Space Balloons Take Flower Art 90,000 Feet Into The Atmosphere

flowers in space

From a Heisenberg bobblehead to a Canadian lego man, we’ve launched quite a bit into the stratosphere and photographed it against the backdrop of the big, blue earth. But few items the same poetic beauty as Makota Azuma’s floating, near-space flower art.

Fascinated with the fragility and strength of flowers, the Japanese artist has spent his lifetime weaving ethereal and colorful sculptures and installations, with plants as his primary medium. For his first gravity-defying project, Exobiotanica, he uprooted plants and placed them in a new kind of “nature,”— way up high in the stratosphere. Believing the plants, at altitudes of almost 90,000 feet and negative 50 degrees Celsius, with the Earth as their backdrops, would evolve into exbiota, a word Azuma uses to describe extraterrestrial life. On his site, he described the journey as, “a pine tree confronting the ridge line of the Earth. A bouquet of flowers marching towards the sun hit by the intense wind. Freed from everything, the plants shall head to space.“

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To brave the harsh trip up, Azuma and his team crafted two unique botanical forms— a Japanese white pine suspended in a metal box frame, and a bouquet of over thirty different types of flowers including orchids, hibiscuses and hydrangeas— and to fly the pieces, volunteer-run DIY space program JP Aerospace, stepped in. Known for their experiments with low cost aerospace systems, for the past 31 years, JP Aerospace has been sending everything from ping-pong balls to 3D-printed mementos, to the edge of space.

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Together, Azuma and JP Aerospace put together the flying mechanism, a styrofoam and metal frame strapped to a giant, helium-filled weather balloon, with parachutes that deploy on the trip down. The contraption was then rigged with a combination of six Go-Pro cameras, harnessed together to film 360-degrees of action, FujiFilm digital cameras to capture still footage, a locator to find the objects once they fell to the ground, and a GPS tracker to measure the altitude and distance traveled from the launch site in Black Rock, Nevada.

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John Powell, founder of JP Aeronautics, told the New York Times T Magazine, “The best thing about this project is that space is so foreign to most of us, so seeing a familiar object like a bouquet of flowers flying above Earth domesticates space, and the idea of traveling into it.” Unfortunately, in a tragic-but-poetic turn of events, after the balloons burst somewhere in the stratosphere, Azuma’s artworks were never recovered. Here’s to hoping that somewhere deep in space, an alien is jamming out to the Voyager Golden Record while primping and pruning their new bouquet.

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View more process photos of Makota Azuma’s Exobiotanica here. h/t T Magazine

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