LCCC arts student a part of NASA program at ASU

Miranda Unwin with artwork that looks like a satellite in space with a planetArt started for Miranda Unwin when she was young, doodling when she was bored in school and swapping comics with friends. It grew into a world of painting, photography, printmaking and more that allowed Unwin to explore her creative talents.

Today, thanks to an opportunity she found through Laramie County Community College, Unwin is working with undergraduate students from across the U.S. to connect space exploration and art. With students representing various disciplines and majors, Unwin is working to communicate information about the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Psyche mission through artistic and creative works. 

The Psyche mission, according to NASA, is a journey to a unique metal-rich asteroid orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter. Launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Psyche spacecraft will be able to learn about the Earth’s metallic core by studying the asteroid. It’s an important mission for scientists because the Earth’s core is unreachable and the ability to study the asteroid in the Psyche mission will offer a window into the violent formation of terrestrial planets. 

Arizona State University, which is leading the mission, piloted the Psyche Inspired program during the 2017-2018 academic year, expanding nationally the following year. 

The chance to take part in the program comes at a critical time for Unwin. After a decade out of school, Unwin, a native of Littleton, Colorado, made the decision to register at LCCC to pursue an arts education. Knowing there’s a perception it can be a difficult career choice, particularly in a rural state, Unwin is determined to prepare herself for a job in the arts. LCCC, she said, is helping her achieve that goal.

“I know how to paint things, but how do I actually go out and make a career? That’s part of what I’m being taught here,” Unwin said. “I’m learning how to compose art better, but also market my skills, build a portfolio, take photos and write about my artwork — all things I never learned on my own.” 

During an LCCC Student Art Show, Unwin managed to include some paintings she’d done of space. The work caught the eye of J O’Brien, LCCC’s Communication & Creative Arts Pathway coordinator. O’Brien connected Unwin with the application process for the Psyche Inspired program, and this summer was accepted into the Tungsten Class. 

Unwin said she’s always been inspired when gazing into the sky at night. 

“It gives me a lot of peace looking out into the great beyond and contemplating just how small my human problems are on Earth,” she said. “It’s really awe-inspiring and helps ground me.” 

The Psyche Inspired project is giving Unwin the chance to bring together two of her favorite interests in space and art, and it’s important to her to convey the mission’s importance through art. By enticing the public to learn about the mission through creative works, Unwin said there can be a greater understanding of the value of space exploration. 

“Having a program like this encourages people to look into space exploration because it makes it more real to them,” she said. 

In addition to the creative and civic values embodied in the project, Unwin is learning how to be a part of an arts enterprise making its way to a large audience. 

The first piece Unwin submitted is a 3D image on a canvas background. It portrays the Psyche asteroid and orbiter, made with a 3D printer at home, out in space with LED lights in the background that pop out and bring life to the piece. 

“I took references from images NASA released of the orbiter, so I did an exact color match of the orbiter and then did an artist’s rendition of the asteroid,” Unwin said. “People will be able to look at this and other projects and know that this thing humankind made is out there doing incredible things and measuring things we can’t even imagine.” 

Because of the education she’s receiving at LCCC and opportunities like the Psyche Inspired program, Unwin’s ambition to be a professional in the arts is starting to feel real. For others who might be wondering whether they should take the jump on pursuing their dreams, Unwin said it’s within their reach.

“You just have to make yourself available and put yourself out there so people can see your best work,” she said. “If you want to succeed, you just have to keep trying.”