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Pluto, New Horizons Pluto-Palooza: Art and Talk

Saturday, June 13th, 2015

Art version of the dwarf planet Pluto and its moon Charon
Artistic representation of the dwarf planet Pluto and its moon Charon

Next month I’ll be doing some talks on the dwarf planet Pluto, its moons, and the NASA New Horizons mission which will make its closest approach to Pluto on Tuesday, July 14 at 11:49:57 UTC. At that time it will pass Pluto at a distance of some 12,500 kilometers. In fact, New Horizons became the mission of closest approach to Pluto on December 2, 2011 – some three and a half years ago. The previous record holder was Voyager I, which got to within 1.58 billion kilometers of Pluto.

As a part of working on my presentation, I decided to create some original artwork. The result is the art used to illustrate this story. Titled Pluto and Charon, I tried to present a reasonably accurate depiction of the pair in terms of relative size in the artwork with respect to Charon’s orbital distance from Pluto. I took some small latitude with the overall coloring and albedos but as to surface features, well at this point that is anybody’s guess.

New Horizons Lorri Image of Pluto Taken June 11, 2015
New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (Lorri) Image of Pluto Taken May 28, 2015

With respect to the surface features of Pluto, the image above is probably the best image to date of the dwarf planet. It was taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (Lorri) on May 28, 2015 when New Horizons was about 56 million kilometers from Pluto.

My artist’s print version of Pluto and Charon is 18 by 14 inches. By comparison, the version shown here would be about 2.8 by 1.9 inches if printed. I do plan on adding this digital painting to my web site but I’m not sure when exactly that will be as I have a number of other projects consuming my time. However, I have made this artwork available for purchase on Redbubble both as a print and as product artwork:

Dwarf Planet Pluto and its moon Charon on Redbubble

As to my Pluto/New Horizons presentation, I am currently slated to give my talk at the following venues:

When: Sunday, July 19, 2015 at 1:00pm
Where: Schaumburg Township District Library Adult Classroom
for the meeting of the Chicago Society for Space Studies
Address:130 South Roselle Road, Schaumburg, IL 60193
 
When: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 at 6:30 pm
Where: Roden Branch, Chicago Public Library
Address: 6083 N. Northwest Highway, Chicago, IL 60631

I will also be appearing in Streator IL on July 5th with time and venue to be determined. The city is including Pluto in its Fourth of July celebration as Streator is the birthplace of Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer at Lowell Observatory who discovered Pluto in 1930. I am fortunate in that I had the opportunity to attend a lecture about Pluto by Mr. Tombaugh and to briefly meet him afterwards. Mr. Tombaugh passed away in 1997.

New Horizons References

The following New Horizons articles contain additional information about the Lorri image of Pluto used in this story:

The main web site for the mission is the New Horizons web site at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

In closing I offer the following quotation:

Most great discoveries in science are preceded by intuitions and followed by simple or crude methods, procedures, and use of inferior equipment. Often a succession of attempts take place in a progressive sequence, just barely missing the discovery. This was especially so in the case of the discovery of the ninth planet, Pluto.

Clyde Tombaugh in Out of the Darkness: The Planet Pluto

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Space Art, Lunar Bases, and Space in Chicago

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

Lacus Somniorum, Moon
Lacus Somniorum, Moon

Did you ever see that movie Sybil with Sally Field as the multiple personality woman? That’s me. Only I’m not a woman and it’s not multiple personalities — it’s multiple interests. Two interests that are obvious to people who know me are digital art and space — both of the astronomical variety and the space exploration variety.

My multiple competing interests — not to mention my interests in photography (see Jim Plaxco Photography), a wide variety of computing topics, and an interest in economics (my B.S was in Economics) — serve to limit the amount of time I can devote to each individually. In fact I’d say that I frequently find myself the victim of thrashing — an old computer science term describing the sub-optimal performance of a computer when it spends too much time switching between tasks.

It is much the same with my art. I have an interest in a variety of artistic subjects as well as creating art using a variety of stylistic approaches. I really chafe at the traditional advice given to artists that they should pick one subject and one style and stick to it. Where is the intellectual and creative fun in that? I understand how the one subject-one style approach works well for branding but why limit your creative ventures just so you can be more marketable and identifiable? In the acting profession that’s known as being typecast.

One recent activity of mine that neatly joined my interests in art and space was serving as a judge in the National Space Society’s 2015 International Student Art Contest (see NSS 2015 International Student Art Contest). We finished judging the submitted art last Friday. It took us a good number of hours to go through the 85 submitted works of art. Our first task was to categorize the art and determine whether or not each submission met the contest guidelines. The rule that all submitted art must feature one or more people doing something in a space setting disqualified a number of submissions.

The thorniest issue was regarding that of realism and led to the most intense debate between the judges. Some wanted to establish higher standards for the quality of the art that would be accepted. I argued that since this art contest was marketed as a contest for students and had entries from sixth grade through college, it was not appropriate to expect a sixth grader to produce artwork of the same caliber as that of a college student. On the whole, my approach won out.

One of the stipulations for the art contest was that if the judges felt that none of the submitted art was worthy of being awarded a prize then none would be given. Fortunately I can say that we did award several prizes. However, because the contest results have not yet been announced I can say no more on this subject.

On another space note, I’ve also been spending more time than planned taking the Introduction to Aerospace Engineering: Astronautics and Human Spaceflight online class from EDX.ORG. The class is being taught by MIT Professor Jeffrey Hoffman, a former NASA astronaut who made the trip to space five times on NASA’s Space Shuttle (Hoffman was the first astronaut to log 1000 hours on the Shuttle). My motivation in taking this class was to refresh old knowledge and hopefully pick up some new knowledge.

In one of my roles as President of the Chicago Society for Space Studies, I do a variety of educational space development presentations so a good understanding of the various issues is critical. It was in this role that I spoke a couple weeks ago at Loyola University as a part of the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. The title of my presentation was From Camp Century to the Moon and in this presentation I emphasized the future commercial opportunities of lunar development (neatly combining my interests in space and economics). The “Camp Century” in the title of my talk is a reference to the nuclear powered "city" the U.S. Army built under the Greenland ice outwardly to do science and learn to live and work in arctic conditions — but secretly a part of Project Iceworm. I use Camp Century in my presentation due to the similarities it has to a lunar base. On a related note, my next space to-do is actually tonight when I’ll be doing a shortened version of this presentation for the Rotary Club of Arlington Heights IL. I’m willing to bet that having someone speak about the commercial development of the Moon is rather out of the ordinary for them. We’ll see.

The Illustration: Lacus Somniorum, Moon

The illustration for this post is a small section of a digital painting I did of the Moon. This particular art project of mine was inspired by a painting of the Moon done in 1875 by astronomer/artist Étienne Léopold Trouvelot (December 26, 1827–April 22, 1895) whose work I greatly admire. At some point I do plan on adding this work, as well as several other works of lunar art, to my Moon Art Gallery.

The region shown in the illustration is that of Lacus Somniorum (Latin for Lake of Dreams), an irregular plain near the Moon’s northeastern limb. Specifically it is at selenographic coordinates 38 degrees north and 29 degrees east. With a diameter of 384 kilometers, it is the largest "lacus" on the Moon.

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NSS 2015 International Student Art Contest

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Dustfall on Mars space art
Dustfall on Mars space art

The National Space Society is holding a student space art contest which is free to enter and is open to students aged 13-25 years old world-wide. The theme for this art contest is life in a space settlement. Submissions to the contest are to focus on the daily activities of living and working in a space settlement located somewhere in the solar system. A key rule for art being submitted to the contest is that it has to be a realistic depiction of human activities. That means no aliens, no faster-than-light UFOs, and no other violations of science. The contest is particularly interested in photo-realistic submissions.

The contest’s Grand Prize winner will have their artwork published on the cover of Ad Astra magazine as well as receiving a complimentary membership in the National Space Society and complimentary registration to the 2015 International Space Development Conference being held in Toronto, Canada.

In addition to the Grand Prize, First Prizes and Honorable Mentions may also be awarded depending on the artistic merit of the submitted entries. I must point out that the contest does contain a provision that if none of the art submitted adequately meets contest standards, then no prizes shall be awarded – which is reasonable given that unlike most other art contests there is no fee charged to submit art for this contest.

For my part, I will again be serving as one of the art judges for the contest. Here are some tips from me for students submitting art. First, if your artwork is set inside a space settlement then have a window in the scene so that the viewer can identify where in the solar system your settlement is. Second, since the art is to depict settlement life, make sure to have a person somewhere in your artwork. Third, if the subject of your art is an astronaut exploring or working on the surface of the Moon, Mars, or an asteroid, then make sure that you have some sort of habitat somewhere in your scene. For example, an astronaut exploring the surface of an asteroid with a settlement in the distance, either on the surface of the asteroid or in orbit above it. Lastly, be sure to get your science right. In one space art contest I judged, the artist had an astronaut in a spacesuit on the surface of the Moon standing next to a pool of water. No matter how good your art is, if you do something like that your art will not be a winning entry.

Submissions to this art contest are due by March 16. Students who are under age 18 must have their parents permission in order to participate.

Art Contest Reference Links

The Illustration

To illustrate this post I used some of my own space art. Dustfall on Mars is a piece I was commissioned to create for presentation to Mars Society President Robert Zubrin on his 65th birthday. Unlike much of my art, this piece is a straight forward example of painting digitally. The version shown here has been cropped.

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Winning Entries in the NSS Enterprise in Space Orbiter Design Contest

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

Enterprise in Space Orbiter Design Contest Grand Prize Winner
Enterprise in Space Orbiter Design Contest Grand Prize Winner

I previously wrote about my role as orbiter design contest manager for the National Space Society Enterprise in Space Orbiter Design Contest in the posts Voting Open For Enterprise In Space Orbiter Design Contest and Enterprise Orbiter Design Contest.

The objective of Enterprise in Space is to design, build, launch, operate, and return to Earth a spaceship (satellite) that will host 100 student experiments. The spacecraft will remain in orbit approximately one week during which time the experiments are expected to complete their tasks. It really is a unique project. The biggest hurdle is funding as all the project costs will be covered via donations. This includes design costs, construction costs, experiment flight costs, launch costs, etc. Note that while student experiment flight costs are covered, the costs of the experiments themselves are not covered. Two ways in which I’ve contributed to the project to date have been by 1) accepting an invitation to join the Enterprise in Space Board of Advisors and 2) agreeing to serve on a volunteer basis as the orbiter design contest manager.

And now I can share the identity of the three winners of the orbiter design contest. It took two rounds of voting for we judges to identify three winning entries. Judging the contest were myself; Fred Becker (EIS Chief Engineer); Dominic DePasquale (CEO of Terminal Velocity Aerospace); Steve Neill (owner of SNG Studio); Andrew Probert (Consulting Senior Illustrator); Jon Ramer (President of the International Association of Astronomical Artists); and Tobias Richter (CEO of Light Works). We could have selected the three winning entries on the first ballot but the voting rules I established required that in order to win, each entry had to get 62% of the vote for that category: Grand Prize, First Prize, Second Prize. This extra hurdle helped to insure a consensus for each of the winning entries. Yes it meant more work and more discussion but as a consequence I’m confident that we selected the three best contest entries.

The contest’s Grand Prize winner is Stanley Von Medvey who by profession is a concept artist. Now I actually know Stanley and was grateful that he created a promotional video for the 2010 International Space Development Conference web site for which I was serving as webmaster. Sorry Stanley but because of this you did not get the Grand Prize vote from me even though I thought that your entry was the best design.

The First Prize winner is Steven Pestana, a senior at California State Polytechnic University and the Second Prize winner is John Cortes, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania.

To see all the winning entries and to read the press release announcing the winners head on over to www.enterpriseinspace.org/winner/. You may also want to consider making a donation to support the project.

For my part, not only do I look forward to the day that I can witness the launch of the NSS Enterprise Orbiter, but I am also most curious to see what types of experiments the students of the world come up with.

Ad Astra, Jim

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Voting Open For Enterprise In Space Orbiter Design Contest

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

NSS Enterprise In Space Orbiter Design Contest Vote
Enterprise In Space Project

The open submission period for the National Space Society (NSS) Enterprise In Space Orbiter Design Contest is closed and
the polls are now open for the public to vote for the best NSS Enterprise Orbiter design submitted.

For those not familiar with the project, the goal of the Enterprise In Space (EIS) project is to design, build, launch, orbit, and re-enter a satellite. This satellite, the NSS Enterprise Orbiter, will carry approximately 100 competitively-selected student experiments to space. The mission will orbit the Earth for approximately one week before re-entry and recovery. The satellite will then embark on a tour of museums world-wide before becoming a permanent exhibit at a museum yet to be named. Enterprise in Space is a project of the non-profit National Space Society of which I am a former Vice President. Among those who have endorsed the project are Buzz Aldrin, John Billingsley, Hugh Downs, Nichelle Nichols, and Eugene Roddenberry. See also the Enterprise in Space Board of Advisors.

As a part of the desire to involve the public in the project’s progress, it had been decided that the exterior design for the spacecraft would be determined by way of a public contest. Designers and artists were encouraged to submit science fiction inspired designs.

My involvement in the project began in July when I was asked to join the EIS Board of Advisors. Then in mid-November I was asked to take on the job of managing the Enterprise In Space Orbiter Design Contest. I accepted. In addition to managing the contest I will also be serving as one of the judges in the contest’s final selection round. In that round, I and six other judges will formally select the Grand Prize, First Prize, and Second Prize winners. While a major factor in our decision will be the results of the public vote, we will also be considering the design originality, visual aesthetics, and engineering practicality. While engineering considerations were not meant to be a driving factor for the contestants, they will by necessity be a factor in the construction of a spacecraft that will have to carry some 100 student experiments to space will meeting launch-vehicle-imposed restrictions on dimensions, weight, center of mass, etc.

Even though I am a judge in the contest, I still took the opportunity to vote for my favorite design submission. Voting closes on December 19 at midnight UTC so why not vote now in the Enterprise in Space Orbiter Design Contest .

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St. Louis and the Gateway to Space Conference

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

St Louis Gatway Arch day view from Old Courthouse
St. Louis Gatway Arch day view from Old Courthouse

I returned Monday night from my first trip to St. Louis. I was there to attend the Gateway to Space Conference. My participation in the conference consisted of:

  • giving a presentation on newSpace,
  • participating in a group presentation on the Enterprise in Space project,
  • serving as a panelist on the two-hour Rocky Road to Space Settlement Panel,
  • participating in the National Space Society’s website committee meeting,
  • exhibiting some of my space art as a part of the Saturday evening Cosmic Celebration.

In addition to the aforementioned items, I also created the cover art for the conference’s program book and had arranged for the Chicago Society for Space Studies to be an official sponsor of the conference.

My Friday at the conference began with a tour of the Washington University Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences Moon and Mars laboratories. The three science presentations that went with the tour – two about Mars and one about the Moon – were very interesting and dealt with some of the research being done there.

For me, the highlight of the conference was the next event. The program Space Retrospective featured a group of McDonnell Douglas engineers who had worked on the NASA Mercury and Gemini programs. Also special was that this event was held in Boeing’s Prologue Room, a "museum" of aviation, space, and missile history that is not generally open to the public.

Boeing Prologue Room Museum
Inside the Boeing Prologue Room

Hearing these engineers, along with Lowell Grissom (Mercury Astronaut Virgil ‘Gus’ Grissom’s brother) recount tales of the dawn of the space age and the many challenges they faced was really something. The Mercury and Gemini members of MAC’s Old Team present were Norm Beckel, Dean Purdy, Earl Robb, Jerry Roberts, Bob Schepp, Ray Tucker, and Nelson Weber.

McDonnell Douglas engineers from NASA Mercury and Gemini programs
MAC’s Old Team
McDonnell Douglas engineers from NASA Mercury and Gemini programs
(The man front and center in the tan pants is Lowell Grissom, Gus Grissom’s brother. At the far right is panel moderator Earl Mullins of The Space Museum. Second from the left is Paul Baldwin, President of the NSS St. Louis Space Frontier.)

Serving as panel moderator was Earl Mullins. In addition, The Space Museum, Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum, and St. Louis Rocketry Association all had artifacts and memorabilia from the Mercury and Gemini era on display.

Saturday was a full day of programming at the hotel starting at 9:00am and running until 9:00pm with the Cosmic Celebration and NSS internal committee meetings keeping me until the very end. This was followed by sitting in the hotel bar until about 2:00am speaking with several friends.

My only programming committment on Sunday was the two-hour Rocky Road to Space Settlement Panel. I was then able to sit back and relax as all my formal duties were done. I took the opportunity to go on the conference’s tour of the Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum in Cahokia, IL (Thanks Gloria for generously offering to drive there and back). We spent almost two hours exploring the museum and attached hangers.

In the Cockpit - McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II
In the cockpit of a McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II at the Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum

Sunday night Gloria (a local reporter), Libby (Challenger Center), Ronnie (Boeing), Dale (XCOR Aerospace), and myself walked a few blocks to have dinner at the Old Spagetti Factory. I was quite impressed both by the food and the restaurant’s beauty. From there it was back to the hotel bar and an evening of conversation.

Monday morning Ronnie and I hiked over to the Gateway Arch and took the tram to the top (we had bought tickets the night before). The two pictures that follow were taken from the inside viewing area at the top of the arch.

Downtown St. Louis from the Gateway Arch
Fisheye lens photograph of downtown St. Louis

Saint Louis Cardinals Busch Stadium  from the Gateway Arch
Telephoto lens view of Busch Stadium, home of the Saint Louis Cardinals.

Arriving home Monday night, I now have a few days to prepare before heading off to the Windycon Science Fiction Convention – which will be the subject of my next post.

St Louis night view of Gateway Arch
St. Louis night view of Gateway Arch from my hotel window

In closing I want to commend Christine, Paul, and all the other members of the NSS St. Louis Space Frontier for putting on an absolutely wonderful space conference.

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