ArtCity One was the ultimate extension of the expensive, popular, and uncharacteristically honestly-titled Let’s Put Stuff In Space To See What Happens program. The United States Aeronautics and Space Administration constructed, at taxpayer expense, a huge titanium sphere designed to rotate in such a way as to provide gravity in some areas and none in others and filled it with 10,000 artists. Every shape and form of art was represented, from writing to sculpture to bizarre outsiders who worked in mediums like spider pee and bat earwax.

A committee of USASA bigwigs chose the artists from a stack of applications. They were accused of stuffing ArtCity One with weirdoes and gadflies the government would prefer to have on the other side of a few million miles of hard vacuum, but in fact the only thing the artists had in common was that their best work was apparently ahead of them. No established or high-profile figures were included, though a few did try to bully themselves onboard.

With great fanfare, ArtCity One was launched ten years to the day after construction began, borne skyward by 1500 surplus Saturn V rockets. As part of the agreed-upon plan, there was no communication between USASA mission control and ArtCity; the artists were left to do as they would while USASA monitored the sphere’s automatic systems. They planned for numerous contingencies, keeping a rocket with a rescue crew on 24/7 standby.

The only thing USASA didn’t plan on was a budget cut.

After an election, the new president made the controversial decision to divert the Let’s Put Stuff In Space To See What Happens program’s $200 trillion budget into a new program. Its reputation, they claimed, had been inevitably tarnished by such fiascoes as Operation Pork Lift, the Mucus Orbiter, and of course the notorious Unstable Radioactive Isotopes In Rapidly Decaying Orbits initiative. The president transferred the funds to the new Let’s Give Money to Various Voting Blocs program, and ArtCity One was left to its own devices after a message asking the crew if they would like to be retrieved received no response.

Eight years afterward, the president left office and $100,000 was allocated by their successor to the Let’s See What Happened to ArtCity One So Their Relatives Will Leave Us Alone initiative. The two-man crew, made up of astronauts previously dismissed from the program for substance abuse problems or trying to murder their ex, rendezvoused with ArtCity One in a secondhand Soyuz capsule that the Russians had put on the “free” table at their national garage sale.

The first transmission was garbled; the USASA Relief Mission Control Team (normally assigned to supervise space junk in near earth orbit) could barely understand any of it. The only clear words were “massive,” “gazebo,” decoupage,” and “hive-mind.”

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