RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
DNA from a genetically modified goat, a spritz of perfume, sculptures so small you need a microscope to see them - these are just a few of the things in an eight-inch container that blasts off into space in a couple of years. The container is called the MoonArk, and it's part of Google's Lunar X Prize, a competition to send a robot to the moon. WESA's Irina Zhorov has the story from Pittsburgh.
IRINA ZHOROV, BYLINE: The Ark is a sort of portrait of humanity, with more than 200 artists and designers contributing. Lowry Burgess is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and the MoonArk project lead. He holds up one of his contributions, a vile full of red liquid. A drop will go in the ark.
LOWRY BURGESS: And this is human blood, and that's all artists' blood.
ZHOROV: Thirty-three artists' blood, all mixed together. Some of the artists are pretty famous, he says, but he won't name-drop. He's doing the same thing with a mixture of water from some of the world's rivers. There are hundreds of items in the ark. Burgess says each one is like a word in a poem.
BURGESS: A poem is like a bell. Every word in a poem brings rings and makes all the rest of the words ring. So in this, everything that's there is making something else ring. So the totality is meant to hum together.
ZHOROV: Yes, this is conceptual art, where the idea is more important than any traditional aesthetic. Or you can think of it as a time capsule with its contents open to interpretation. Burgess sees it as a cultural outpost in space, waiting to be discovered.
BURGESS: We're desperately hoping that whoever opens it is perhaps a little more evolved than we are.
ZHOROV: Unlike some earlier space art, like the Golden Records on the Voyager craft floating beyond the solar system, the Ark will stay in one place. But Mark Baskinger, one of the artists on the project, says the point is not to conquer.
MARK BASKINGER: We think it should be different than sticking a flag in the soil and claiming territory. And maybe we're leaving breadcrumbs for someone else to find their way back here. It's an attempt to communicate forward in time. It's an attempt to communicate outward.
ZHOROV: Other artists are just interested in the collaboration. Some don't really care about space or who finds it. Some of the artists are prone to over-intellectualizing, but some will let themselves get a little emotional. Dylan Vitone's contribution includes ordinary text messages between him and his wife.
DYLAN VITONE: You know, cynical me is critiquing the way we broadcast our life. The sentimental me is kind of celebrating this thing that's really important for me and trying to give it more meaning than it actually has.
ZHOROV: A copy of the Ark will stay here on Earth to be exhibited. In space, weight is money, so the team has had to be innovative with materials. The Ark's four chambers will weigh less than six ounces. I pick up one of the aluminum outer shells. It's so light, it almost feels flimsy, but it's designed to last hundreds of years.
BURGESS: It's funny. You touched this, and your fingerprints are on it. Your fingerprints are actually going to go to the moon.
ZHOROV: Suddenly, the moon is personal. My fingerprints are just a simpler form of self-expression than the other items on the MoonArk. For NPR News, I'm Irina Zhorov.
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