Jean-Marc Philippe «KEO» 2001 -
If you could send a message to future generations, what would it be, and how would you send it? For those of you interested in doing something special for the new millennium, here's one idea...
Did you hear about the space art project of French artist Jean-Marc Philippe? He's the creator of KEO, a satellite designed to stay in orbit for 50,000 years. KEO is meant to be a work of art. It will have giant wings that will flap for a few years after its launch in 2001. Its sole purpose is to be beautiful. When KEO finally plunges back into the atmosphere, its disintegrating heat shield will generate spectacular streamers of light. It will look like a shooting star.
KEO's core, a small titanium sphere, will fall to Earth intact. Inside will be letters from us.
Philippe hopes to collect millions of letters, store them on compact disks in a titanium sphere, and launch them in 2007. His goal is to get people to look beyond their desks and kitchens and ponder what is important today, and what kind of future they want to create for their world. He wants us to feel like one of the authors of the human community... equally... everyone - the child of the slums, the African sorcerer, the Nobel laureate in economics...everyone. As an artist, what he says he wants to do is stimulate the beauty of the species, the grandeur of humanity. He has dozens of engineers from top industry and government labs in France working on his project for free in their spare time.
The messages will not be censored. You can say anything you like in any language. After KEO is launched, Philippe plans to publish all the messages. People will learn what other people - of radically different origins - think is important. What he believes is important is the moment of personal reflection... that we may be a bit changed by just taking the time to question ourselves. You could say it's a planetary adventure.
KEO will also carry a diamond that encases a drop of human blood and samples of air, sea water and earth. The DNA of the human genome will be engraved on one of the faces. The satellite will also carry an astronomical clock that shows current rotation rates of several pulsars; photographs of people of all cultures; and a 'Contemporary library of Alexandria,' an encyclopaedic compendium of current human knowledge.
«KEO is like an impressionist painting where each individual's message is one small dot of paint that he or she leaves before standing back to contemplate and find meaning in the rich canvas of human colors. It challenges us to probe the question of who we really are and what we want of ourselves. My role as an artist is to facilitate this reflection by offering everyone a free space in which to do so.» ~ Jean-Marc Philippe.
Why have you chosen the name KEO?
It was necessary that the name of the project reflected its spirit of sharing and exchange between all people. This name had to be acceptable by all people irrespective of their age or culture. Since no such example of universality existed in our past or our local mythologies, one partner came up with the idea to research the sounds (phonemes) common to the most widely spoken languages today and to choose the ones that are used most frequently: [k], [e], and [o]... and hence was born KEO, a name that is pronounceable by all cultures.
Why have you chosen to send "this souvenir of Humanity" into space rather than to bury it under the earth?
Space appeals to the human imagination and KEO is addressed to the imagination of each one. Moreover, if we would have decided to bury this Fresco of Messages, we would have had to select a place, a country... whereas space belongs to everybody... or nobody.
KEO will certainly encounter dangers in space but will be immune to any catastrophe on Earth. In fact if there was any calamity to occur, KEO would indeed play the role of a guardian of this "souvenir of Humanity."
Why 50,000 years?
50,000 years is the mirror date to a milestone in the evolution of our species: the first traces of Art reveal the human capacity for abstract thought and symbolic expression.
50,000 years is distance in time so compelling that it forces us to shed our worries and daily routine and puts us each on an equal footing, inviting us to bask in our thoughts, intuitions and deepest convictions...
However 50,000 years only represent 1% of the evolution of the human species that have appeared on Earth some 5 million years ago.
It is also the concept of time and distance that will give our treasures a genuine archeological value because it is very probable that definitive traces of the activities of the Man of today will be in turn recovered by the Man of tomorrow.
Can KEO's safe and sound return to Earth in 50,000 years be guaranteed?
A technical feasibility study carried out during the years 1996-1997 concluded that KEO's safe and sound return to Earth in 50,000 years was possible. This means that KEO has reasonable chances of attaining its objective as that of an interplanetary missions being launched today. For this, KEO takes advantage of our present day capabilities in precision design, technological mastery of capsule re-entry and uses materials that have demonstrated their durability in nature (eg. Titanium, Tungsten).
(For more information, you could refer to the site, www.keo.org and download 3 pages in English that talk about the technical feasibility of the project at the 48th International Astronautical Congress, Turin, October 97.)
When can we start sending in our messages?
You can send your message right now, either via Internet at our site www.keo.org by visiting the page titled "Your Message" or by post to: KEO, BP 100 - 75262 PARIS Cedex 06 - France.
Can we write everything we want ?
Yes, each of us has 4 pages of freedom at his or her disposal to speak out, without undergoing any censorship and fully decide of the message's content. The only limit is not to exceed 6 000 signs, spaces included, that is to say the equivalent to 4 A4 size pages. This to allow the 6 billions of Earth's inhabitants, that we are today, to have a chance to participate into KEO. You only have the right to send one message. Besides, in order to permit to our descendants to know better who we were, some information fields have to be filled out: birth date, gender, mother tongue, language of the message… and others are optional, such as name, first name…
Why does KEO have wings?
Purely for symbolic reasons is KEO adorned with two big wings. This image will appeal to the human imagination as a mythical figure of a bird that is the messenger of the people of the 21st century.
Keo being a passive satellite, how can it move its wings?
To allow its wings to flutter, KEO uses a leading-edge technology "shape memory alloys". These are metallic alloys that are able to assume different shapes according to different temperature ranges and revert to their original shapes each time they are brought back under their original temperature.
Thus KEO's wings will go down each time the satellite enters the Earth's cone of shadow, and go up as soon as KEO encounters direct sunlight again. Therefore, no form of energy is needed to make KEO's wings function.