An Architectonic Technological Sublimity
Michael Benson and James Green
In the last few decades, US Space Agency NASA has constructed an astonishingly vast, kinetic, architectonic structure, one spanning the entire Solar System. This ever-evolving edifice comprises recognizably architectural forms: the buildings of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California; NASA HQ in Washington and various mission control centers; a global network of giant dish antennae; and rocket assembly, testing and launching facilities. But these would be meaningless without another principal component: the intricate spacecraft it has sent vaulting to all the major worlds of our planetary system, and the football-field sized International Space Station. Some of these extraordinarily advanced interplanetary robots are no bigger than a grand piano, and the largest is a bit smaller than a city bus. A cat’s-cradle webwork of signals connects them to Earth, its chains of zeroes and ones slinging across the void and returning images and data. Together this system—conceptual structure and carefully designed complex of inquisitive, communicative, propulsive, semi-autonomous technologies, with brick-and-mortar terrestrial elements and titanium-and-radionuclide spacefaring ones, with organic human parts and emerging AI control systems, all dedicated to expanding the frontier between what we know and what we don’t—constitutes perhaps the single most impressive contemporary example of a technological sublimity. Michael Benson discusses with NASA Chief Scientist James Green.