Reimagining research for life in space
On November 17, 20 researchers from the MIT Media Lab Space Exploration initiative and MIT’s Department of Earth, Air, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) boarded a zero gravity flight in Sanford, Florida. The goal: spend 90 minutes studying the effects of a zero-gravity environment on research ranging from asteroid grappling, to self-assembling space architecture, to music and performance, to sensory and emotional responses. This was the Space Exploration initiative’s inaugural research deployment, and a first step toward realizing the initiative’s goal of democratizing access to space.
Deploying research in zero gravity isn’t a new concept, and this wasn’t the only recent zero-gravity research trip by MIT researchers. But this effort was unusual in many ways—first and foremost the experiments themselves, which represented fields not usually seen as part of space research: design, architecture, art, virtual reality, affective computing, and social robotics.
“One critical difference with this flight is the presence of artists, architects, and designers flying with us, doing experiments and deploying research alongside the scientists,” said PhD student Ariel Ekblaw, the initiative’s leader and trip organizer. “Another is the diversity in project types. The sheer range of academic fields and disciplines is quite unique. This was the first time this many different research projects have been deployed at once on a commercial flight.”