Mission to the Moon: USC Roski School of Art and Design Alum Prepares to Launch a COVID-19 Inspired Time Capsule

2013 Roski Alum, Richelle Gribble, working in her studio

BY Chandrea Miller

Dean Haven Lin-Kirk of the USC Roski School of Art and Design always hopes that her students will shoot for the stars—but the moon?

It was an out of this world aspiration—literally–but that didn’t stop 2013 Roski alum Richelle Gribble from launching the global initiative, the Great Pause Project.

“This is what a university artist looks like—they want to be engaged in the world in a much bigger way,” Lin-Kirk said. “She’s everything that’s great about our school; she’s not just in her studio making art—this is a call to action.”

An action known as the Great Pause Project, created by Gribble and a multidisciplinary team of artists, scientists and space enthusiasts who plan to document the global pandemic through the development of a repository of the COVID-19 human experience through photos and written responses that will be archived digitally, placed into a time capsule, and launched to the Moon.

Peregrine Lander on the Moon/Photo Courtesy of Astrobotic

The project’s grand mission is to connect art and science in order to amplify a singular message: we are all connected as a global society on Earth and beyond.

“We have a shared mission to democratize space and essentially capture a global voice about our time here on Earth,” Gribble said. “The pandemic is tangible proof that we are a connected global community and we must reflect on what it means to be a highly interdependent species.”

Through the Great Pause Project, Gribble has invited the world to archive, document and share their story on an open source web platform that encompasses three components:

  • Echo/Location Survey—the questionnaire asks participants about their feelings during the pandemic and their vision for the future.
  • The Window Effect—this section invites participants to upload photos that capture the perspective of looking outside a window from inside their home to celebrate our interconnectivity from isolation.
  • COVID-19 Photo Diary—this field encourages participants to upload images or signs unique only to the pandemic and this time in history.
COVID-19 Diary images of masks/Photos Courtesy the Great Pause Project

“I’ve always had a deep interest in using art to build social and environmental responsibility,” Gribble said. “As a growing species of almost eight billion, a global pandemic really requires that we shift our viewpoint from outside of ourselves.”

In June 2019, Gribble and artist collaborators Elena Soterakis and Yoko Shimizu came together to form Beyond Earth, which is an artist collective dedicated to exploring the frontiers of art and space. They expanded collaborations with artist Isabel Beavers and partner organizations including Arch Mission Foundation and LifeShip to extend art to the Moon.

But when the pandemic hit just nine months later, Gribble and her team refocused their mission and created, the Great Pause Project.

The project proved to be an unprecedented artistic and scientific space odyssey.

“We wanted to invite the public to take photos and write responses for the Great Pause Project to share observations during lockdown,” Gribble said. “This ‘global pause’ creates a collective memory while pausing to reset and envision hopeful futures – the time capsule is a record of today but also a hopeful vision for tomorrow.”

Gribble said the time capsule will be sent to the Moon because from this distance, our interconnectivity becomes clearest, all bound by the pale blue dot. –“But we also wanted to add something,” she said.

That’s where LifeShip comes in—

“LifeShip’s grand mission is to send life to the stars,” said founder and CEO, Ben Haldeman.

“We are saving a Seed of Life with DNA from all different species and people. People can add their DNA with a $100 Moon Kit and have their genes be part of the genes of Earth,” Haldeman said. “It’s a record of life today and a backup copy of Earth’s blueprint.”

DNA digital archive/Photo Courtesy LifeShip

The DNA will be embedded along with the Great Pause Project artistic intel and archived in a time capsule library provided by their partner Arch Mission Foundation which is a non-profit that archives the knowledge and species of Earth for future generations aimed at building a solar system wide record of human knowledge and Earth’s biology.

Gribble said that bringing together art and science enables new ways of seeing and behaving in the world. An example of this is evidenced by the iconic Blue Marble photograph – once published, it sparked environmental movements, artistic expression, and a global shift in perspective.

“If we really want to carry forward as a species, and also really effect change, it requires working across different disciplines,” Gribble said. “Art gives you emotional sensations, a sense of embodiment, a form of connection and empathy which, perhaps, is left out in the ways science is brought to the public.

Haldeman agrees, wholeheartedly.

“Space is big and vast, it needs something to make it connected to people, to make it relatable, to inspire that wonder and curiosity—art really bridges that gap,” he said.

Gribble said it is vital that our society have the opportunity to tell their own story about the pandemic so that citizens of the future can bypass our mistakes and learn from resilience by utilizing the information stored inside the time capsule.

“The information inside the time capsule is evidence that we are all connected,” Gribble said. “Our actions can shape and affect others.”

The Great Pause Project team has secured a spaceflight on a lunar lander with Astrobotic, scheduled to launch to the Moon by 2022. The blast off will be historic, marking the first-ever launch of a commercial Moon lander from the United States.

The information on the time capsule will be encoded into synthetic DNA and Nanofiche, a new analog archival preservation media that is nickel-based, never degrades, and never has to be replaced—it’s designed to last a billion years.

“Together we will share our experience to heal and connect, while preparing a message to citizens of the future,” Gribble said.

If you would like to join the Great Pause Project and share your experience during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit the Great Pause Project website: https://www.greatpauseproject.com/