We Sent Flowers Into Space
Well, less “we” and more Azuma Makoto, a 38-year-old artist from Japan who recently launched two “botanical objects” into the stratosphere above the Nevada desert:
The expedition started in the dead of night, at 2 a.m. One hour later, Makoto was already building a bouquet with about 30 varieties of flowers. He started with an aerial plant tied to a six-rod axis and studiously added peace lilies, poppy seed pods, dahlias, hydrangeas, orchids, bromeliads and a meaty burgundy heliconia. “I am using brightly colored flowers from around the world so that they contrast against the darkness of space,” he said. The scent of the flowers was stronger and more concentrated in the dry desert breeze than in their humid, natural environments, and the launch site was redolent with their perfume. Makoto worked quietly, until the metal rods were covered completely with plants. Then he directed his attention to his bonsai. For this particular project, Makoto chose a 50-year-old pine from his collection of more than 100 specimens, and flew it over from Tokyo in a special box. While readying it for space, he kept it moist and removed a few brown needles with a tweezer.
The New York Times has some crazy-looking photos and more details on the flowers’ successful flight.
Both devices had roughly the same flight path. Away 101 went to 91,800 feet, traveling up for 100 minutes until the helium balloon burst. It fell for 40 minutes; two parachutes in baskets opened automatically when there was enough air in the atmosphere to soften impact. Away 100, which held the arrangement, made it up to 87,000 feet. Both devices were retrieved about five miles from the launch site. The bonsai and flowers, though, were never found.