Exactly 50 years ago today, Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Video footage of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong traversing its desolate surface—a historic milestone broadcasted on television worldwide—effectively ended the Space Race and forever changed our vision of interstellar travel. Since then, we’ve made leaps and bounds in that arena, having sent Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity rovers to Mars, with the Voyager 1 spacecraft even having departed the solar system.
To celebrate the milestone anniversary, NASA commissioned Studio Drift to bring a one-off edition of their drone installation, Franchise Freedom, to the Kennedy Space Center’s rocket garden on July 16. The performance sees more than 300 luminous Intel Shooting Star drones hypnotically swarm the night sky, sonically backdropped by a live Duran Duran concert, with a choreography based on the flight patterns of starling birds. Studio Drift first debuted Franchise Freedom over the skies of Miami during Art Basel 2017, and since brought it to Burning Man and Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum the following year.
After a decade of research, co-founders Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta developed an algorithm that replicates how birds swarm and self-organize in nature. The performance sees the drones constantly responding to each other, making the choreography unique and almost entirely pre-determined. “The Apollo 11 moon landing exemplifies what technology can do for humanity,” says Nauta, who notes that similarly, Franchise Freedom embodies the intersection of technology and consciousness. “Whether we’re exploring the moon, the sky, or anywhere else, it all ends up being about improving life here on earth.”
Franchise Freedom isn’t the only light show commemorating the semi-centennial. A 363-foot-tall Saturn V rocket—the same model that launched the Apollo 11 lunar spacecraft—will be projected onto the Washington Monument every night until July 18.