The Gay Space Agency

“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, an astronaut in the Gemini and Apollo programs, recounts one of two mandatory heterosexuality tests that early NASA astronauts were required to take.

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

The Gay Space Agency confronts the American Space program’s historical exclusion of openly queer astronauts and asks what American heroism looks like and who might be a part of future exploration. Reckoning with this history, the project uses archival images, current images of the space program, and surreal boundary-breaking photos to reimagine a history which celebrates queerness and highlights LGBTQ+ role models.

In 1983, Sally Ride became not only the first American woman in space, but possibly the first ever out 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, The Gay Space Agency asks what it means to have the "right stuff."

© Mackenzie Calle - Image from the The Gay Space Agency photography project
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Brian Murphy (they/them), an aspiring astronaut and winner of the 2021 Out Astronaut Contest, wearing a space suit for the first time.

© Mackenzie Calle - Image from the The Gay Space Agency photography project
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NASA image of the STS-7 launch on June 18, 1983, from Kennedy Space Center, FL. Dr. Sally Ride, who later came out via her obituary, was one of the five crew members. There have been over 600 trained astronauts and it is estimated that 7.1% of the U.S. population is LGBTQ+. Based on this data, I created a grid of 600 squares and inverted 43 of them to represent the astronauts who should statistically be a part of the LGBTQ+ community.

© Mackenzie Calle - Image from the The Gay Space Agency photography project
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The top image is the cover of a 1950 Senate report that incited what was known as the Lavender Scare – which required any known LGBTQ+ federal employee be fired. In over two decades, 5,000-10,000 employees were removed from the federal government. NASA was formed in 1958 and as a United States government agency, all of its employees, including astronauts, were included under this order. The bottom is a surreal image of geothermal mud pots.

© Mackenzie Calle - Image from the The Gay Space Agency photography project
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The Mercury Seven astronauts are welcomed to Texas at the Sam Houston Coliseum on July 4, 1962. Astronauts train in Texas and launch from Florida, two states that have recently passed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

© Mackenzie Calle - Image from the The Gay Space Agency photography project
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Early astronauts and their families, including Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong (second row, first from right) and Buzz Aldrin (second row, second from left).

© Mackenzie Calle - Image from the The Gay Space Agency photography project
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I photographed and mirrored this image of a conference room at NASA Johnson Space Center to represent the closed-door decisions of which astronauts are assigned to which missions. The mirroring echoes the Rorschach test ink blots, one of the two heterosexuality tests that Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo NASA astronauts were required to take.

© Mackenzie Calle - Manipulated NASA image of advanced crew escape suits, used since 1994 on Space Shuttle Missions.
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Manipulated NASA image of advanced crew escape suits, used since 1994 on Space Shuttle Missions.

© Mackenzie Calle - Image from the The Gay Space Agency photography project
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The Orion capsule on the floor of the Astronaut Training Facility at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, shot from the outside looking in. This vehicle will transport future astronauts to the moon, Mars, and beyond, allowing humans to go deeper into space than ever before. Any astronaut who will fly in an Orion capsule will train in this one.

© Mackenzie Calle - I staged an image of a queer person in an astronaut suit with a beam of light, a target, on them.
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I staged an image of a queer person in an astronaut suit with a beam of light, a target, on them.

© Mackenzie Calle - Mirrored aerial landscape.
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Mirrored aerial landscape.

© Mackenzie Calle - Image from the The Gay Space Agency photography project
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Grid of Soyuz MS-11 landing on June 25, 2019, with a crew of three astronauts, including Anne McClain. She was outed months later when her wife filed a complaint claiming that Anne illegally accessed her financial information while on the International Space Station. The complaint outed Anne, making her the third known LGBTQ+ astronaut whose LGBTQ+ identity was revealed after their flight, after Sally Ride and Wendy Lawrence. The grid is pixelated as a nod to the secret nature of her identity.

© Mackenzie Calle - Image from the The Gay Space Agency photography project
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A queer person wears an astronaut suit in a surreal landscape. Astronaut psychological selection criteria from Aeromedical Evaluation for Space Pilots (July 1963) is overlaid. This was the personality scale on which each early astronaut candidate was ranked.

© Mackenzie Calle - Image from the The Gay Space Agency photography project
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I gave 100 people a Rorschach test ink blot and asked them what they saw. Early astronauts needed to see “feminine anatomy” in order to be selected. Some of these people would have passed and most would not have.

© Mackenzie Calle - Kennedy Space Center just before the launch of SpaceX Crew-3, November 10, 2021.
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Kennedy Space Center just before the launch of SpaceX Crew-3, November 10, 2021.

© Mackenzie Calle - Image from the The Gay Space Agency photography project
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Early astronaut homes in the El Lago neighborhood of Houston. Most of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts and their families lived in the few surrounding neighborhoods near NASA Johnson Space Center.

© Mackenzie Calle - Manipulated NASA image of the Space Shuttle Challenger during mission STS-7, June 1983.
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Manipulated NASA image of the Space Shuttle Challenger during mission STS-7, June 1983.

© Mackenzie Calle - Image from the The Gay Space Agency photography project
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Lunar eclipse from November 19, 2021. The next phase of the American space program, Artemis, aims to not only return humans to the moon but establish a long-term presence on the surface.

© Mackenzie Calle - Brian Murphy during flight simulations after donning an astronaut suit for the first time.
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Brian Murphy during flight simulations after donning an astronaut suit for the first time.

© Mackenzie Calle - Image from the The Gay Space Agency photography project
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NASA image of 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 my image of two women kissing.

© Mackenzie Calle - A queer person, semi-erased from the world while in an astronaut suit.
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A queer person, semi-erased from the world while in an astronaut suit.