Blog: [Blog Home] [Archives] [Search] [Contact]

Archive for May, 2010

International Space Development Conference Day Two

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

Bolden, Garver, Mankins
Pictured left to right: NASA Administrator General Charles Bolden, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, Bob McDonald from SPACE Canada, SPACE Canada Executive Director Margaret McLaughlin, John Mankins, SPS researcher from Japan whose name I can’t recall.

Far too much happened today on day two of the International Space Development Conference to go into any sort of detail and having only now gotten home it would take some time to type up my notes and make them comprehensible. However I will say that the two presentations by Jeff Greason were most enlightening.

Unfortunately, the biggest event of the day took placed during the dinner which featured NASA Administrator General Charles Bolden. It was after dinner and after the presentation of the NASA Ames Space Settlement Design Award to the Durango High School Aerospace Design Team. General Bolden had just started to speak when some young well dressed lady strode up to the podium, took the microphone from Bolden, and proceeded to attack NASA and Bolden for their animal experiments. NSS Executive Director Gary Barnhard, who was sitting several feet away, got up and promptly escorted the lady out of the room.

I will say that the net effect of this woman on the audience was to portray animal rights activists in a poor light. My big question: did this woman buy a ticket for this event or did she crash the gates?

Following is the relevant audio clip featuring the unwelcome interruption. Press the play button to begin the audio playback.

Bookmark it:  Stumble It  Bookmark this on Delicious  Digg This  Technorati  Reddit Tweet It

International Space Development Conference Day 1

Thursday, May 27th, 2010


Buzz Aldrin at the Boeing Coffee

Buzz Aldrin at the Boeing Coffee

Eric Anderson, Space Adventures

Eric Anderson, Space Adventures

Gordon Woodcock, Boeing (retired)

Gordon Woodcock, Boeing (retired)

John Carmack, Armadillo Aerospace

John Carmack, Armadillo Aerospace

John Mankins, SPS guru

John Mankins, SPS guru

model Mars base

A model Mars base in the exhibit hall

typical slide at an ISDC presentation

A typical slide at an ISDC presentation

I arrived at 8:00am for the first day of the International Space Development Conference (ISDC). I took a walk around the hotel to get the lay of the land. Next stop was operations to see how things were going. The nice thing about being the web master for the conference is that once the conference is underway my job is pretty much done.

Heading over to the Artist’s Gallery (an open common area between meeting rooms) I saw my friend Veronica Zabala-Aliberto, Coordinator for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera at Arizona State University, who greeted me with a warm hug. The last time I had seen Veronica was when she had given me a tour of the LRO offices at ASU a couple years ago.

Next it was off to the Space Solar Power Symposium. The SPS Symposium is chaired by John Mankins who opened the symposium with a summary of who is doing SPS research. The "who" consisted of both individuals and organizations. Following this was a presentation by Gordon Woodcock who provided an overview of past SPS research efforts. Much of this discussion focused on the Boeing study of the late ’70s in which he was personally involved.

At the break I headed over to registration but took a pass on standing in the long line. Registration was late in opening apparently due in large part to difficulties the hotel was having with their internet access.

On the way back to the SPS program I ran into Wayne White who is currently employed by the Constellation program – meaning his future is uncertain given Obama’s decision to kill the program. Once again I started for the SPS program but ran into Sherry Bell, the Dean of Psychology at Kepler Space University, from whom I received my second warm hug of the day.

Back in the SPS room, Susumu Sasaki was giving a presentation about the Japanese Space Agency JAXA’s work on SPS. He was followed by Paul Jaffe of the Naval Research Laboratory who spoke about a small (under $2 million) project at NRL working with technology that would be relevant to SPS.

Next a coffee break sponsored by Boeing (thanks Boeing for the refreshments and desserts) where I spent some time speaking with John Olson, a director of the Space Frontier Foundation and later fellow NSS director Mark Hopkins.

I next attended a joint presentation by Eric Anderson of Space Adventures and John Carmack of Armadillo Aerospace on their joint space tourism project. Space Adventures has contracted with Armadillo to provide the reusable space vehicles for launching space tourists on suborbital flights. John stated that he expects that within a year they will be flying unmanned science payloads to 100,000 feet and that within another year they’ll be flying to 100km. He stated that they expect to operate at a loss for the next couple of years. The interesting thing about their model is that there will be no pilot for these flights. The only people aboard will be the tourists. Some people may find the idea of a ship with no onboard human pilot disconcerting In the q/a session that followed, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin quipped "Yuri Gagarin landed in a parachute." So concluded the first morning of programming at the ISDC.

For the afternoon I attended the AIAA Space Colonization program track. First up was a presentation that was not at all about space colonization but rather a presentation that linked the major space programs of the U.S to how other countries perceived the will power of the U.S. Delivered by John Brandenburg, The Geopolitics of Space presented an interesting line of reasoning: Perception creates reality and deterrence is based on perception. When the U.S. is perceived as being strong in space, the U.S. is perceived as being a strong country, and vice versa. This presentation was followed by Gordon Woodcock and Strategy for Space Development in which Gordon pointed out to the audience that destinations are not goals and that our two goals should be 1) the successful economic development of space and 2) the extension of human civilization to space. The next talk was by track chair Anita Gale of Boeing whose talk Triggers for Space Settlement explained the scenarios created for students to address in the annual International Space Settlement Design Competition.

Then it was back to the SPS Symposium for a presentation by John Mankins on the results of the International Academy of Astronautics SSP study

That ended the programming for me. My next stop was the NSS Fundraising Committee meeting – already under way. After that it was dinner with fellow NSS director Robbie Gaines. Then back to the hotel for more conversation with various folks and then the drive home.

Bookmark it:  Stumble It  Bookmark this on Delicious  Digg This  Technorati  Reddit Tweet It

The 2010 NASA Moon Art Contest

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

NASA Art Contest

Last night I finished casting my votes as a judge in the NASA Life and Work on the Moon Art & Design Contest. The art contest is open to all high school and college students. This is the third year NASA has run this contest and this is my third year as a judge for the contest. The contest has really grown in terms of the number of submissions received. NASA has Elizabeth Ward, the art contest’s coordinator, to thank for that. Judging the first year was pretty easy in that it didn’t take much time. This year was another matter entirely. The number of submissions has grown dramatically.

The judging criteria has changed somewhat from the previous contests. In the contest’s first year, judges were expected to evaluate submissions based on the Artist Statement (worth 20 points), Artistic Elements (worth 30 points), Creativity (30 points), and Validity (20 points). Dropped from the criteria after the first year was the artistic elements component. This year the judging criteria are Artist Statement (20 points), Creativity and Artistic Expression (50 points), and Validity (20 points).

For the Artist Statement, students are to explain what inspired them, what artistic media they chose and why, and anything else they want to say about their artwork. Not surprisingly the quality of the artist statements was as varied as the quality of the submission.

The Creativity and Artistic Expression was more subjective as there are no really definable standards to guide a judge – other than their own experience. For example there was one artwork that was pretty good artistically but the imagination that went into creating the piece led me to give it more points than I would have on purely artistic grounds. Another judge may have responded quite differently.

In many cases, judging Validity was the most difficult. Validity refers to the scientific accuracy and degree of understanding of the space environment. For example in the case of a painting that consists only of a space suited astronaut walking on the surface of the Moon – does the person really understand that environment? Some artists did not reveal a lack of understanding in their art but did so in their artist statement. Others made their degree of understanding, or lack thereof, apparent in their art. For example, people without spacesuits on the Moon is kind of a dead give away.

In spite of the large number of submissions I felt compelled to vote for all submissions in the visual categories. My rationale was that voting for some but not other works would skew the final results in that the way in which I award points is likely to be different than the way in which other judges award points. The visual categories for the contest are 2D art, 3D sculpture/dioramas, Digital art, and Video. The two categories in which I did not vote were Literature and Music.

The Biggest Pleasure
What I found most rewarding about the experience was having the opportunity to review the art, think about its meaning, admire its quality, and read the artist’s words about their intent and inspiration.

The Biggest Disappointment
What I found most disheartening was that overwhelmingly the art depicted NASA facilities on the Moon. I know it is a NASA art contest but if we are going to have a large scale human presence on the Moon, then realistically it is going to take more than a government agency to make a go of it. When I go to the Moon, I want to hit Starbucks for my latte, stay at the Lunar Hilton, and dine at the local Uno’s. So while many of the students participating in the art contest showed a solid grasp of the lunar environment and what we could do on the Moon, I don’t recall any of them really featuring the role of private enterprise.

Given the recent decision of the Obama administration to cancel NASA’s plans for a return to the Moon, I will be most interested to see what happens with respect to the future of this art contest.


To get details on the 2010 contest, visit the NASA Life and Work on the Moon Art & Design Contest site. You may also want to take a look at the Winners of the 2009 art contest

I previously wrote about the NASA art contest in the following blog posts:

Bookmark it:  Stumble It  Bookmark this on Delicious  Digg This  Technorati  Reddit Tweet It

Disappointment with Chicago Artists Coalition

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Chicago Artists Coalition
Screen shot of Chicago Artists Coalition email

Imagine my surprise and disappointment when I opened an email blast from the Chicago Artists Coalition (CAC) and discovered that it contained three photographs taken from my web site. The three photos are part of a set of seven that I had taken at the Chicago Art Open Preview and Benefit Party at River East Art Center on April 20 and used to illustrate an article on my web site – Chicago Art Open Preview and Benefit Party at River East Art Center. For a view of the article in question, see this CAC email screen shot. Of the four photos shown in the screen shot, the group photo in the upper left (deliberately blurred) is not mine while the other three photos are.

Not only was I not asked if the photographs could be used but I was not given credit either. One would think that an organization representing artists would know better than to use copyrighted material without first getting permission. As a rule I’m pretty open about allowing non-profits to use my art at no cost. In fact if I had been asked by the Chicago Artists Coalition, I would have gladly said yes to letting them use the photographs. I used to be a member of this organization but did not renew as their dues continued to increase and their charge to artist members to have art shown on the CAC web site is far too expensive.

The Value of Metadata

As a rule, before posting any image to the Internet, I try to make sure that I have filled in the authorship-related fields in the image’s metadata. This consists of the Title, Author, Author Title, Description Writer, Description (if any), Copyright Status, Copyright Notice, and Copyright URL. In the case of the photographs in question, I did fill in the metadata fields. Saving the images from the CAC email to my hard drive, I opened them in Photoshop and looked at the metadata. Yep – my copyright notice was still present. (See Photoshop Metadata Illustration)

Of course there is nothing to stop someone from either removing or altering the contents of the metadata fields. For an informative article on this subject, see Why Photoshop doesn’t provide secure metadata

Watermarking Images

In the case of these particular photographs, because of their relatively small size (430 by 322) I did not bother to watermark the images. Typically I will place a textual statement on the image that is of the following format:
Picture Title – Copyright Symbol – Year – Jim Plaxco –

This watermark is semi-transparent with placement depending on the size of the image. For smaller images I locate the watermark along the bottom margin. For larger images I shift the watermark up so that it is more prominent.

Finding Your Images

A relatively new tool available for publishers of images is a search engine called TinEye. TinEye is a reverse image search tool. The user either uploads an image to TinEye or provides the URL for an image on the net. TinEye then searches its database for images that resemble the image you’ve provided and returns their URL.

Unfortunately TinEye’s database is not comprehensive. In the past I found one of my images being used by a city government (from Brazil of all places) by typing into Google the filename of my original image. Can’t say that I have tried that approach lately. And of course there is always the google image search if you have lots of time on your hands.

In Conclusion

All I can say is to be vigilant and don’t be surprised if your art or photographs show up in unlikely places. It is worth noting that copyrights are far more likely to be violated by your average Joe than by your average corporation.

Bookmark it:  Stumble It  Bookmark this on Delicious  Digg This  Technorati  Reddit Tweet It

From A Creative Block Comes An Artist’s Creative Angst

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Creative Angst
Creative Angst digital painting

So here’s a picture I did earlier this year and only now added to my web site. It is a self portrait and the idea behind this digital painting is the visualization of the mood of having a creative block.

Now there are lots of articles on the web about how to deal with a creative block. Suggestions on where to look for sources of mental inspiration. Advice on how to change your frame of mind. If you cruise over to and search on creative block, the number one hit is a 672 page book Creative Block by Lou Harry "with 500 ideas to ignite your imagination."

Rather than fight my creative block, I decided to turn the tables on it by creating a visual representation of my creative block – hence Creative Angst. For complete details on this digital painting, see Creative Angst gallery page.

Bookmark it:  Stumble It  Bookmark this on Delicious  Digg This  Technorati  Reddit Tweet It

The New NSS Space Art Gallery

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

Shattered Dreams digital painting
Shattered Dreams digital painting snippet

On Wednesday, I flipped the switch and the National Space Society’s Space Art Gallery went live. Creating the NSS Space Art Gallery has allowed me to combine two of my loves: art and space exploration. I was actually drawn to art because of space art. As a child I found the paintings of astronauts exploring distant worlds enthralling. Later I became a member of the National Space Institute (now the National Space Society) because of their work on promoting the human exploration and development of space.

Being a director of the NSS, as well as the chair of the NSS Web Oversight Committee, put me in the unique position to address what I saw as a problem. While there are a number of web sites that focus on astronomical art, their really is no central hub for art that focuses on the human exploration of the solar system. There are several NASA sites that feature space art but they are limited to art created in the past to document previous space missions and what little future looking art there is is tied to specific NASA programs.

My first undertaking to address this issue was in response to a request to chair a NSS committee whose job it would be to create a space calendar. Rather than relying on stock NASA space art, I turned the task of illustrating the calendar into a space art contest. Thus was born the NSS’ first Space Settlement Art Contest.

Subsequent to that experience I proposed that the NSS create an open space art gallery to which artists could apply for exhibition. I saw this as being a win-win situation for all concerned. The NSS would benefit by having a new source of content for the web site and by showing our support for space art and artists by providing this free service. The artists would benefit from the exposure they receive since the NSS web site has a very high page rank and traffic rank. And of course lovers of space art will benefit by having a central source of space art that they can visit.

To get the space art gallery up and running, I contacted a few of my space artist friends and asked if they would like to participate. Much to my delight they all agreed. The founding artists of the NSS Space Art Gallery are Frank Hettick, Walter Myers, David Robinson, and myself. In fact, David Robinson allowed NSS to use one of his works as the background image for the 2010 International Space Development Conference. for which I am the web master. In fact being the web master for the 2010 ISDC is one reason why I have not been more active of late in posting new material to my own web site and blog.

So please check out the new National Space Society Space Art Gallery. While the gallery currently has just 20 works of space art, I am hoping that as more artist’s join, this gallery will grow to become the web’s most significant collection of space art.

The Illustration Shattered Dreams

Just what is that a picture of? Well, it is a very small fragment of a digital painting titled Shattered Dreams. I created this work of digital art to serve as the cover art for the 2010 International Space Development Conference Program Book. I was inspired to create this art as a consequence of a debate I was having with another National Space Society director over the new Obama space policy. Yes, it is true that you never know where inspiration will come from. I am also donating one of the ten limited edition prints to the NSS space memorabilia auction that will be held at the ISDC. I will not reveal the full painting until the start of the ISDC so you’ll just have to check back here in a couple weeks to find out what it looks like – that or attend the ISDC.

Ad Astra, Jim

Bookmark it:  Stumble It  Bookmark this on Delicious  Digg This  Technorati  Reddit Tweet It