Winning Artist Team Chosen for Solar System Trek in Pasadena

For Immediate Release
July 18, 2000

Mat Kaplan
Email: [email protected]
Phone: +1-626-793-5100

The Planetary Society today announced the winning design for PlanetTrek, a scale model of the Solar System in memory of Carl Sagan that will be built in Pasadena, California. The winning design was submitted by a team that includes lead artists Barbara McCarren and Jud Fine, as well as team members Ken Price and Ned Kahn, all based in California. MIT Astrophysics Professor Emeritus Dr. Philip Morrison is scientific advisor to the chosen design team.

"The winning design proposal edged out a talented field of internationally acclaimed artists that included finalists Carl Cheng of Santa Monica and mathematical sculptor Helaman Ferguson of Laurel, Maryland," said PlanetTrek director Charles Kohlhase.

PlanetTrek will engage the public in a unique experience through a blend of art, science, and education. Ten prominent sculptures displaying the Sun and its nine planets, shown to scale, are proposed for seven public locations in Pasadena. Visitors to the sites can appreciate the artistic beauty of the sculptures while learning about the solar system. PlanetTrek will be a permanent monument fostering the spirit of "The Universe" celebration scheduled to begin in Pasadena later this year.

The Sun is five feet in diameter, with planet diameters ranging from 1/10 inch for Pluto to 6 inches for Jupiter. At this scale Earth measures a mere 1/2 inch across. The distance from the Sun to the outermost planet Pluto is about five miles. Proposed locations include the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars in Central Park near the planned Blue Line hub; Jupiter near City Hall; Saturn in Brookside Park near the planned Kidspace Museum; Uranus at PCC; Neptune in Victory Park; and Pluto just south of JPL.

PlanetTrek will incorporate into its design 100 great questions of our time inscribed on bronze plaques, a unique feature not previously done for other solar system models around the world. The questions are meant to engage the human imagination and intellect. Ten plaques, each containing one question, will surround each sculpture.

Sample questions include:

  • "Will computers ever evolve into separate life forms or develop consciousness?"
  • "What conditions are necessary for human happiness?"
  • "Was the beginning of the universe a chance event?"
  • "How are art and science alike, and how are they different?"
  • "What are the greatest threats to our environment?"

If a great question is ultimately answered, its plaque will be ceremoniously retired and a new question installed. The public can still submit great questions to the PlanetTrek website.

The winning design incorporates a large spherical sculpture at each site, linked by a curved walkway to the scale model of the planet mounted on a pedestal containing information about that world. The artists' proposal describes the sculptures as "gorgeously tough jewels -- visually and physically elegant imaginative representations of the ten celestial bodies."

The five-foot Sun model will be made of stainless steel, covered by several layers of powder-coat enamel polished back to reveal brilliant coloration suggestive of the shining Sun. It will be mounted on a 15-foot round rough-hewn granite pedestal with surfaces containing information about the solar system, planets, and the PlanetTrek project. Visitors will be able to turn sculptures of the Earth, Venus, Neptune and Uranus around their axes, but only in the correct direction. Mercury, Mars and Pluto will be set on boulders formed at the beginning of geologic time.

Materials used for the sculptures will evoke characteristics of each celestial body. Saturn will shine in laminated, milled limestone and marble in buff, gold and beige, with stainless steel rings. The sculpture of Jupiter will be uniquely stained and polished concrete with a surface texture based on current images. The artists plan to cast the Red Planet Mars in brightly rusted iron. Venus will be red glass and green verdigris copper depicting the planet's volcanic activity and hellish surface. Our own Earth is conceptualized as a rotating blue glass sphere with an overlaid bronze map of Pangaea, reflective of Earth's plate tectonics and liquid water.

Several community leaders have endorsed PlanetTrek, including: Dr. David Baltimore, President of Caltech; Dr. Edward Stone, Director of JPL; Mr. Bill Bogaard, Mayor of Pasadena; Dr. James Kossler, President of PCC; science fiction author Ray Bradbury; Mr. Jay Belloli, Director of Gallery Programs, Armory Center for the Arts; Dr. Bill Nye, the "Science Guy"; Ms. Ann Druyan, writer and collaborator with the late Dr. Sagan, and many others from the art, science and education fields.

The PlanetTrek planning committee is currently raising funds from individuals, corporations and foundations to complete the project. Tax-deductible contributions earmarked for PlanetTrek can be made to The Planetary Society, either for general use or to sponsor a planetary sculpture site. For further information including the artist renderings and Great Question submittals, visit the PlanetTrek website.

About Planettrek Artists And Director

Biographical Description / Barbara McCarren
Barbara McCarren is an artist who exhibits site-specific works at alternative spaces including in the public realm. Her work is in the permanent collection of the L.A. County Museum of Art. Projects in public spaces include Pershing Square in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Zoo and the Modesto Civic Center. Her work focuses on unusual facts and presents itself through a physical and visual clarity that disseminates into complexity upon viewer consideration.

Biographical Description / Jud Fine
Jud Fine is a nationally and internationally recognized artist whose work is represented in numerous museums and public collections. He has been working in the public sphere for the last ten years. Examples of his efforts in this area include the Los Angeles Central Library, Carnation Co. Headquarters, Glendale, Sony Pictures, Culver City, Los Altos Market Center, Long Beach, and the Ventura River Trail. He is a Professor of Art at the University of Southern California.

Biographical Description/ Ken Price
Ken Price is one of the most remarkable artists in world. For almost 40 years his work has been characterized by its surface lushness, the heightened membrane between inside and outside and its merging of material and form into a pragmatic materialism conditioning a "window of fantasy". His work has been called, "the inextricable mix of complex structure and intense improvisation . . . and his remarkable grasp of color and surface have fueled his invention of singular and intriguing forms." He is a Professor of Art at the University of Southern California.

Biographical Description/ Ned Kahn
Ned Kahn has been creating interactive artworks for museums and public art venues for eighteen years. Much of his recent work has been inspired by astronomical phenomena. He recently installed a series of kinetic sculptures at the new Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. These artworks let viewers interact with fluid models of convection on the sun, a spiral galaxy and bipolar jets. He has just completed an exhibition, funded by the National Science Foundation, of 17 kinetic artworks suggestive of active planetary landscapes which will open at the new Cabot Observatory in Oakland. In 1999, he installed a model of a black hole at the Albuquerque Museum of Natural History and a viewer-activated volcanic landscape at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

Biographical Description/ Charles Kohlhase
Charley Kohlhase is a planetary mission designer, author, artist, teacher, environmentalist, and public outreach specialist. In his four-decade JPL career, he led the mission design activities for robotic missions to most of the planets, including the epic Voyager Grand Tour, receiving three NASA special achievement medals. He teaches 3D Modeling & Animation, produces fine art for galleries, plays a leading role in many joint art and science educational projects, consults for NASA/JPL, and is a member of The Planetary Society Advisory Council.

About The Planetary Society

With a global community of more than 2 million space enthusiasts, The Planetary Society is the world’s largest and most influential space advocacy organization. Founded in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman and today led by CEO Bill Nye, we empower the public to take a meaningful role in advancing space exploration through advocacy, education outreach, scientific innovation, and global collaboration. Together with our members and supporters, we’re on a mission to explore worlds, find life off Earth, and protect our planet from dangerous asteroids. To learn more, visit