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Home Desk

The Gay Space Agency

These images are a part of my project, The Gay Space Agency, which addresses the lack of open LGBTQ+ representation amongst astronauts. NASA, nor any other government space agency, has had an openly LGBTQ+ astronaut. Further, NASA astronauts in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs were required to take two heterosexuality tests.

These facts formed the basis of the project and after that I dove into the NASA archive. What was the most telling in the archive was actually what wasn’t said. I was incredibly interested in who the astronauts were as people but I found that the archive represented a tightly controlled media narrative of heroism, patriotism, unity, and hope.

I was also interested in intervening in the archive. What gaps could I fill with semi-fictional staged imagery and to what extent? I really wanted to focus on the astronauts as people and illuminate the sacrifices they have made both personally and professionally. Within this project, that was most evident for Sally, who kept sexuality a secret (at least since college) and her partner of 27 years, Tam


I’ve always been interested in what people’s belongings say about them and their environment so I decided to stage Sally’s desks as if they were at NASA and at her home.

I spent over 3 months researching which objects would be best and then actually tracking them down. Most are from Ebay or Etsy. I also printed a ton of photos and then decided which ones fit the best
once I began to stage them.

I had a huge list of items that were options for the desk. I made the lists based on her biography by Lynne Sherr, video interviews, and articles online. For her NASA desk, I wanted to emphasize the military mindset and the professional sacrifice, while feeling impersonal yet hinting at her personal beliefs. For her at home desk, I wanted it to feel warm and full and represent Sally as a complete person, both her professional and personal interests. I wanted it to feel free.

I actually photographed both of these in my living room on the dining room table. I did the NASA desk first as it felt the most impersonal and sterile and then her desk at home.

Even while I was staging them, I noticed how much more distant I felt while doing the NASA desk as opposed to the home desk where there was so much more warmth and love. Seems stupid to say but I noticed such a stark difference in myself and I can’t imagine what Sally actually went through, keeping so much of herself hidden for so long.

NASA astronauts are typically seen as American heroes, the bravest and best among us. It took me a long time to accept my own sexuality and how that could affect my own dreams. Sometimes I think if Sally had come out and I had a queer role model growing up, some of what I went through might have been easier. With this project, I hope young people can envision themselves in space.

- Mackenzie Calle