January 30, 1971. After 24 hours in space, the three Russian cosmonauts returned to earth grinning, but dead.
Experts eventually explained the cosmonauts’ rigid smiles as rictuses of pain (caused by exposure to unusually high levels of carbonic anhydride), but the macabre Soviet tragedy of the Soyuz XI remains one of the most talked-about mysteries of the 1970’s.
To explore our lingering fascination with space, death and now, the death of the space program, photographer Neil DaCosta and art director Sara Phillips have created Astronaut Suicides. They imagine various means of spaceman suicide: “One minute, an astronaut was waving at smiling children driving by in their parents’ cars. The next, he was jumping off a bridge,” explain the creators, who nevertheless admit having “cringed” a bit about “how morally wrong the whole thing was.”
But their work has been positively received. One man, who recently lost his job due to budget cuts at the Kennedy Space Center, actually thanked the two artists “for bringing attention to his current dilemma” and added that “he and some of his former colleagues loved the images”, according to DaCosta and Phillips.
The team present their project with a snippet of U.S. president Barack Obama’s 2010 speech on space exploration at Cape Canaveral: “Now, I understand that some believe that we should attempt a return to the surface of the Moon first, as previously planned. But I just have to say pretty bluntly here: We’ve been there before.”
Art Director: Sara Phillips
Photographer: Neil DaCosta