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Archive for the ‘Space Exploration’ Category

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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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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A Week of Space Tech

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Bill Nye Science Guy at Space Tech Expo
Bill Nye Science Guy under guard at the Space Tech Expo

On May 20 I left Chicago for Long Beach CA to attend the 2nd annual Space Tech Expo. My mission: to cover the conference for Ad Astra magazine. Additionally I wanted to gather information from speakers and exhibitors that I could use to enhance my "The NewSpace Frontier" presentation. I developed this talk in April and have so far given it at three venues to a combined audience of approximately 200 people.

The Space Tech Expo did not disappoint. One of the curious things about this conference was its two-tiered approach to registration. Only the main programming track required a paid registration. The other two programming tracks and the exhibits were all accessible with a free registration.

While some of the exhibitors were companies/organizations that space enthusiasts would recognize, like ATK, Boeing, XCOR, ZERO-G, Planetary Society, and Google Lunar XPrize; most of the 140-plus exhibitors were companies whose names are not well known but whose products are crucial to the success of the companies whose names we do know.

XCOR Lynx Mockup at Space Tech Expo
XCOR Lynx Mockup at Space Tech Expo

The centerpiece of the exhibit hall was a full-scale mockup of XCOR’s Lynx spacecraft. ZERO-G held a drawing for a free seat on one of their parabolic flights. Woe was me when I didn’t win.

I spent my time camped out in the Space Tech Conference, a separate "room" on the exhibit floor that hosted the main programming track – access to which required the paid registration. Unfortunately I could not be in two places at once as the Satellite and Space Summit track had much excellent programming as well. The third programming track – Open Tech Forum – was specialized to serve industry professionals by providing exhibitors the opportunity to present technical talks on their products and relevant innovations.

Space Tech Conference programming included presentations and panel discussions on the following areas:

  • Space tourism
  • Space commerce
  • Venture funding of space startups
  • Technology transfer opportunities
  • Military perspectives on space
  • NASA Commercial Crew and Cargo Program
  • NASA Space Launch System (SLS)

In addition to the aforementioned topics, there were dedicated presentations by

  • Bas Lansdorp, founder of Mars One
  • Alan Stern, President and CEO of Golden Spike
  • Bob Richards, CEO of Moon Express
  • Alexandra Hall, Senior Director, Google Lunar XPrize

Bas Lansdorp  Mars One
Bas Lansdorp, Mars One co-founder

I was elated to see friend, fellow Chicago Society for Space Studies member, and former fellow NSS Director Richard Godwin at the expo. Richard is President and CEO of Zero Gravity Solutions and was one of the conference’s featured speakers. Of the presentations I witnessed, Richard’s presentation on his company’s work with biotechnology and the use of the microgravity environment of space to manipulate plant and animal stem cells, without using genetic modification techniques, was the most fascinating of all, and potentially the most impactful on human society.

On the last day of the conference I headed over to the Satellite and Space Summit to catch Bill Nye’s ("The Science Guy" and Planetary Society CEO) presentation Asteroids Will Kill You! Know Your Place In Space. The most memorable single item from Nye’s presentation was the observation that an asteroid impact is the only preventable natural disaster.

The conference closed with a broadcast from the Open Tech Forum of Planetary Radio Live featuring:

  • Matt Kaplan, Planetary Radio Host
  • Michelle Peters, Zero-G Director of Research and Education
  • Andrew Nelson, XCOR Chief Operating Officer
  • Bill Nye, Planetary Society CEO

The two most interesting tidbits of information came from Mr. Nelson in answer to a question from the audience. First was that the first commercial flights of the Lynx could be as early as the end of 2014 and second that XCOR has no plans at this time for a manned orbital vehicle.

XCOR Lynx Mockup Cockpit at Space Tech Expo
At the controls of the XCOR Lynx Mockup at Space Tech Expo

The Space Tech Expo will be returning to the Long Beach Convention Center next year but will be held at the start of April. I don’t know if I’ll make it or not, but I am certainly happy that I attended this year’s expo.

Ad Astra, Jim

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NewSpace Frontier and Astronomy Day

Monday, April 15th, 2013

NewSpace Frontier
The NewSpace Frontier

This Saturday is Astronomy Day and once again I will be giving a presentation as a part of the Harper College Astronomy Day activities. The principal sponsor of the event is the Northwest Suburban Astronomers and is cosponsored by the Harper College Department of Physical Sciences. I’m a regular speaker at this event and in recent years have given presentations on The Art of Astronomy, Art and the Exploration of Space, Imaging Mars, and The Universe According to Monty Python.

This year my presentation will be The NewSpace Frontier in which I look at the history of private and commercial space and rocketry activities, the key players today, and the challenges facing this emerging 21st century industry. Of particular concern to me is the possible emergence of an overbearing regulatory environment (ITAR for example). Quoting Patti Grace Smith, former Associate Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation: "Don’t over regulate this industry. If we regulate the industry the way certification would require – all the vehicles to be certified, with all the tests and costs – the industry will never get off the ground.". Also of concern is NASA’s willingness to support rather than stifle this new paradigm of space exploration.

Some of the space businesses I’ll be talking about include Armadillo, Bigelow, Deep Space Industries, Golden Spike, Mojave Air and Space Port, Moon Express, NASTAR, Orbital Sciences, Planetary Resources, Reaction Engines, Scaled Composites, Sierra Nevada, Space Adventures, Spaceport America, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and XCor.

There will of course be space art in my presentation as space art plays a crucial role in helping people visualize the rockets, spacecraft, space stations, and Moon and Mars bases that the various players envision as a part of our future in space.

As to what hat I’ll be wearing when giving this presentation: while I am a NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador, because I’ll be talking about commercial space and some of the associated politics I can not rightly wear that hat. While billed as a former director of National Space Society for the same presentation which I’m giving a week later at the Winnetka Library, I am not speaking as a representative of National Space Society nor do my views necessarily mirror those of NSS. As President and principal spokesperson for the Chicago Society for Space Studies, I can’t claim to represent the views of that organization. So I’ll be speaking simply as a private citizen who is very interested in seeing our new commercial space enterprises prosper and grow.

In case you can’t attend Astronomy Day, I’ll next be giving my The NewSpace Frontier presentation at the Winnetka Library on Sunday April 28. Details of both events follow.

As to why I care about such things, I offer you the following excerpt from the close of the short story The Sentinel written by Arthur C. Clarke in 1948 and upon which the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey was based:

Perhaps you understand now why that crystal pyramid was set upon the Moon instead of on the Earth. Its builders were not concerned with races still struggling up from savagery. They would be interested in our civilization only if we proved our fitness to survive – by crossing space and so escaping from the Earth, our cradle. That is the challenge that all intelligent races must meet, sooner or later.

Astronomy Day, Harper College

Saturday, April 20th – 5:30pm to 9:00pm
Harper College, Building Z
1200 W. Algonquin Road
Palatine, IL 60067
NSA Astronomy Day Information

NewSpace Frontier Presentation

The Winnetka-Northfield Library, with the support of the NSS Illinois North Shore, the Chicago Space Frontier L5 Society, and the Chicago Society for Space Studies will host The NewSpace Frontier presentation that explores the exciting world of newspace. The presentation will be given by CSSS President Jim Plaxco.
IMPORTANT:The library is requiring that attendees register for this program as it begins before the library opens that day so please take the time to
Register with the library to attend
Note I have been told that Chicago Society for Space Studies members who show up without having registered will be able to attend.

Sunday, April 28, 2013 from 11:30am to 12:45pm
Winnetka-Northfield Public Library
768 Oak Street
Winnetka, IL 60093
(847) 446-7220
Winnetka-Northfield Library

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Judging Art for the Humans in Space Youth Art Competition

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Humans in Space Youth Art Competition
Humans in Space Youth Art Competition

Last evening I finished judging 97 works of space art that has been submitted to the second international Humans in Space Youth Art Competition. It was my good fortune to have served as a judge in the first contest as well. I can’t tell you how happy I am to not only see the contest back for a second year but to also see an explosion in the number of entries submitted.

Contest partners include NASA, DLR German Aerospace Center, USRA (Universities Space Research Association), Lunar and Planetary Institute, Mission X, and the International Academy of Astronautics. The theme the artwork was expected to address is How will humans use science and technology to explore space, and what mysteries will we uncover? With respect to the contest’s goals:

The international Humans in Space Youth Art Competition encourages youth to “Be Inspired, Creative and Heard.” We ask them to think about the future of human space flight and to creatively communicate their ideas, and we promise to make these ideas viewable worldwide. By including the next generation in the planning of the future, the competition aims to enhance their awareness, interest in and support for human space flight, and to allow their ideas to begin shaping the future now.

The contest accepted submissions from March 9, 2012 thru November 18, 2012 from young people of 10 to 18 years of age, split into two groups: 10–13 years and 14–18 years. Submissions were accepted in the categories of visual, literary, musical and video artwork. Along with the artwork, each artist was expected to include an Artist’s Statement of Originality. The purpose of this statement was to provide information that would help judges to understand, appreciate, and evaluate the art. The winning artwork will be woven into displays and performances designed to relay the artists messages to a world wide audience. Most exciting for contest winners is the opportunity that their winning artwork might be displayed in orbit aboard the International Space Station!

Judging the Art

Youth Space Art Contest Entries Judged
The 97 Youth Space Art Contest Entries Judged

I had elected to be a judge in the Visual Art: 2D Visual Art category for the 14-18 year old age group. A special web site had been created for judges to view and rate the art submissions. Each judge is assigned a subset of the submitted art due to the large number of submissions received. When I log in to the system I see the art that has been assigned to me to judge. The only downside to this system is that I am limited to viewing only one work of art at a time (unless I open multiple browser windows).

Visual art judges were directed to judge the art based on the following criteria:

  • Aesthetics (Shapes, colors, textures, flow, proportions, composition, etc.)
  • Skill (Are knowledge of the media or principles of art demonstrated?)
  • Inherent meaning (What is the story or statement?)
  • Creativity (Is the artwork creative and original?)
  • Fulfilled intent (Does it meet the objective to express something about How will humans use science and technology to explore space, and what mysteries will we uncover?)

Additionally judges were asked to consider the scientific accuracy of the art. For example, if your character is walking around on the Moon then they had better be wearing a space suit.

In assigning ratings, judges were expected to assign equal numbers of 4, 3, 2, and 1 star ratings. To better judge the artwork, I downloaded the hi-res version of all the art to my computer. I then used Adobe CS4 Bridge in order to both view the art side by side, rank the art, and sort the art by rank. My methodology was to start from the ends and work inward. By ends I refer to first identifying the strongest and weakest artworks. Identifying 1-star and 4-star submissions was fairly easy. Much more difficult was distinguishing between the 2 and 3 star submissions. Upon completing my initial judging I found that I had the following distribution of rankings:

-Stars- -Allowed- -Given-
4 25 10
3 24 35
2 24 38
1 24 14

My distribution made it clear that my principal course of action was to promote art from the 3 star category to the 4 star category and demote art from the 2 star category to the 1 star category. Promoting and demoting was, predictably, the most difficult part of the judging process. In the end I did achieve the distribution of stars that judges were expected to award – though it was not easy.

The second round of judging will begin later this month with the entire process scheduled for completion in January 2013 and the winners to be announced shortly thereafter.


In my own view, the important achievement of Apollo was a demonstration that humanity is not forever chained to this planet, and our visions go rather further than that, and our opportunities are unlimited.
Neil Armstrong – Apollo 11 astronaut and first person to set foot on the Moon

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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.

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