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Archive for the ‘Space Art’ Category

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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Enterprise Orbiter Design Contest

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

Space Shuttle Enterprise art
Space Shuttle Enterprise

This is the Starship Enterprise. No it’s not – although it is an Enterprise. It is in fact a representation I created of the very first Space Shuttle. Formally designated NASA Orbiter Vehicle OV-101, this Enterprise “space” shuttle is unique in that it never made it to space.

More recently another Enterprise has been in the news. That is Virgin Galactic’s VSS Enterprise, the first of five planned suborbital spacecraft that will be used to send tourists and experiment payloads on suborbital trips to space.

While the media tend to focus on the space tourism aspect of companies like Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace, their suborbital vehicles will be important platforms for conducting experiments in a microgravity environment.

However, suborbital is not orbital. With luck, the first Enterprise to orbit the Earth will be the NSS Enterprise Orbiter – which will carry approximately 100 competitively selected student experiments into low Earth orbit.

But before the Enterprise can be built, it must first be designed. And that’s where you come in. As a feature of this very public program, the Enterprise in Space team is calling on artists, engineers, science fiction fans, students, and dreamers to come up with their own concept of what the NSS Enterprise Orbiter should look like! And for the winning designer there will there will be accolades and prizes.

Unfortunately I can’t enter the contest because on the evening of Oct. 28, 2014 I accepted an offer to manage the Orbiter Design Contest – an opportunity and honor I readily accepted.

But first for people not designing spacecraft – you can still support the Enterprise in Space project by donating to the EIS campaign – with a $20 donation getting your name onboard the NSS Enterprise Orbiter as a virtual crew member. For details see the Enterprise in Space Donation Page.

Now, if you are up to accepting the challenge of designing the look of the NSS Enterprise Orbiter, here are some tips for you.

First, do not design a spacecraft that looks like a spacecraft that is associated with a spacecraft from TV or film. It must be your own original design. When reading through the contest details you will see that it says “The orbiter must be a science fiction inspired spacecraft.” Personally I would not take this literally. What the EIS team is looking for is a spacecraft from your imagination – not a spacecraft that looks like the product of a government contracting process. By necessity NASA spacecraft are designed to fulfill a specific function and “artistic” is not a consideration. For this project, EIS wants the spacecraft designer to step outside the box of traditional, purely functional satellite/spacecraft design. The EIS team is looking for a design that is not just functional, but beautiful.

Second, because your orbiter has to accommodate an internal payload of experiments, your design should be mindful of the usable spatial volume it encloses. Your design should be somewhere between the extremes of a solid cube or sphere at one end of the spectrum (boring) and an overly-streamlined design that provides minimal internal volume at the other end of the spectrum. Note that whatever your design, it must be bilaterally symmetrical. So your challenge is to balance functional design with elegant, artistic design – hopefully capturing the best of both worlds.

Once manufactured, your orbiter will physically have as its maximum dimensions a length no longer than 8 feet, a width no wider than 8 feet, and a height no taller than 6 feet. So in creating your design, be mindful of the factors 8 by 8 by 6.

Now, if all goes according to plan, the NSS Enterprise Orbiter:

  • will be launched as a secondary payload on an expendable launch vehicle,
  • will remain in low Earth orbit for approximately seven days,
  • will be de-orbited and recovered,
  • will go on tour,
  • will retire as a museum exhibit.

So now is the time to either fire up your favorite graphics software or grab your drafting supplies and get to designing a spacecraft that is truly unique. The submission deadline is set for November 27, 2014. To make sure you fully understand the contest, please read the Enterprise In Space Design Contest Rules.

And don’t forget that bilateral symmetry!

Answers to Some Really Basic Questions

Can anyone enter?
Yes, but not me or other folks associated with the project. Oh – you do have to be at least 18.
Is there an entry fee for the contest?
No, there is no entry fee. It’s free!
What’s the deadline?
It’s coming up fast – November 27, 2014.
Who is sponsoring this contest?
The National Space Society.
Where can I find the contest rules?
At Enterprise In Space Design Contest Rules.
How do I actually enter the contest?
Via the EIS online contest submission form
What are the prizes?
For the grand prize: in addition to having the honor of designing the first Enterprise to make it all the way to orbit, you will get to be present at both the launch and at the official retrieval. You’ll also receive a complimentary registration at the 2015 International Space Development Conference being held in Toronto, Canada. And there’s more. Complete prize details for this and the 1st and 2nd prize winners are on the Orbiter Design Contest Rules page.

And may the force be with you! Oh wait – wrong universe. Sorry about that.

Per audacia ad astra. – Through boldness to the stars.

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Judging the 2014 NSS Space Settlement Student Art Contest

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Arcturus Space Settlement
Arcturus Space Settlement by student artist Bogdan Alexandru Cionca

Sunday night you would have found me on a conference call judging the art that had been submitted to the National Space Society’s Roadmap to Space Settlement 2014 International Student Art Contest. I previously wrote about this art contest in December: Roadmap to Space Settlement 2014 International Student Art Contest.

I do enjoy judging space art contests because not only is the artistic composition and skill of the artist judged, but so too is the realism, accuracy, and practicality of the artist’s vision with respect to space engineering. For this contest, artists were expected to create art that satisfied either of two milestones outlined in the National Space Society’s Roadmap to Space Settlement. The two milestones were:

In judging the art, judges were expected to evaluate the submitted art based on the following criteria:

  • The art had to compositionally satisfy either milestone 18 or 19 shown above.
  • The art had to be a realistic depiction of a space settlement or associated activities. For example, the works of Chesley Bonestell, Pat Rawlings, or David Hardy are examples of the realistic representation of space development activities.
  • If the art is an interior scene, then there has to be some aspect of the artwork that makes it clear that the setting is not of this Earth. Obviously the easiest way to satisfy this criteria is to provide a window through which can be seen the surface of the Moon for example.
  • The artwork should have an uplifting, positive message. On the flip side, art depicting battle scenes or criminal activity, etc. were not to be considered.
  • The art had to be non-offensive and family-appropriate.
  • No art with identifiable individuals, real or fictional. The sole exception was if the artist wanted to include themself in the art.

With respect to this art contest, there were three things that disappointed me.

First, I was most disappointed to see over the course of the contest submissions of art that had been taken from NASA and commercial sources and submitted as original works. The contest rules were quite clear on the requirement that the submitting artist be the creator of the art submitted. Fortunately none of these works made it into the contest’s art gallery. As I did during last year’s contest, I advised the committee to issue a ban for life for anyone submitting stolen art to the contest.

Second, it was a real disappointment for me that there was not one single submission from a student from the United States. (Note: I’m not aware of the nationality of those submitters whose art was rejected on the grounds of plagiarism or inappropriate content). So kudos to the student artists from India (6), Romania (4), and the Czech Republic (1).

Third, I was disappointed that there were not more submissions to the contest. I think this was due to the lack of promotion for the contest.

Back to judging the art, I was surprised by how easy it was for us to reach a consensus. According to the contest rules, we were to award one grand prize, up to 10 first prizes, and optionally an honorable mention. We awarded one grand prize, one first prize, and one honorable mention.

The Grand Prize went to Bogdan Alexandru Cionca, an 11th grader from Romania, for the submission Arcturus Space Settlement which illustrated the asteroid-related milestone. This is the artwork I’ve used to illustrate this post. We awarded a First Prize to Aleksandra Voinea, a 12th grader also from Romania, for Asteroid Mining near Mars, another asteroid-related artwork. Lastly we awarded an Honorable Mention to Tudor Tomescu, an 11th grader from Romania for Ancesius Asteroid-Mounted Settlement. So it was a clean sweep for students from Romania.

The contest results are now up on the National Space Society web site. To view the winning entries and all the other art that was accepted into the contest, see the Gallery for NSS Roadmap to Space Settlement International Student Art Contest (2014).

In closing, if you are a student artist with an interest in space exploration, NSS is expecting to run the contest again next year (December 2014 – March 2015) so keep your eyes open.

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Space Art Presentation

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Space Art Talk at Lake Barrington Shores
Arriving to give my space art talk at Lake Barrington Shores

Last Thursday I gave my Art and the Exploration of Space talk to the Lake Barrington Shores Men’s Club. Lake Barrington Shores is a gated community north of Barrington IL. I was surprised to learn that one of the ladies in the audience had been the Maid of honor at Neil Armstrong’s wedding. Fortunately I did get to speak with her briefly about some of her recollections of Neil and his days as an Apollo astronaut. I was also surprised to see several works of space art on display – provided by a friend of one of the club members. It was also a pleasure to speak with a fellow space art aficionado.

Somewhat on the impulsive side, a few days before I was slated to give this talk I decided to totally redo my presentation. I’d first given this particular space art talk in 2009 and had made no substantive changes to it during the intervening years. Turns out I was working on the new version right up until midnight the night before I was set to give it. In hindsight, I’m glad that I made that impulsive decision because the changes and additions improved the quality of the presentation.

Cosmetically I restructured all the slides so that I could enlarge the space art that appeared on each slide. More importantly I added a section on space art used specifically to illustrate future space development concepts like space solar power, asteroid mining, and space tourism. This allowed me to not only broaden the scope of the space art I discussed but also allowed me to introduce the associated concepts to my audience. I also added a section on the use of space art to illustrate newspace ventures. This allowed me to discuss the newspace paradigm of space exploration. I should point out that as President of the Chicago Society for Space Studies, my principal presentation is The NewSpace Frontier.

I also added in some of my own space art to extend on some of the topic areas I was addressing. Being able to speak on a first-hand basis about my own art strengthened the points that I was attempting to make.

During my presentation I took the opportunity to put in a plug for the National Space Society’s Roadmap to Space Settlement 2014 International Student Art Contest for which I am one of the art judges. I also brought along a stack of complimentary copies of Ad Astra – the space magazine published by National Space Society.

It was a very enjoyable experience for me – made even more enjoyable by the number of questions I got after completing my talk. For more about my art presentations, I have a PDF on my web site that contains summary information:
The Presentations, Lectures, and Classes of Jim Plaxco PDF.

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Roadmap to Space Settlement 2014 International Student Art Contest

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Space Colony at L5 Lagrange Point painting by Rick Guidice
Space Colony at L5 Lagrange Point painting by Rick Guidice

The National Space Society (NSS) has announced its Roadmap to Space Settlement 2014 International Student Art Contest. The objective of this art contest is to get students creating space art that can be used to illustrate Milestones to Space Settlement: An NSS Roadmap, a strategic space development planning document that was created to clearly illustrate a path forward in the quest to create a spacefaring civilization.

The artistic theme for this contest is the realistic depiction of either an asteroid settlement or a space settlement that is under construction. With respect to asteroid settlements, asteroids are potentially valuable resources due to their composition. The presence of natural resources combined with a low gravity environment makes them an ideal location for mining operations. Unfortunately there has been very little asteroid settlement art created to date.

While there is an abundance of space art depicting space settlements, there is a scarcity of art that shows these settlements in the process of being built – hence the art category for the construction of space settlements.

The requirement that the art must be a realistic depiction of either an asteroid settlement or a space settlement under construction will hopefully lead the student artists to first do some basic research on the subject.

The art contest is open to full-time students aged 12 to 25 world-wide. Art must be submitted by March 16, 2014 with the winners announced by April 1, 2014. In terms of prizes, there will be one Grand Prize and up to 12 First Prizes awarded on a school grade level basis. There is also an opportunity for some artwork to be awarded an Honorable Mention. Details for the prizes for the art contest’s winners is detailed on the contest web site (listed below).

My Role as Art Judge

As one of the judges for the art contest, I will be paying attention to the aesthetics of the compositions. But artistic aesthetics will take a back seat to realism. It will be obvious which artists researched the subject and which artists did not. One suggestion I have for student artists entering the contest is to seek out a science teacher for advice on the science and engineering of living and working in space.

Art Contest Links and Reference Links

Contest Links

Research Resource Links

In closing I want to wish all students entering the contest the best of luck and do urge you to research the subject of your painting (digital or otherwise). Approach your art project as though you were an engineer or an architect out to create a real working space settlement. Do that and you will greatly improve your chances of being a winner in the contest.

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Call for Artists for Space Solar Power

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

Solar Power Satellite under construction
Solar Power Satellite under construction

Here is a rather unique call for artists. What makes it unique is that it is a call for art portraying space solar power satellites. FYI, space solar power involves the construction of large solar arrays in Earth orbit where they can collect solar energy 24×7 and beam it down to receiving stations on Earth.

Specifically this is a call being made by the International Space Solar Power Symposium for an exhibition of space solar power art at their upcoming conference to be held in Kobe, Japan at Kobe University in April 2014. Participating organizations include the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) Power Committee, the National Space Society (NSS), SPACE Canada, and the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA)

For my part, while I do lecture on the subject of space solar power (SSP), the only SSP artwork I’ve ever created was art for my talk’s title slide and a SSP logo. Unfortunately much of the art associated with portrayals of space solar power is dated and the production of new artwork rises and falls as specific studies are undertaken and terminated.

If you are an artist who has created art that portrays solar power satellites, their construction, or associated infrastructure, I would encourage you to contact John Mankins to learn the specifics of the call. John can be reached at:

john dot c dot mankins at artemisinnovation dot com

For more information about solar power satellites and their history, see the National Space Society web site section on space solar power.

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