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These signs at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab use the Deep Space Network to point to missions in real time

A new art installation at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory taps into the Deep Space Network’s tracking software to create moving signposts that showcase the massive scale of the space agency’s work.
“Line of Sight” features three rotating, LED signs that automatically orient toward distant planets, ongoing missions and other celestial bodies floating out in space. The signage in the mall at JPL spins about every 15 seconds to points toward things like satellites circling the Earth, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station and even exoplanets in faraway solar systems.
Visual Strategist Lois Kim came up with the idea as part of her work with The Studio, JPL’s in-house art department that works on everything from space travel posters to abstract exhibitions. She sketched the first iteration on the back of a napkin.
“I wanted to create something that will make JPLers proud of the work they are doing,” she said.
JPL’s “Line of Sight” installation uses NASA tracking data to orient signs toward planets, space missions and satellites.
A nearby sign reads: “Connect to the cosmos. Above your head, below your feet, and in any direction you point, lurks outer space. Hundreds of spacecraft orbit our tiny planet, and a few roam around other worlds.”
But pinpointing where other objects are in relation to a specific point on Earth isn’t simple, as our planet rotates and “wobbles” unevenly, according to Shan Malhotra, a principal systems engineer at JPL.
Kim, in her efforts to make her idea into reality, was connected to Malhotra, who works on the software already tracking NASA’s missions. The Deep Space Network is the worldwide communications system keeping NASA connected to spacecrafts and robots millions and billions of miles away.
To make the tracking work, each sign has a motor outfitted with a GPS. By using this with the existing tracking data, the signs can locate objects throughout the Universe with high precision. Malhotra compared watching the installation to seeing the Deep Space Network’s gigantic satellite dishes turn to locate and connect to a distant mission.
“In five minutes, you can walk by this and get a feeling for what JPL does,” he said.
And in typical JPL fashion, plenty of scientists and engineers have gone out of their way to verify the accuracy.
“We’ve had people standing out here making sure they’re pointing in the right direction,” Kim said.
The signs are weather-proof, can turn in every direction, and feature LED screens that are bright enough to display the changing names even during the day. The whole system is adaptable too, allowing Kim and her colleagues to add in new destinations, or to even use the signs to point toward specific locations during special events.
Kim hopes the signs not only instill pride in the employees who see them every day, but also in visitors to the NASA facility’s campus and potentially people around the world. She wants to see other “Line of Sight” installations that could roam the country with stops at schools, museums and popular areas for astronomy like Joshua Tree. Their next update will add distances to the signs.
Artist Lois Kim, of The Studio at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, stands before her first art installation Sink & Source at JPL on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)
Source: Oc Register

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