| Jean Marc Philippe: ‘Selling space’. Picture by Pabitra Das
It’s a silver sphere, with two wings, engraved with the contours of seas and continents, conceived “one fine morning in 1994” by a French artist. Made of titanium, tungsten, aluminium and glass, it weighs a little less than 100 kg and has the capacity to store messages in glass discs written by six billion people.
Folded in the cap of a rocket, it will be hurled into space in 2003-end, from Kourou, in French Guyana. After spending 50,000 years in outer space, the 50-cm-diameter sphere will hurtle back to earth as a shooting star — carrying our messages to the civilisation in 52003.
Opening new frontiers of communication and adding a whole dimension to ‘space-selling’ is Keo — the winged satellite. And the man behind the “timeless time machine” is Jean Marc Philippe. “I shared the idea first with my wife and she said I was crazy,” recounted the French artist, on a trip to urge Calcuttans to ‘connect’ with their “far future descendants”. Cell-users in the city with Command connections can SMS Keo, as the Hutchison group is one of the 40 global partners of the giant project.
The next stop for the scientist, who quit teaching geophysics “to extend rational knowledge to art” was the Aerospatiale Matra, a leading space agency in Paris. “They liked the idea and we started working on preparing the technical feasibility of the project,” said Philippe.
The challenge was to create enough memory space and then come up with a structure for the outer body and inner discs, which could pass the test of time and survive the extreme conditions in space. To be stored were billions of messages, besides a full library, a kaleidoscope of portraits depicting men, women and children and various astronomical data.
There would also be a diamond carrying Earth 2003 — a drop of blood, a drop of water, a pinch of fertile soil and some air. “It took three years to prepare the technical feasibility of the Keo satellite and a demonstration was carried out in June 1997,” he recounted.
Selling the wonder space project was the next challenge. But from Day One, Philippe’s quest was for “partners, not a sponsor”, as he was opposed to idea of a “collective form of art” being usurped “by any agency”.
Instead, he was looking for people to come forward with their knowledge and expertise to fulfil a “humanistic dream”.
Various associations, corporate houses and institutes were approached. “Some provided technical inputs free of cost, while others supplied the required physical input,” said Philippe.
The concept of sending messages to 52003 has already caught on in the US, Canada and Europe. To spread the Keo craze, Philippe, with his core communication team, is on a world tour. In Calcutta, he is accompanied by Florence Bazenet and Sejal Gupta, the sole Indian in the Keo core team.“We have already received messages in 60 languages from 181 countries. Given the rich cultural heritage in our country, we expect a lot of messages coming from Indians,” said Sejal.
The Keo trio will interact with school and college students, besides meeting astronomy enthusiasts at the MP Birla Planetarium during its 60-hour stay in Calcutta.