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Archive for the ‘Space Exploration’ Category

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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A Weekend of Art and Space at Capricon

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Capricon Science Fiction Convention
The Constellation Capricornus aka Capricorn, not Capricon

This weekend I’ll be attending the Capricon Science Fiction Convention which is being held at the Westin Chicago Northshore in Wheeling IL. I’ve attended quite a few Capricons over the years and have always had a good time. This year I’ll be pretty busy – giving one presentation and participating in five panels on art and space.

As a part of the convention, I’ll be giving my presentation Digital Art: Delights and Dilemmas in which I discuss the issues and challenges that digital artists face. I talk about hardware, platforms, software, storage, and accessories issues – not to mention that classic issue of "is it art?"

On the subject of art, I will be moderating the panel Great Artists of Science Fiction. The panel is described as follows:

Art has always been an integral part of science fiction. The decades have given us several masters – and today more artists than ever are producing amazing work. Who are the greatest artists of science fiction thus far? Who do we think will be on that list twenty years from now?

My co-panelists are Dexter Fabi, Alessandra Kelley, and Deb Kosiba. We are taking some liberties with the panel in that we will start out by discussing our favorite science fiction artists. So far our list of artists includes John Berkey, Chesley Bonestell, John Harris, Syd Mead, Frank R. Paul, Arthur Rackham, Albert Robida, Gene Szafran, and Michael Whelan.

Sticking with art, I will be participating in the Cover Snark panel whose description reads:

There have been some radiant, resplendent, and refined works of art gracing the covers of SF/F books. Then there are the ones we’re going to snark about today. Which covers make you ask “Whyyyyy?” Which covers might have been cool at the time but are now rubbishy?

For my part I’ve prepared a sequence of images that tracks the cover art used for Robert Heinlein’s Methuselah’s Children beginning with Leo Dillion’s illustration from 1958 and continuing through to a 2013 edition that simply used a NASA Hubble Space Telescope photograph for the cover art. Fortunately in researching the topic I came across an absolutely horrible example of cover art that really left me scratching my head. My fellow art critics on this bad art extravaganza are moderator Alessandra Kelley, Mallory Harrelson, Helen Montgomery, and Blake Packard.

Besides art, another favorite topic of mine is space exploration and development. On this subject I’ll be moderating the panel Re-starting the Manned Space Program. Joining me will be Chris Gerrib and Bill Higgins. Our mission: to explore what the next steps for human space exploration should be. We’ll be paying particular attention to the subject of new space and the potential for private/commercial space development to open the final frontier to the rest of us.

Looking a few years or decades down the road, another panel I will be moderating is A Lunar Life in which we explore what it would be like to be born, live, work, and retire on the Moon. My focus will be on commerce and the lunar economy because the Moon will never become a second home for humanity until such undertakings can pay their own way. Joining me will be Dale Cozort, Anne Elliot, Mark Huston, Jim Lund, Henry Spencer, and Dr. Michael Unger. With seven panelists, not only is this the largest panel I’ve ever been on, it’s the largest I’ve ever moderated! Will chaos and pandemonium reign?

Lastly, I’ll be a panelist on Rise Up! in which we’ll be talking about all things that fly (not counting birds). Moderated by Bill Higgins, my co-panelists are Emmy Jackson and Henry Spencer. If you want to hear about hot-air balloons, zeppelins, airplanes, jets, rockets, and space ships, then this is the panel for you.

The Illustration

The illustration above is a stylized rendition of a star map for the constellation Capricornus (not Capricon). Capricornus is Latin for "horned goat" and is generally represented as a sea-goat: a mythical creature with the fore body of a goat and the aft body of a fish. In a nod to this bizarre creature, the name of the Capricon convention’s newsletter is Goat Droppings.

See you at the con.

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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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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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