The Mechanic Witness by Matterlurgy

The Mullard Space Science Laboratory at UCL with the generous help of Nick Booth in UCL Geology Collections has provided us with debris from a notorious failed European Space Agency Mission.  Cited as one of the most expensive space blunders of all time, it was June 4th 1996 when the unmanned Ariane 5 Flight 501 launched a pair of three-tonne satellites into orbit. The rocket took ten years to produce at an estimated cost of $7billion. Less than a minute into the voyage an explosion scattered its debris into mangroves of French Guiana. Full details of the ‘bug’ that caused the incident can be read at Wired Magazines: History’s Worst Software Bugs

The debris forms part of an exhibition display section that focuses on interplanetary exploration and the overall question: how does our extra-technological gaze elsewhere frame the present? We were keen to include this material history in order to complicate notions of progress and navigation. Failure within human-robotic collaboration is inevitable. When the bodies of such things fall back to Earth they appear transformed, prompting new narratives and imaginaries around where this technology has come from and what it might have witnessed.

By Helena Hunter and Mark Peter Wright:


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