The ALIS (Art Lab In Space) concept involves the delivery to orbit of a miniature art gallery featuring micro-sculptures (artefacts) that float and interact freely in weightlessness, within a deployed inflatable, attached to the International Space Station's external payload attachment site (refer to illustrations on pages 5 to 8 inclusive). The gallery is internally lit and observed through video cameras with a video downlink to a ground website, enabling the public to ‘visit’ the gallery through a website portal.
The space shuttle fleet has flown well over 100 missions involving thousands of experiments and payloads, none of which has been devoted to active art. Of particular value is the approach to providing public access to space through a website link, with an obvious cultural and educational dimension. It is vital that new ways are found to attract the attention and engage the interest of the public in space if it is to prosper as a field of human endeavor. ALIS is a concept that focuses on this need. In the recent Presidential Space Commission's report (June 2004), page 44 refers to the need for public engagement as being critical to sustaining the space exploration vision. Anna Hill's paper ‘Space Synapse System’ presented at the IAC Vancouver conference is one of the few other examples of advancing ideas to place art into the unique context of space.
Science is said to be a language for understanding the universe. Art is a response to being human, an output by instinct. ALIS showcases the crossover of both fields, where boundaries are blurred. Metamorphing, an exhibition held at the Science Museum in London in 2002 explored this crossover relationship between art and science. It proved to be a very powerful and popular theme.
There are a number of technical challenges involved. Chief among these are:
The development of the gallery as a compact and lightweight payload suitable for the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station.
The provision of a reliable high capacity video downlink in real time or near real time to a ground receiving station for website access.
Assurance of operating reliability and safety in the hostile environment of space.
Minimization and simplification of mechanical and electrical parts and subsystems to achieve development and fabrication economies.
Ongoing research has revealed that none of these technical challenges is especially difficult and are typical of those common to the development of all spaceflight payloads. ALIS will pull together a number of technologies developed by aerospace companies and available in the marketplace in one form or another, including space inflatable technology and space micro-camera technology.