On Tuesday, a bonsai tree boldly went where no bonsai tree has gone before. Azuma Makoto, a 38-year-old artist based in Tokyo, launched two botanical arrangements into space: “Shiki 1,” a Japanese white pine bonsai tree suspended from a metal frame, and an untitled arrangement of orchids, lilies, hydrangeas, and irises.
The project, called Exobiotanica, was a collaboration between Makoto, his 10-person crew, and Sacramento-based JP Aerospace, an organization that sends vessels into space. ”I wanted to see the movement and beauty of plants and flowers suspended in space,” Makoto told T Magazine at the launch site, Black Rock Desert in Gerlach, Nevada, best known as the site of the annual Burning Man festival. “I am using brightly colored flowers from around the world so that they contrast against the darkness of space.”
The team created two devices of Styrofoam and light metal frames on which to launch the floral arrangements, called Away 101 and Away 100. A Spot GPS tracker was included to help locate the astral bouquets once they returned to Earth, and another device recorded distance and altitude traveled. Six Go-Pro cameras tied in a ball captured surreal 360-degree images of the flying flowers.
Buoyed skyward by a massive helium balloon, the bonsai and bouquet made impressive astral journeys. The bonsai tree traveled for 100 minutes, up to 91,800 feet, then made a 40-minute fall back to Earth after its helium balloon burst. The bouquet made it up to 87,000 feet. While the devices were found on the ground just five miles from the launch site, the floral arrangement itself was never retrieved. Perhaps it was intercepted by a romantic extraterrestrial.