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In January, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art employed a weather balloon to launch a work of art into the upper atmosphere to draw attention to its exhibition Men of Steel, Women of Wonder, which opened Feb. 9.

"While we show hundreds of artworks in our galleries and on our grounds, this was the first time Crystal Bridges has sent an artwork away from the earth," said Shane Richey, the museum's creative director of experimentation and development.

Men of Steel, Women of Wonder, on view at Crystal Bridges through April 22, examines art-world responses to Superman and Wonder Woman from their origins (Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 published in 1938, and Wonder Woman made her cover debut in Sensation Comics in 1942) to contemporary interpretations through 70 paintings, photographs, installations, and videos by 50 artists.

"As we all know, Superman is from another planet, but crash-landed on earth," said assistant curator Alejo Benedetti, who developed the exhibition. "This seemed like a particularly fun opportunity to capture that concept, highlight an artist's work, and do something new and exciting all at the same time."

The skyscraping object is Robert Pruitt's sculpture Untitled Male Figure 2019, a three-pound Dogon figure "that I have altered slightly, adding a covering of aluminum foil, an antennae, and a suitcase containing a secret package to be delivered to space," said Pruitt. The Dogon, he explained, are a people and culture from Mali who have a long relationship with stargazing.

The 12-foot weather balloon was attached to a custom-built protective frame and equipped with an MP3 unit, two GoPro cameras, and a GPS tracker.

After its soaring journey southeast to the Ozark National Forest near Hector and north of Russellville (reaching an altitude of 109,000 feet; a demarcation point known as the Karman line describes suborbital space as beginning at 100 kilometers--330,000 feet--above sea level) and spending 95 minutes in the air from launch to landing, Richey and Benedetti recovered the aircraft by watching its GPS tracker until the coordinates stopped moving. After a few hours of decidedly non-high-tech meandering through the woods, they found it hanging on a tree limb.

The recovered balloon and sculpture are displayed at the museum while Men of Steel, Women of Wonder is on view.

This isn't the weirdest object catapulted from our planet into the far reaches of the atmosphere. My favorite is SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket cargo of a cherry-red Tesla roadster and its mannequin driver Starman that was launched Feb. 6, 2018, by Elon Musk (the boss of SpaceX and Tesla). It's now in orbit around the sun, according to You can check out its current location at No need to hurry, as it will eventually slam into Venus or the earth within a few million years.

Lego figurines of Jupiter, king of the Roman gods, and his wife Juno, along with a plaque of astronomer Galileo Galilei were loaded onto NASA's Juno spacecraft and sent to orbit Jupiter in 2011. The purpose: to get kids interested in science, reports

The Beatles' song "Across the Universe" was beamed into space by NASA in 2008 via its Deep Space Network, reports

Want more? Among the many curious objects carried by spacebound vehicles are these:

• Recordings of "Melancholy Blues" by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven, "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry, Bach's Brandenburg Concert No. 2 and Australian aboriginal songs

• A black-and-white diagram of human sex organs

• Dirt from the pitcher's mound at Yankee Stadium taken into space by astronaut and Yankees fan Garret Reisman in 2008

• A portion of the remains of scientist Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto

• A color photo of the English city of Oxford

• A Buzz Lightyear toy from the Toy Story films

• 100,000 Craigslist advertisements

• The ashes of James Doohan, who played Scotty on the original Star Trek TV series

• Four cans of Pepsi and four cans of Coke on board Challenger in 1985 (a happier time; the mission that broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members, happened in 1986)

• A Doritos commercial

• A Playboy magazine, taken by a crew member of Apollo 12, the second manned mission to land on the moon in 1967

• Luke Skywalker's lightsaber, which played a prominent role in 1983's Return of the Jedi

A lengthier list can be found on

The fate of many of the earthly icons isn't clear. Despite scientific advances, galaxies are still far, far away. Luckily Crystal Bridges knows what's become of its semi-astral traveler--which now can truly be considered a star.

Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.

Editorial on 03/10/2019

Print Headline: On the edge of the atmosphere


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