NASA, believe it or not, has an art program. It launched in 1962 as a way to enlighten the public about the agency’s missions and initiatives through work by artists like Norman Rockwell and curators at The Smithsonian.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has no such program. In 2012 its communications team, in an effort to start a dialogue with the public, accepted a proposal from London-based photographer Edgar Martins to comprehensively document the agency. The results are a window into some of the most technologically advanced, highly restricted, and blindingly clean facilities imaginable.
At its core, the series is a dossier of facts: there’s unfettered access to astronaut training centers and sun simulation rooms. But when looking at the images, it’s hard to not to feel some of the romanticism of space travel (maybe due in part to how much some of these shots resemble the sets from 2001: A Space Odyssey, or even last year’s Gravity).
“My main challenge was to develop an approach that was simultaneously descriptive and speculative, documenting but also deconstructing the spaces and subjects,” Martins tells Co.Design. “There are new and exciting programs being developed at present and I have no doubt that we are entering a new golden era of space exploration.”
Martins negotiated a ton of access for the project. During the two years he photographed the Agency, he documented programs working on telecommunications, navigation, microgravity, human spaceflight, and lunar and Mars exploration. A book coming out this year will include 88 photographs from the project.