Can you hear me, Major Tom?

“Can you “Here am I floating ’round my tin can
Far above the moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do”

-Space Oddity (Bowie)

A few weeks ago I took a visit to one of my favorite places in Los Angeles, The Huntington Library. Usually, I go because I am obsessed with the immaculate gardens and the 260 copies of “The Origin of the Species” in different editions and languages that the library houses. But this past visit had me excited for a different reason entirely.

As I came into the front entrance, I beheld “The Orbit Pavilion.” And without any background at all, I was like what in the heck is that big shiny thing??

Answer: One of the more interesting pieces of science communication I have seen in a while.

Created by Visual Specialists Dan Goods and David Delgado from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, The Orbit Pavilion is a Natiloid metal enclosure, with an inner lattice structure comprised of speakers.

For 19 Earth Science satellites, composer Shane Myrbeck created a unique sound track based on the data of their mission.  As the satellites orbit the earth in real time, their noises are broadcast through the speaker systems transmitting back to earth the crashing of a wave, a tree branch moving, a frog croaking. Each, an auditory representation of drought, hurricanes, ocean currents, and more. For the International Space Station, a sound track of human voices to represent the only current satellite with a human presence on board.

I found the experience uniquely visceral and an interesting medium to make the seemingly intangible satellites into something more real.

Double upside…I had Bowie stuck in my head the rest of the day…”Commencing countdown engines onnnnn…”



Alex Warneke (111 Posts)

Alex currently resides as a Science Communicator for the National Park Service, where she inspires thousands a year to love the watery world. Alex earned her Masters degree in chemical ecology from San Diego State University investigating the effects of heavy metal pollutants on the chemical communication between organisms. In her “free time,” Alex enjoys convincing the public that Ecology is indeed sexy. With that goal, she is a strong proponent of unconventional science communication and extending the broader impacts of science to the general public using the outlets of film and social media. When she is not busy busting a move or filming her next rap video, she can normally be found frolicking through the California kelp forest.