In a serpentine building that snakes through the Connecticut countryside, a strange meeting took place this past July. A group of four scientists from NASA, including an astronaut, a robotics expert, and the agency’s deputy administrator, conferred with some 30 painters, sculptors and poets. Adding an extra layer of mystery to proceedings was the fact that the meeting was hosted by Grace Farms, a faith-based think-tank created by an evangelical hedge-fund billionaire.
Tea was served. Thomas Pynchon may or may not have been present.
The aim of this odd confluence was to engage an “artistic response” to NASA’s journey to Mars, the space agency’s ambitious goal of putting a human on the red planet’s surface sometime in the 2030s. To help set the mood, NASA brought some zappy toys to share—a Hololens headset that offered an augmented reality view of Mars, as well as surreal images of winds carving the Martian surface. According to those present, scientists spoke of the necessity of having “an outpost” on Mars to help solve the many riddles of the galaxy. The question they were asking the assembled artists was whether they could help communicate this vision to the public as part of a new program entitled “Arts + Mars”.