Mixed Media The InterPlanetary Project
It’s not often that scientists charged with exploring the farthest reaches of our universe get to have sit-down conversations with science-fiction writers and filmmakers, who, in turn, explore our human longing to seek out contact with whatever other life forms may await us in deep space. But that’s what’s happening at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 18, at the Lensic Performing Arts Center (211 W. San Francisco St.) as part of The InterPlanetary Project of the Santa Fe Institute.
Billed as “equal parts conference, festival, and research program,” the project looks at space exploration from the vantage point of our own troubled planet, with its wars, famines, political conflicts, biological threats, and economic realities. At the Lensic talk, that means equal billing time for a planetary scientist like Lindy Elkins-Tanton — who is guiding NASA’s 2022 mission to send a robot orbiter to Psyche, a massive metallic asteroid believed to be the exposed iron core of a protoplanet — and Jonathan Nolan, the sci-fi screenwriter and producer behind Interstellar, Memento, The Dark Knight, and the Westworld TV series.
Other highlights of the panel include Sandra Moore Faber, an astrophysicist who makes use of Hawaii’s Keck Observatory to survey over 50,000 distant galaxies, and Dario Robleto, a Houston artist whose work repurposes science artifacts (atomic glass, astronomer etchings, dinosaur fossils). Robleto is a current member of the Breakthrough Message Project, an international collaborative that seeks to understand how to communicate with intelligent beings beyond Earth, should such an event take place.
Look and feel are important too. So beyond the typical “chairs on a stage” set-up, Santa Fe artist-scientist Thomas Ashcraft, known for his telescopic work capturing signals and sounds from mesospheric gravity waves and meteoric fireballs, will be on hand to deliver imagery and ambient soundscapes during the panel.
The pairing of art and science here isn’t just some sop to interdisciplinarity. As 20th-century science fiction continues to become 21st-century reality, the central struggle of our time is defined by the desires and conflicts unleashed by technology upon humans. Should it ever occur, an encounter with interplanetary life will surely reorder our own society in ways that this new SFI initiative suggests that we ought to consider right now. Tickets for the evening of July 18 are $5 (www.ticketssantafe.org, 505-988-1234). Reservations are highly encouraged. — Casey Sanchez
Illustration of proposed mission to send spacecraft to metallic asteroid Psyche