The Story Behind That Giant Astronaut Floating Around Coachella

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Last year, Coachella's main event art installation was a giant snail. But this year, the mobile art installation at the popular music festival is a three-story-tall astronaut, formally known as "Escape Velocity." And it's totally awesome.

Built by Tyler Hanson of Poetic Kinetics—the kinetic art studio that also built the Coachella Snail—the astronaut is 36 feet tall, 57 feet long, and 40 feet wide. By day, it's a huge space suit suspended in the middle of the Empire Polo Club grounds. By night, it floats throughout the crowd, with video projections of artists' faces appearing in the helmet. Here it is with Big Boi in the driver's seat:


The construction of this floating astronaut alone is impressive—it's more Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float than stationary statue, although the Macy's floats are inflatables. The Astronaut, on the other hand, is far more sturdy and comes with moving parts. The bottom is a 12k variable-reach forklift, and the body is made up of chicken wire, steel tubing, and pin-rods. Animatronics let its hands wave, saying hello to the crowd. It moves slowly and gracefully, as if actually navigating through outer space.

What's more, this isn't even the only installation at Coachella. This year, for example, there are giant, colorful, morphing funhouse mirrors, big wooden domes with walls made of plants, a humongous red robot, and a pink and purple light-up pretzel-like twist.

In fact, the Indio, California festival has about a $2.2 million dollar budget for public art. It's one of the biggest budgets for large-scale art at any festival or event anywhere, for that matter, as Hanson told Co.Design. Sure, you can kvetch about those $400 passes and $9 beers Coachella peddles to actually underwrite that, but the scale is impressive regardless.


The Coachella Astronaut has one more weekend of roaming about the festival until it makes a permanent dock here on earth. Hanson says they've joked about putting the thing on eBay, but will ultimately be looking for a yard or warehouse for it to call home forever. [Co.Design]