In a Gallery Far, Far Away…

Florida Tech Senior Wins Competition for Satellite Artwork

MELBOURNE, FLA. — There are art galleries, and then there are art galleries.

The one that is currently showcasing a piece by Florida Tech senior Nava Pishgar may not be as easy to visit as some, and the lighting can be a bit uneven. But it’s safe to say there are no other places like it in the world.

That’s because this venue is not actually on planet Earth: It’s above it.

Pishgar, an aerospace engineering major and Brevard County native, was one of three winners of a national competition from the organization Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) and the California-based satellite company Planet to produce a piece of art for one of Planet’s Dove satellites.

Nava Pishgar

“I know that Nava is a really talented artist, so I encouraged her to participate,” said Minh Lê, a Florida Tech senior majoring in astrophysics and president of the university’s SEDS chapter. “She did, and she won.”

So it was that just before 11 p.m. local time on Sept. 2, more than two dozen Dove satellites were hoisted into low earth orbit by a Vega rocket launched from Kourou, French Guiana.

Among them was Flock 4v-18. Laser etched onto the powder-coated surface of this satellite was Pishgar’s roughly 2-inch wide, 14-inch long image, a hypnotic, swirling swath of wavy lines, sun-like circles, shadowy pyramids, curlicue eddies and what appears to be an eye.

That the piece is open for many interpretations is by design, Pishgar said. That it features some of the elements of Persian art is intentional, as well, a reference to her family’s roots and one of her earliest influences, an aunt living in Iran who is herself an artist. And if the wavy lines seem like a vision from the sandy Brevard coastline, that, too, is part of the plan.

She liked how both art and the cosmos rely on imagination and interpretation.

“You can have sunlight, horizons – you can have those ideas in your mind, make them more concrete, but in the end it’s all in the eye of what you see,” Pishgar said. “And space is in the eye of what you see.”

The satellite featuring Pishgar’s art etched on the left vertical side. Photo courtesy of Planet.

The image, originally drawn with Sharpie markers and ballpoint pens, also reflects what Pishgar said is one of the most fascinating aspects of space to her – that so much of it consists of dark matter and as-yet-unknown elements. 

“Combining that idea with my doodling style, I simply went with the flow and let whatever I drew take over the panel,” she wrote in her competition submission. “There are little puzzles and figures and pieces you can find within it. Just like outer space, you don’t need to know the subject or the matter of it. It can be unsettling, yet it can be intriguing and exciting, and you can get lost in the vastness of it all.”

Planet has now launched over 300 Dove satellites into space, and each has a side panel designed by an artist, “from toddlers to world famous illustrators,” the company said.

And now, from Florida Tech student Nava Pishgar.

“This experience reminded me of how important my main goal was of combining the engineering world and the art world, wanting to see this sort of da Vincian era flourish again,” she said, referring to Leonardo da Vinci’s famous principle of a balance between art and science. “You can’t have art without engineering, and you can’t have engineering without art. I hope folks start to learn that.”

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