Space on Fire – Bringing Galaxies Closer to People at Burning Man

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Why would over 50 volunteers travel from Finland to the US to build a 1200 square feet wooden dome with a satellite ground station in the middle of an isolated Nevada desert?

The galactic Space on Fire project is a result of fortunate encounters that led to the conquering of Burning Man, an event known for its beautiful creative madness (and the support it’s garnered from Silicon Valley’s tech entrepreneurs).

Space on Fire?started when Anssi Laurila, one of the co-creators of the project, got together with some friends to ask: how could people on Earth experience space more easily? It all started to sound both realistic and crazy in October 2016 when two Finnish companies, Lunden Architecture and Reaktor Space Labs, offered their help with this non-commercial project. It was originally supported by academics from Aalto University, to encourage multidisciplinary co-creation.

The idea was to build a very experimental wooden dome, and insert a ground station so people could communicate with space. One of the core components of the project was letting the Finnish Burning Man community decide what would happen during the 11 months preceding the preparation of the dome’s installation. The community got inspired and grew quickly to include architects, structural engineers, researchers, a sound designer, a cosmetologist, a magician, a game designer, a diplomat and an accountant. Collectively, the group had little experience in building, and limited knowledge of space technology, but their desire to learn and work together was a key factor to their success. They worked with joy towards their common goal, motivating each volunteer in the group to test their limits and push themselves to extremes.

The final result was a wooden installation called the Cosmic Egg. The structure took advantage of parametric design methods. It was made of Finnish wood, carved in the town of Kuhmo and shipped to the US. This type of design can be utilized later on with 3D printing and composite design to produce extremely strong and light structures; these could even be used in future human settlements on Mars.

Inside the installation, visitors experienced space like never before. The ground station next to the dome was set to monitor satellites orbiting the Earth and listen to cosmic background radiation. These space signals were then combined with shamanistic sounds from Finland. The result was a calming soundscape that was different from the cacophony of the Burning Man festival around it. A microphone inside the work allowed visitors to send messages to our neighboring galaxy Andromeda. During the event week, the installation gained popularity and the project group witnessed a proposal and even weddings in their structure!

According to the philosophy of Burning Man, the works are burned down after the event so that no trace of them is left in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. The Cosmic Egg was also burned. Why is that? Why burn down something this beautiful? The next article will dig deeper into the rapidly growing Burning Man phenomenon and the principles behind it.

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