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To celebrate and reflect on the University of Michigan’s bicentennial, M-BARC, the Michigan Bicentennial Archive, is designing, creating and launching the first-ever space time capsule into space, which will orbit the Earth for 100 years. As the University continues to push toward space research, the launch of the capsule marks a new era of discovery.
Business senior Saanya Sethi, the M-BARC interview team leader, said the bicentennial is about celebrating the past and embracing the future — themes the time capsule will be able to represent in a tangible way. With an anticipated launch date in 2018 or 2019, there will be a test launch by the end of 2017, for which M-BARC was given an award to have a free rideshare test launch with three other winners.
Part of the time capsule will include interviews with students, faculty, staff and alumni talking about their experiences at the University, which will be recorded and stored on a data chip in the capsule. Forty students are working on M-BARC, while about 100 are coordinating and conducting interviews.
“(The time capsule will) showcase how far the University has come in the past 200 years,” Sethi said. “(It will) leave a lasting legacy of who we, members of the University of Michigan community, are now for 100 years down the road.”
M-BARC project lead Hashmita Koka, a Rackham student in aerospace engineering, said the time capsule will store 1,000 interviews from students, faculty and alumni etched onto silicon wafers. Koka was also one of the first students to work on the project when it began.
Koka said she believes once all the interviews are completed, many different people with ties to the University from around the world will be interconnected through the time capsule.
“I think one of the big things is bringing so many people, like alumni from all over the world,” Koka said. “In a hundred years, we’ll have people from all over the world that might have some kind of connection to it."
Sethi said her favorite part about collecting interviews is listening to people’s stories and their memories from the University.
“It is so interesting to go through life thinking one thing but have that be completely changed when I am hearing these interviews,” she said. “I have had Michigan alumni — the oldest being 97 — email me to ask to be interviewed. They have told me stories about being the first female in the marching band to the panty raids that used to occur back in the day.”
In addition to M-BARC, the Department of American Culture offered a class this semester designed to generate material for the time capsule. LSA senior Julia Smith, who is enrolled in the class, said her project aims to create a narrative of collective identity from narratives of individual student experience.
“The best way to describe my particular project for the time capsule is to call it a collective diary,” Smith said. “The project depends on student submissions, in which each student writes about their typical day at Michigan and then splits this day into sections based on the progression of a regular day.”
Smith said her final project will be a book putting all of the days together in a format that allows a "typical" day at Michigan to be read in multiple ways, or to piece together parts of different students’ days to make a complete day.
“The end goal is to represent as many student voices as possible, and to get the campus community thinking about individual identity and the ways in which it is both recognized and dismissed by our collective identity as University of Michigan students,” she said.
Koka said the time capsule will have a tracking system installed on it to monitor its location. After 100 years, Koka said, there is no formal plan yet in place to send it back to Earth.
“We’re going to have electronics to be able to communicate with it and maneuver it to get to the right orbit,” Koka said. “The tracking system is really important because we want to track it for a hundred years. The hope is that if we keep tracking it, a team of students a hundred years from now will design a mission to retrieve it.”
In addition to the interviews and humanities project, the capsule will host a DNA experiment testing the effects of radiation in space.
“We’re basically encoding the University of Michigan’s admission statement into synthetic DNA,” Koka said. “We want to test the viability of DNA as a storage method in space, because we want to study the effects of radiation in space.”
Sethi said this is unprecedented work and will push the limits of science.
“There has never been such an experiment in space that has lasted 100 years because space exploration is still a relatively new field,” Sethi said. “Through the payload of this time capsule, we hope to make our mark by pushing the limits of science and also doing something that has never been done before.”
Smith added the American-culture class was created as a way to get several voices heard and stored on the time capsule. A large part of her project encourages students to think about how the University shapes their everyday experiences, and to look beyond their four years here as just a “next step” in life.
“As members of the University of Michigan community, we all share a collective identity,” Smith said. “We do not, however, share a collective experience. Rather than conforming to the idea that there is a dominant narrative of college experience, this project will instead create a collective student experience that depends on multiple narratives.”
Sethi said when this project started, the group knew it would have an impact. She emphasized it is a way for anyone affiliated with the University to voice their true opinions.
“The questions we are asking in the time capsule are not all about glorifying the University,” Sethi said. “We throw in some controversial questions because we want to leave an accurate depiction of the school for future generations to see the changes that have been made.”