Help convincing NASA (re: extraterrestrial art project)

Hi all -
I’m a kinetic artist focused on motion control. I recently started using Kangaroo to attempt simulations of some of my pieces, and first reached out on this forum for help about 4 months ago. Your response was truly overwhelming! I’m back this time asking for help on behalf of another kinetic artist and friend, Ned Kahn. Ned’s a MacArthur grant recipient, and has large-scale projects all over the world. He’s been asked to present an idea for a kinetic piece to be temporarily installed on the ISS.

Ned’s idea involves an interesting material he’s been using in some of his permanent installations - plastic chainmail. It was initially developed in New Zealand for the Lord of the Rings movies and the hundreds of extras who had to wear chainmail in the heat. It’s polycarbonate - making it extremely tough, and UV stable. Here is a visualization of the idea, done (using Blender) by another artist friend of his (Ed Tannenbaum).

I’ve been helping on the motion control side with his ~1/4-size prototype. It has only one actuation (rotation) - but Ned’s team can add trans-axial actuation as well. Of course there are two factors that are tough to truly emulate on Earth - zero G, and no air resistance. So I turned to Kangaroo simulation:

I’ve added transaxial actuation (and roll) to my most recent version of the sim: - space (64.2 KB)

That’s the background. The reason I’m posting is that Ned relayed that NASA is particularly interested in STEM education, and welcomes public involvement in the art project. Their are also loads of engineers who will be involved and need “convincing.” That’s where I think this forum’s members could be very helpful: First, in being able to more capably simulate the 0G dynamics of the mesh. Second, in animating the Canadarm in order to convince them to allow its use in an art project. Third, in addressing some tough questions - like how should the mesh be folded / crumpled to allow it to optimally spread out, and how do you spread it out? One thing Ned mentioned - it is nearly impossible to tangle this chainmail.

Sorry for the length - and I know this sounds a bit crazy - but I think Ned is uniquely positioned and able to potentially pull this off, and it would be pretty amazing. Next potential shot to the ISS is in October. Any and all input welcome!


Neat project.
Some thoughts:

  • if installed external to the station, you will need to consider low temperature induced brittleness in the plastic
  • method of actuation could be inertial masses, fix one end of the chain mail, and then give the mass a shove (with an actuator, or with the robot arm)
  • although this might not be allowed, you could also use charge repulsion (give the chain mail a high static charge, and it will repel itself). works pretty well in space
  • possible to incorporate stiff sections that can act as a hinge, directing the motion or unfurling

@markz Thanks for your input! I’m pretty sure Ned has checked out whether polycarbonate can handle the temperature variations in space, but will relay this (and all your other helpful suggestions). As for static, Ned said that he’d heard some NASA concerns raised about it. Your idea might flip this concern around - feature, not bug!