The Day – Connecticut museum sells statue at auction to launch NASA satellite


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Hartford – The Discovery Museum and Planetarium in Bridgeport is making a calculated compromise by launching a major upgrade to its science education curriculum for schoolchildren.

The 55-year-old museum is auctioning off a huge bronze statue on Friday to raise money to equip and program a milk carton-sized satellite attached to a NASA rocket returning data on space dust.

The decision to sell the sculpture, “Torch Bearers” by Anna Hyatt Huntington, followed “a huge discussion” among the museum’s board members, board chairman Joe D’Avanzo said.

It is one of four such sculptures in the world.

“This is the most valuable coin we have,” he said. “It was very controversial to get rid of this piece. It was heartbreaking to make that decision.”

The museum, which shifted its mission from art to science in the mid-1990s, had few financial choices as it sought to participate in the satellite program.

It receives most of its funding from private sources and only gets $ 359,000 from the state this year. The endowments are “very small,” D’Avanzo said.

The minimum bid is $ 325,000, but the museum hopes to raise up to $ 400,000 or more.

Aviva Lehmann, director of American art in New York at Heritage Auctions, which will sell the 15-foot statue, said it was Huntington’s most important work of art, known for his sculptures of ‘animals, to be marketed.

“I’ve sold her work before, but nothing of this size and grandeur,” she said. “I’ve never seen a Huntington monument appear before in 15 years. They don’t pass their hands that often.”

The statue of a man handing a torch to another man descending on horseback symbolizes the transmission of knowledge of civilization from one generation to the next.

It could be sold to another Texas institution or collector who has expressed interest, Lehmann said. Moving the sculpture across the country could cost up to $ 20,000, Lehmann said.

Huntington, who died in 1973 at the age of 97, gave the work as a gift to the museum, with $ 5,000 for the cost of the base, to ensure a proper setting for her sculpture, according to Heritage Auctions. “Torch Bearers” was unveiled at the museum in 1963.

NASA’s CubeSat launch initiative puts nanosatellites into orbit as auxiliary payloads in previously planned missions. NASA is promoting satellites as educational opportunities for students and teachers who promote science, technology, engineering, and math education.

The Discovery Museum’s nanosatellite, costing $ 100,000 to $ 200,000, will be launched in 18 months to two years in partnership with the University of Hawaii and the University of Bridgeport.

The satellite will be programmed to capture small space debris analyzed by high school and younger students at the museum’s Challenger Learning Center.

“We’re building a mission control at the museum,” said David Mestre, director of space science education at the museum.

“We are developing software for a child to run a space program.”

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