Extraplanetary travel has seemed tantalizingly close ever since the first moon landing over 45 years ago. Alas, we’re no closer to spending our summer holidays riding rovers on the lunar craters, and even with the advent of private space travel like Virgin Galactic and SpaceX it’s astronomically unattainable for the majority of Earth. Despite the limitations, this past week a travel agency set up in the Garment District of Manhattan to proffer voyages to the stars.
The Intergalactic Travel Bureau is an ongoing project of Guerilla Science, a collaboration based in London, New York, and San Francisco that uses art to engage people in science. Previous projects from Guerilla Science have included a banquet that explored neurochemistry and brain function (through the eating of real — cow — brains), and Lab Rats at the 2013 Glastonbury Festival, where they had a maze installation like those used in animal research to find if humans can be smarter than a test rodent. After debuting in 2011 at the Greenwich Royal Observatory, this was the Travel Bureau’s third pop up in New York City, following last summer in Manhattan and the 2012 Figment festival on Governors Island.
Stepping into the Bureau’s office, in a storefront donated by Chashama, lined with silver material and crowded with inflatable pink couches, you were greeted by an agent in a pink hat who offered to book the trip of your life — maybe more than figuratively. For some of the more exotic options like Mercury it was an over a lifetime journey. Activities once you did arrive after the arduous flight were discussed, such as skiing on Pluto or climbing on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, all advertised in charming posters by Steve Thomas. (Our group opted for Uranus as a budget option due to its maligned name.) Of course, each journey whether $32.8 billion to Saturn or $1.5 billion to Mars was comically impossible, but the point was to show the real costs and commitments of possible stellar travel based on real space programs, such as Mariner 10 to Mercury and the Apollo missions.
As Olivia Koski, one of the members of Guerilla Science behind the Travel Bureau, told Space.com, “It’s a way of personalizing or humanizing these mystical far away objects in the sky — objects we know so much about now after decades of space exploration.” Blending theater with art and science, they’re hoping to spark an interest in the real research into engineering flight to potential destinations like Mars. We may never really get to book a walk through the red canyons of Mars, but considering the scientific possibilities through the nostalgia of an old school travel agency helps to recapture some of the optimism for such a future.
The Intergalactic Travel Bureau by Guerilla Science took place August 14 to 16 at 266 West 37th Street, Midtown West, Manhattan.