To an Asteroid and Back, All From the Parking Lot

Jan. 26, 2015

Thousands of stars, a looming asteroid, a depiction of the ancient Egyptian deity of Osiris and a man-made space robot whizzing in between — all that and more now graces the western façade of the UA's Michael J. Drake Building, courtesy of students of the UA School of Art.

To celebrate OSIRIS-REx, NASA's $1 billion mission led by the UA that will send a spacecraft to asteroid Bennu and bring back a sample to Earth, 10 art students devoted the fall semester to painting a 20-by-60-foot mural. The work was part of a mural painting class taught by Alfred Quiroz, a UA professor of art in the School of Art. Quiroz also oversaw the creation of the mural for the Phoenix Mars Lander mission in 2006. 

"The OSIRIS-REx mission benefits from the diverse talents of UofA students in many ways," said the mission's principal investigator, Dante Lauretta, a professor of planetary science in the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. "For this project, we sought to bring the excitement of an asteroid sample return mission to a piece of public art for all of Tucson to enjoy."

After a meeting with Lauretta to get an idea of the scope of the mission, Quiroz's crew — seven undergraduate students and two graduate students who never had designed or painted a mural — went to work, creating the mural over the course of the fall semester.

Deputy Principal Investigator Ed Beshore said: "The OSIRIS-REx mission is far more than the technical achievement of returning a sample from an ancient asteroid. It symbolizes a universal human drive to understand the mystery that is our universe. The mural has succeeded in reflecting both of these ideas. We are grateful to Professor Quiroz and his students for this wonderful addition to our building."

"My students prepared sketches and I guided them to create a final presentation," Quiroz said. "Once the mural design was approved, we immediately began the layout utilizing a grid on the final design. I introduced the students to the underpainting method of using complementary colors, so in essence we painted the mural twice."

"It was a real pleasure to collaborate with Professor Quiroz and his talented group of students," Lauretta said. "The result is an amazing work of creative art and a fitting tribute to the mission and to Michael Drake, our leader during the early stages of mission development."

Drake, a Regents' Professor who was director of the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and head of the planetary sciences department, died in 2011.

A timelapse video of the painting process can be found on the OSIRI-REx mission's YouTube site