NASA Reveals How Oscars 2018 Awards Use Space Tech to Shine

Trophies and telescopes have more in common than you think.

Gold, the same glossy material that astronomers use to catch a glimpse of faraway stars, is the same stuff that coats the iconic Oscar statuette awarded to movie stars at the Academy Awards.

NASA and the Academy make use of this dazzling metal for three reasons: It doesn’t rust, it reflects infrared light, and it’s opulent as hell.

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The space agency has been getting its equipment plated in gold by Epner Technology — a Brooklyn-based plating company — since the seventies. The Oscars, on the other hand, just started using Epner to upgrade their trophies back in 2016.

Gold is highly reflective and doesn’t tarnish—great for the James Webb Space Telescope’s main mirror but also to block radiant heat from instruments in the telescope’s interior.


Before the Academy began using the same plating company as NASA to pimp their prizes, it had a trophy manufacturer cast the awards in a tin alloy and then plate them in gold. This worked just fine for the big night, but over time, the coating’s brilliance dulled.

“We’ve seen many times over the years that somebody will put a nice gold coating on something, but as soon as you bend it, all of a sudden a whole layer of gold will peel up and flake off,” Goddard Space Flight Center engineer John Gygax says in a statement.

Oscars have been awarded for nearly a century, but some winners found the gold coating wore off. In 2016, Epner Technology began gold-plating the statuettes, using a technique improved in part for the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter.


The most common method for gold coating is by vapor deposit. Manufacturers heat the metal in a vacuum turning it to gas, which would then condense in a layer across a surface.

Epner uses a technique it calls “LaserGold”, which utilizes electricity to coat a mundane metal with a more precious metal. The company was able to show that its product was more durable and reflective than conventional plating methods, making it perfect long-lasting NASA missions and for commemorating each years’ best picture.

It seems gold is made for stars after all.

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