Carnegie Mellon University
July 02, 2015

Moon Arts Ark

Moon Arts
Rendering of the Ark

Millions of people watched the first moon landing by Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969, when astronaut Neil Armstrong took that one giant step onto the lunar surface and left a mark forever in history.

Next year another lunar mission is slated. Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute will send a rover to the moon in competition for the Google Lunar XPrize.

William L. "Red" Whittaker, roboticist and founder of Astrobotic, Inc., is reserving space on the rover for a view of humanity and life on earth — the Moon Arts Ark, which contains elements representing art, architecture, design, music, drama, ballet and poetry.

"Why not get people to look up and think about our spot in the universe, and think about where we are in the greater scheme of things?" — Mark Baskinger

A team of about 30 international artists, scientists, designers and engineers have been working on the Ark for years. Led by Lowry Burgess, a renowned space artist and art professor at Carnegie Mellon, much of the design and development has taken place recently.

"This is an opportunity to take the arts and humanities into a realm that is traditionally thought of as cold and lifeless," Burgess said.

The Ark is four elaborate chambers that each hold four engraved sapphire disks, metal sculptures, microcapsules containing evidence of life on earth, high-resolution dye sublimation imagery on metal foil, and a variety of information in the form of data, imagery and physical traces.

team members
Mark Baskinger, Lowry Burgess and Matt Zywica in the
Moon Arts "war room."

To be part of the payload, the Ark must weigh no more than 6 ounces volume or half a can of soda. The Moon Arts team has accomplished this extraordinary technical feat and the chamber prototypes are completed. While the Ark must endure a journey through space, work reliably under extreme conditions on the lunar surface, and remain operational for what could be millions or billions of years, an exact replica of the moon-bound one will be constructed for future exhibition on Earth.

The team comprises CMU students, faculty and alumni working alongside external artists and professionals in various industries who are involved with emerging media, new and ancient technologies, and hybrid processes. CMU's team members hold degrees and faculty appointments in design, engineering, architecture, chemistry, poetry, music composition and visual art, among others.

Their efforts have been coordinated by the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry in CMU's College of Fine Arts. Mark Baskinger, co-principal investigator of the Moon Arts Group and an associate professor in the School of Design, calls the Ark and its contents a capsule of life on earth, meant to help illustrate a vital part of the human existence: the arts.

engraved disc
Engraved disk

"If this is the next step in space exploration, let's put that exploration into the public consciousness," he said. "Why not get people to look up and think about our spot in the universe, and think about where we are in the greater scheme of things?"

Burgess and Baskinger, as co-principal investigators of the Moon Arts Group, collaborate closely with project managers Associate Professor Dylan Vitone, and Assistant Teaching Professor Matt Zywica, both from the School of Design. A full list of the team is available at

Related Links