Japanese artist Makoto Azuma has worked with bonsai trees in the past, but his newest botanical art project is out of this world–literally. On July 15, Azuma and his crew ventured to Nevada's Black Rock Desert to launch two objects into space: “Shiki 1,” a 50-year-old white pine bonsai suspended from a metal frame, and an untitled arrangement of orchids, hydrangeas, lilies, irises, and other flowers.
To accomplish the mission, called Exobiotanica, Azuma collaborated with JP Aerospace, a volunteer-based organization that constructs and sends vessels into orbit. Working from the middle of the night until dawn, the team secured the plants to lightweight devices hanging from helium balloons. After attaching tracking devices, still cameras, and GoPro video cameras to record the unique space flight, the bonsai and the floral arrangement were launched into the stratosphere, soaring to the amazing heights of 91,800 ft (27.98 km) and 87,000 ft (26.51 km), respectively. Although the vessels were later retrieved five miles from the launch site, the plants were nowhere to be found, leaving it up to us to imagine the final outcome of the pine needles and flower petals drifting silently above the Earth.
On his website, the artist wrote a beautiful description of the mission and its exploration of life, beauty, and freedom: “Plants on the earth rooted in the soil, under the command of gravity. Roots, soil and gravity–by giving up the links to life, what kind of ‘beauty’ shall be born? Within the harsh ‘nature,’ at an altitude of 30,000 meters and minus 50 degrees Celsius, the plants evolve into EXOBIOTA (extraterrestrial life). A pine tree confronting the ridge line of the Earth. A bouquet of flowers marching towards the sun hit by the intense wind. Freed from everything, the plants shall head to the space.”