The Near Space Endeavor

The Near Space Endeavor

Billy Whited

March 30, 2011

Recently, I’ve been doing a fair amount of blogging about topics related to web design, so I thought it was time for a little artistic interlude.

The Near Space Endeavor installed at my thesis show
The Near Space Endeavor installed at my thesis show.

This week I’ve decided to share a [performance] artwork I created for my thesis at Tufts University: The Near Space Endeavor.

Inspired by the mid-19th century practice of submarine telegraphy, The Near Space Endeavor was an artwork rooted in the idea of informational delay. By delving into the high altitude capabilities of weather balloons, I sent a laser-guided, morse-encoded message into space.

Because of the intrinsic strength of the laser used, the peculiar way in which light travels, and the enormity of our universe, the message I sent has a chance—albeit a very slight chance—of being intercepted by a vastly distant extra-terrestrial life form.

Riding on intermittent beams of laser light, currently headed somewhere in the the general direction of the open star cluster NGC 2281, is a poem titled Notes From a Nonexistent Himalayan Expedition.

Written by Wislawa Szymborska, the poem imagines humanity trapped inside a suffocating avalanche triggered by an omnipotent Yeti. Calling out to Yeti, Szymborska seeks benevolence, but her calls go unanswered.

Changed slightly for broadcast, the poem’s referent “Yeti” was converted into an acronym, meaning:


I could elaborate more on the conceptual underpinnings of the piece, but I’ll simply let the video [of the performance] speak for itself. The running time is 15:42 and I encourage you to sit though the whole thing. I promise that it’s mesmerizing and probably unlike anything you’ve seen before:

Have you ever seen the sunrise at 62,000ft? Or seen a weather balloon explode at 96,000ft?

On a note more in keeping with the theme of the 8th Light Blog: this project, The Near Space Endeavor, marked the first time I ever wrote any code. Using an Arduino Micro-controller I wrote a program in C that converted a string into morse code for transmission via green laser.

I’m sure it’s awful and if any programmers out there would like to offer up some suggestions on how to improve it, I’m all ears. Here’s the program in all it’s unedited glory…I can’t believe I’m sharing this!