The Gay Space Agency

Mackenzie Calle

2021 - Ongoing

United States

“When the inkblots came up, we looked at them and, sure enough, we’d always see some feminine anatomy in there to make sure that we gave the proper sexual response.” Jim Lovell, a NASA astronaut in the Gemini and Apollo programs, recounts the mandatory heterosexuality test during his 1962 astronaut selection. How else would NASA ensure that their future heroes had the “right stuff?”

To date, 600 people have been astronauts. None have flown into space as an openly LGBTQ+ person.

The Gay Space Agency is my ongoing project confronting the American Space program’s historical exclusion of openly queer astronauts. I am interested in questioning what American heroism looks like and who will be included in future exploration?

Reckoning with this history, the project uses archival images, staged historical recreations, and surreal boundary-breaking imagery to reimagine a history which celebrates queerness and creates LGBTQ+ role models.

In 1983, Sally Ride became not only the first American woman in space, but possibly the first ever queer astronaut. However, this would not be known until 2012 when her obituary read, “Dr. Ride is survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy.”

Today, NASA is joined by privately owned, billionaire-backed organizations in their exploration of the final frontier. As we revisit the possibilities of human expansion and future colonization, I wonder who will be a part of it.

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  • Street sign outside of Virgin Galactic headquarters in Mojave, CA.

  • Radio satellite at the Owens Valley Radio Observatory in Big Pine, CA.

  • NASA Astronaut Group 5, 1966. There have been 600 trained astronauts and it is estimated that almost 6% of people in the United States are LGBTQ+. Based on this statistic, I created a grid of 600 squares and inverted 36 of them to represent the astronauts who should statistically belong to the LGBTQ+ community, 33 of whom are still in the closet.

  • Mud pots near the Salton Sea, CA.

  • NASA Space Shuttle Crew Escape Equipment.

  • Sally Ride Barbie doll, released in 2019.

  • The Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, CA. Many aerospace companies, including Stratolaunch and Virgin Galactic, regularly test new space technologies here.

  • Mission Control for Apollo 8 at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The 1968 mission was NASA’s first crewed orbit of the moon.

  • Rorschach inkblot test, similar to what early NASA astronauts would have been shown to determine their heterosexuality.

  • NASA archival image of the first American in space, Alan Shepard.

  • Early astronauts and their families. Pictured: Neil Armstrong (first row, second from left), Buzz Aldrin (third row, second from left), and Jim Lovell (third row, fifth from left).

  • Brian Murphy, an aspiring out astronaut, February 2022.

  • An audience watching the film "Apollo 11: First Steps Edition" at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., May 2019. Former United States Vice President Mike Pence sits in the right foreground. The film has been replaced by an image of myself and my girlfriend.

  • Clay model I created of the moon with an imprinted replica Apollo boot on its surface. The 3D effect recalls modern NASA images.

  • Grid of gallium shapes.

  • A staged living room featues images of the three known queer astronauts - Sally Ride, Wendy Lawrence, and Anne McClain. Ride came out via her obituary in 2012, Lawrence via a Naval Academy awards video in 2018, and McClain in 2019, when her wife filed legal proceedings against her while she was on the International Space Station.

  • Aspiring astronaut Brian Murphy during a space suit test and flight simulation, February 2022.

  • Lunar eclipse, November 2021.

  • SpaceX Crew-3 launch moments after takeoff at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, November 2021.