March 13, 2024

Media Advisory: All-artist crew to emerge from simulated moon mission after six days

  • What: Media availability with four-person crew of artists who spent six days participating in a simulated moon mission in a pressurized and hermetically sealed habitat on the grounds of Biosphere 2, as well as the director of the facility that hosted them.
  • Where: The Space Analog for the Moon and Mars, or SAM, located on the grounds of Biosphere 2, at 32540 S. Biosphere Road, in Oracle, Arizona.
  • When: Arrive at 9 a.m. on Friday, March 15, for access to a 10 a.m. crew exit.
  • RSVP: Media interested in attending should RSVP to Mikayla Mace Kelley at by 6 a.m. on March 15. Please note that the Biosphere 2 campus will be closed at that time, so we ask that media arrive at the entrance gate no later than 9 a.m. for an escort to the press area. No live shots will be permitted.
  • Electronic Press Kit: Photo and video of the team's entrance on March 10 and a simulated moon walk.

TUCSON, Ariz. – At 10 a.m. on Sunday, March 10, a crew of four University of Arizona professional artists embarked on a six-day simulated moon mission, dubbed Imagination 1. The goal is to explore the value of art in space exploration and produce creative works inspired by the limitations and possibilities of life and culture beyond Earth.

The crew – including a nonfiction writer, a dancer and choreographer, a poet and a textile artist – waved goodbye to family and friends before shutting the airlock door to a pressurized and hermetically sealed 1,100-square-foot habitat called SAM, short for the Space Analog for the Moon and Mars.

SAM, located on the campus of Biosphere 2, is built around the renovated 1987 Biosphere 2 Test Module and prototype lung, which modulates the pressure of the enclosed space. The expanded habitat now includes crew quarters, an engineering bay and a greenhouse.

Immediately outside the functional airlock is a 2,600-square-foot Mars yard with a reduced gravity simulator. Once complete, the indoor Mars yard will provide a hi-fidelity approximation of the terrain of Mars and a substantially larger outdoor lunar terrain park.

Using an advanced network of environmental sensors and software, the crew will closely monitor and adjust their carbon dioxide level, air flow and habitat pressure. This is the first crew to use recycled water captured from the air, extending their limited 55 gallons for the entire six- day mission. In addition to their creative projects, the crew is managing a new hydroponics system built with fresh spinach, lettuce and herbs.

"The Apollo moon walker Alan Bean took art classes while he was a test pilot, so when he went to the moon, that was in his background," said crew commander Christopher Cokinos, a nonfiction writer and professor emeritus of English. "He came back and spent the rest of his life painting the exploration of the moon. So far, he's the only person to go the moon with that kind of creative tool kit. We hope that in some small way we're pointing toward giving astronauts some of those tools – and that the artists who inevitably go will convey the moon as the moon and as a carefully tended home, like SAM is, for humans living there in peace."

Development at SAM, led by director of research Kai Staats, is conducted in concert with a team of volunteers, contractors and consultants, the Biosphere 2 and the UArizona's Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, Paragon Space Development Corporation and NASA.

SAM began hosting crews in April 2023. This is the third crew to stay in the habitat.

Imagination 1 crew members include:

  • Crew commander Christopher Cokinos, a nonfiction writer and professor emeritus of English
  • Elizabeth George, a dancer and choreographer and an associate professor at the School of Dance
  • Julie Swarstad Johnson, a poet and a UArizona Poetry Center archivist and librarian
  • Ivy Wahome, textile artist and Master of Fine Arts candidate in costume design and production at the School of Theatre, Film & Television

The crew and SAM research director will be available to speak with the media on Friday, March 15, at 10 a.m.

The crew is three days into the mission as of March 13, and two crew members have completed their EVAs, or Extra Vehicular Activities, in which they donned spacesuits to conduct simulated moon walks in the moon-Mars yard. The fully functional spacesuits were tested in a near-space environment at 70,000 feet above the Earth's surface and underwater.

George suited up within the SAM airlock before venturing into the yard. There, she strapped into the gravity offset rig, built to simulate the low-gravitational pull of the moon.

Freed of five-sixths of her earthly body weight, George bounded and twirled across the yard. She developed choreography inspired by her stay in SAM.

The rest of the crew will also find inspiration for their creative works from their simulated lunar stay. All will consider how to cultivate ethical, sustainable and flourishing communities beyond Earth. Cokinos will publish written pieces for various news outlets. Wahome will use scrap fabric to capture scenes from the mission. Swarstad Johnson will write poetry that reflects on the relationship that humans maintain with our celestial neighbor.

Following the mission the crew will continue to reflect, create, collaborate and engage with the public and spaceflight community to demonstrate the transformative role the arts can play as humanity takes to the moon, Mars and beyond.

Imagination 1 is supported by the University of Arizona College of Fine Arts, Department of English, Poetry Center, College of Science, Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry, the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and the School of Information.

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Media contact:
Mikayla Mace Kelley
University Communications