College of Fine Arts, School of Dance, School of Theatre, Film & Television

An all-artist crew comprised of four University of Arizona professional artists—a non-fiction writer, dancer/choreographer, poet and textile artist—will undertake a six-day simulated moon mission, March 10-15, generating creative work shaped by the limitations and possibilities of life and culture beyond Earth.  

These artists will conduct the mission in a recently opened analog-research station, affiliated with the iconic Biosphere 2, a mission that also will be one of the first artist-focused analog space missions globally. 

Named Imagination 1, the mission will take place at the Space Analog for the Moon and Mars, a high-fidelity center located on the campus of the University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2 that began hosting crews last year. The hermetically sealed and pressurized habitat includes living quarters, workshop, greenhouse, and a half-acre moon-Mars surface yard and terrain park, which is still under development. 

Coming from diverse artistic, professional, and cultural backgrounds, the all-University of Arizona mission crew is comprised of non-fiction writer Christopher Cokinos; and professor emeritus of English; dancer/choreographer Elizabeth George, associate professor at the School of Dance; poet Julie Swarstad Johnson, Poetry Center archivist and librarian; and textile artist Ivy Wahome, MFA candidate in costume design and production at the School of Theatre, Film & Television.

All-artist crew to undertake a six-day simulated moon mission

Crew members will engage in individual and collaborative projects ranging from choreography for a solo dancer in a pressure suit to poetic exploration of the outdoor surface as an imaginary lunar landscape. As they live and create at SAM, the crew of Imagination 1 aims to help establish the foundational value of the arts in space exploration as humans consider how to cultivate ethical, sustainable and flourishing communities beyond Earth.  

Following the mission Wahome, Johnson, George, and Cokinos will continue to reflect, create, collaborate, and engage with the wider public and spaceflight community, demonstrating the transformative role the arts can and should play as humanity looks to the moon, Mars and beyond.

“We believe that art is, at its root, a form of articulate compassion—not propaganda or boosterism,” says Cokinos. “It can help us to discover, here and on the moon, here and on Mars, the skill and joy of solving problems without creating new ones.” 

Ellen McMahon, associate dean for research for the College of Fine Arts, explains why the mission is unique.

“It’s not unusual for artists to visualize data and translate scientific findings for a broad audience or to be embedded in science research labs for various reasons. But Imagination 1 breaks this pattern. The mission was created by artist Chris Cokinos, and artists selected the final crew. Their research questions, methods and processes are rooted in particular creative practices and diverse personal experiences. This is something new.” 

The Mission Crew

Christopher Cokinos
Non-fiction writer, professor emeritus of English
Department of English | College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

“There are ethical questions we must raise about diversity and access to space, even as we celebrate human curiosity and endeavors. The artists on Imagination 1 have a range of viewpoints. We need those to inform everything from public interest to hard policy. It’s an amazing crew. I can’t wait to see what we accomplish.”

Elizabeth George
Dancer, choreographer, and associate professor
School of Dance | College of Fine Arts

“I will explore exterior surface dance/body work while in a pressure suit aimed both at expressing body movement on a non-terrestrial surface with different gravity conditions and maximizing the ability to move with grace in a confined suit with limited consumables. This research and creative activity will be used as a pilot that could potentially benefit astronaut training for interior habitat dance exercise routines and for exterior movement on the moon, potentially using dance as a way to train for ease of lunar EVAs.”

(Lunar Extravehicular Activity (EVA) are activities performed by space-suited astronauts outside their spacecraft in orbit.)

Julie Swarstad Johnson
Poet, archivist and librarian
Poetry Center | College of Humanities

“Understanding place, from the local to the galactic, is vital for respectful relationships between humans and our Earth. This mission offers a unique opportunity to test out how we can engage with the moon as a place.”

Ivy Wahome
Textile artist, MFA candidate in costume design 
School of Theatre, Film & Television | College of Fine Arts

“My goal is to recycle, repurpose, reuse all the fabric scraps I have accumulated over the years. The message I want send home is for humanity to be mindful of our carbon footprint because sustainability and space travel are intertwined. I will attempt to capture scenes of our mission through the art of appliqué, embroidery, and patch work with this message in mind.”

SAM at Biosphere 2

Space and the Arts

“We are excited to host this mission,” said Kai Staats, director of research for SAM at Biosphere 2. “Missions like these are serious efforts at understanding the scope of human activity off-Earth while improving our work as custodians of our home planet. In a few years astronauts will be living on the moon. They’ll be doing more than science and exploration, and this crew will help show the way.”

Cokinos praised Staats for his diligence and leadership: “He is laser-focused on the success of SAM, and so are we. SAM is the perfect partner for this mission. It is already establishing itself as a rigorous analog facility on par with space agency simulations.”

Project Sponsors

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 and Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. 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 University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, Paragon Space Development Corporation and NASA.