to 1 cm in size could disable an instrument or a critical flight system on a satellite. Anything above 1 cm could penetrate the shields of the [ISS’] crew modules, and anything larger than 10 cm could shatter a satellite or spacecraft into pieces,” the European Space Agency reported in May.
So though #Laugh is on orbit to become the first art piece created in space, when it's complete, you'll have to look to the ISS if you want to catch the mirth.
Editor's note, December 6, 2016: This piece initially reported that #Laugh would be launched into space rather than remaining on the International Space Station. We regret the error.