Long Duration Studies

Posted on Thursday, February 21st, 02008 by Kevin Kelly
link Categories: Long Term Science, Long Term Thinking   chat 0 Comments

In 1984 NASA launched a bus-sized cylinder into space. It was covered with 86 panels, each of which was a scientific experiment created to measure the long-term effects of space on various materials. The space craft, called the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) weighed 10 tons and circled the earth 32,000 times before it was retrieved by the Space Shuttle. NASA says the “experiments involved the participation of more than 200 principal investigators from 33 private companies, 21 universities, seven NASA centers, nine Department of Defense laboratories and eight foreign countries.”


After it was returned to earth an additional 400 scientists studied the wear and tear upon the surface of this spacecraft after 5.7 years in space. Of course, 5 years is hardly long, especially for space, but it’s a start in trying to understand what would happen over centuries in space.


Each of the 86 panels is its own science experiment. Each has a beauty of their own. They posses a kind of geeky modernist charm.


And each has also acquired a patina of expose to meteors, vacuums, and extreme heat and cold.


The author of thenonist was so enamomured by the beauty of the panels as “art” that he posted a wonderful gallery of them as an ode to this overlooked tool.


  • Wow, those are beautiful, as are the other images on the nonist site. I wonder if someday we’ll have public art in space. Though I can’t imagine future artists doing any better than what the scientists created for LDEF.

  • Sporbie

    Looks like a container from EVE Online lol.

  • “I wonder if someday we’ll have public art in space. ”

    There are actually quite a few objects already up there which might be more directly thought of as “art,” for instance the Voyager plaque / package which is at least figuratively pictorial, or the functional objects created by artists like Beagle 2’s “spot painting.” For me though the most gorgeous artifacts out there, for their poetic impact alone, have got to be the items left behind. Personal favorites include the Soviet pennants dropped on the moon by Luna 2 and the Lunokhod 1 which looks like something out of Jules Verne.

    As to proper “public art,” created to serve no other functions than aesthetic ones, that’ll be largely dependent on whether we ever have a “public” in space I’d think.

  • puttputt


  • Yeah they are very pretty. I like them a lot. :)

  • Chai

    Poor experiment. The panels were too close to each other so how can it be an accurate test of durability? Even the dark color of an adjacent panel might absorb more heat and affect or burn another so it doesn’t make much sense.

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