Marko Peljhan – Projekt Atol Flight Operations And The MIR Network – 2003


First publication symposium Visibility – Legibility of Space Art. Art and Zero G. : the experience of parabolic flights, in collaboration with the @rt Outsiders festival, Paris, 2003.

Projekt Atol Flight Operations (PA-FO) is a branch of Zavod Projekt Atol, an independent arts and research organisation based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, founded in 1994 and managing diverse projects such as the Makrolab (https://www.ladomir.net/krk-first-makrolab-concept-text) and the Insular Technologies initiative among others.

PA-FO was founded in June of 1999 to organise and support the parabolic flights of the Cosmokinetical Kabinet Noordung performances Biomehanika Noordung in conjunction with the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre (GCTC) in Star City. A training flight was organised in August and two performance flights in December of the same year. Together with flight, safety, systems and logistical planning, PA-FO also coordinated crew and guest crew work on board the experimental aircraft as well as the specific task of installing a flight grade equipment set, together with specially designed seats for the public, capable of sustaining accelerations of +10G. The design of the seats and the set was the work of the Noordung design team, with Stasa and Dunja Zupancic, together with Andraz Torkar, the safety modifications were done under the review of Capt. Stepanov at the GCTC.

The flights were organised within the GCTC structure and under the responsibility of the Cosmonaut training department, headed by Col.-s Grekov and Ren, with Capt. Stepanov as the main liasion and Col. Irina Sokolova as interpreter and crew training officer.

As mentioned before, there was a training flight on August 17 1999 and two performance flights with the 8 members of the public on board (total 16) on December 15, 1999. The aircraft was equipped and safety checked in three days, which was possible only due to previous planning and further safety modifications of the experimental load, the two flights were operated on the same day, after refueling and public crew change.

The Biomehanika Noordung performances (directed by Dragan Zivadinov) were based on the dramatic conflict of the body and bone transformation in microgravity, but also part of the larger and more complex aesthetic mithology created by the author within his Cosmokinetical Kabinet Noordung setting, with the training flight designated as the s.c. “Farewell” ritual for Marko Mlaznik, an actor that takes part in the s.c. 50 year project (a project of launching 16 small GEO satellites that will serve as substitute actors until 2045, a project that probably needs its own article to be thoroughly elaborated). A scientific text on bone transformation due to the effects of prolonged microgravity was the basis for the performative structure, and 7 actors participated in the performance, that was viewed by 16 members of the general public audience. The first microgravity theatre performance in history. It was also documented and filmed by Andrej Lupinc and his crew, for a feature documentary in production by Kinetikon pictures, Projekt Atol, RTVS and other coproducers, directed by Michael Benson with the working title “zero”.

This first flights also served as the initial push for the foundation of the Slovene Space Agency, an initiative to start an independent research agency in Slovenia, that would combine the work of artists and scientists in space, somehow a unique opportunity and perspective, possible only because such an institution does not yet exist in the country. The initiative was presented to the wider public in Slovenia in the spring of 2001 and the work on its institutional framework is proceeding.

Guests were invited already on the first training flight, among others Rob la Frenais, curator at the Arts Catalyst from London, and this visit prompted the discussion to start further collaborations on microgravity parabolic flights between PA-FO, GCTC and Arts Catalyst. The idea for the establishment of the MIR network was thus born. The name (Microgravity Interdisciplinary Research) clearly defining the goals, but the acronym clearly stating the appreciation of the Russian Space program and the late MIR space station, in its last years a truly international program, which was finally deorbited on March 23 of 2001.

Further flights were organised, one in spring of 2001 for the Kitsou Dubois team and another one, consisting of a mixed British, British-Carribean and Russian crew as the first MIR flight in September of the same year.

A presentation of the initial PA-FO flights happened in V2 already in the spring of 2001 and MIR was born soon after that, as a collaborative effort between Arts Catalyst, V2, Leonardo-Olats, Projekt Atol, joined further in the process by the Multimedia Complex of Actual Arts, Moscow.

There were two flight campaigns organised up to now, one in 2001 and one in 2003.

Projekt Atol Flight Operations also continues on its work of coordinating the design and launch of the Artjom-MM LEO satellite, with a communications and remote sensing payload, tentatively planned for 2009. The Artjom-MM project is conceptually part of the Cosmokinetical Kabinet Noordung planned GEO activities, with this first LEO satellite designed by Dunja Zupancic and Laurent Paul Robert being the conceptual starter for the further developments until 2045. This LEO satellite will be also the first Slovenian Space Agency satellite project and will, as it is planned, serve as a communications and remote sensing asset of the world tactical media community. The launch is planned in conjunction with the Makeyev design Bureau and possibly the AMSAT organisation and talks on the definition of the satellite have started in 2002.

All this said, independent or independent based access to space and space assests as well as their cultural, creative and tactical media use is seen as a crucial development both in technical and political terms for the next decade of space operations, since the transnational nature of the space and orbital expanses has to be used to the benefit of humankind in its totality. Projekt Atol Flight Operations will join forces with all institutions and individuals interested to further this goals and will actively work on access and understanding of space related technologies and paradigms, both through MIR activities as well as with the collaboration with space agencies and space related technology and policy organisations.

© Marko Peljhan & Leonardo/Olats, October 2003, republished 2023