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A Space Art Gallery for NSS

Friday, July 17th, 2009

Liftoff Digital Painting
Liftoff a digital painting by Jim Plaxco

Some time ago I had proposed to the National Space Society that a space art gallery be created on its web site. I proposed this idea following the success of the NSS Space Settlement Art Contest.

Many of you are probably aware of the Space Settlement Art Contest that I organized and ran for the National Space Society (NSS – a few years ago. The winning art from that contest was used to illustrate the NSS Space Settlement Calendar. As a follow up to that I proposed that NSS create a space art gallery to highlight the work of emerging space artists everywhere. The primary restriction is that all art must depict representations of either historical human space exploration or future human settlement of the solar system. That means no aliens, no monsters, no flying saucers, no bug-eyed monsters, and no planetary settings outside our solar system.

As the NSS Space Art Gallery curator it will be my job to review all submitted art to make sure it meets our guidelines for content and quality.

Why Should An Artist Participate?

There are several reasons why a space artist would want to participate in the National Space Society Space Art Gallery program.

  1. Visibility. The National Space Society is in my opinion the best source of information about the human settlement of space on the Internet. People visit the NSS site to learn more about the human adventure in space. Joining the NSS Space Art Gallery can make the artist and their art a part of that adventure.
  2. Search Engine Rank. NSS enjoys a rather high traffic rank so a link from the NSS site to the artist’s personal site will improve the artist’s standing in the Google rankings.
  3. It’s Free. There is no cost to the artist for joining and the artist maintains all rights to their art. Each participating artist will have a main gallery index page and a page for each of their artworks. Artist are free to provide wallpaper sized versions of their art if they want to make a larger version of their art available. The main page will include a brief bio of the artist, a link to the artist’s web site, and a brief description of each work of art on exhibit.
  4. Restricted Participation. Space in the art gallery will only be provided to those artists whose work is judged to be suitable based on quality and theme.

In summary I hope that both NSS and the participating artists will benefit from the Space Art Gallery concept. I also hope that the gallery will inspire other artists to venture into the space art arena.Two artists who have already been accepted into the program are Thomas Peters and David Robinson. Following are examples of their space art.

This New Ocean by Thomas Peters
This New Ocean by Thomas Peters –

Falcon over Europa by David Robinson
Falcon over Europa by David Robinson –

My goal is to have the NSS Space Art Gallery live by the end of July. If you are interested in participating in the NSS Space Art Gallery, please contact me. The easiest way to do that would be to leave a comment here that includes your name, email address, and web site url. Please note that I won’t be publishing those comments that are requests for participation. However, comments that are feedback or questions regarding the program will be published.

The Illustration: Liftoff

Liftoff is a digital painting I recently completed. This particular painting is the result of an experiment in painting using a paint program I wrote. I have not yet added this painting to my Space Art Gallery but expect to do so in the near future.

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June in Review: New Art and a Vacation

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

Self Portrait at Bryce Canyon National Park
Self Portrait at Bryce Canyon National Park

I can’t believe the month of June went by without a single post to my blog but it was a very busy month. Following is a review of my activities for the month. I’ll write later about the drive crash that delayed this update.

It began with my return from the International Space Development Conference in Orlando FL. I arrived at the conference hotel on Wednesday and departed on Sunday with my only excursions out of the hotel being to grab some fast food as a low cost alternative to the hotel restaurants. At the conference I gave a formal presentation on space solar power and an informal presentation about the National Space Society to a group of students from India. I also was a participant in the conference’s space art show. That show was a terrible disappointment to me. There were only a few artists participating and we were hidden in a back corner of the exhibit room with no signage indicating that there even was an art show or that space art was on display. There were also other problems which I won’t go into detail on here. I did take a number of photographs and submitted a selection of them to Ad Astra magazine for possible publication – several of which will appear in the magazine’s next issue.

The next week was spent playing catch-up and preparing for a two week trip to Arizona and Utah. While in Arizona we visited my Mother and did a number of jobs for her around the house. We then took off for a quick tour of three national parks. Our first stop was the Grand Canyon. From their we proceeded to Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah and after a couple days there headed south to Zion National Park. So which was our favorite national park? A poll of the family afterwards gave the award to Zion National Park with Bryce coming in second and the Grand Canyon bringing up the rear. I will write in more detail about my experiences at each of these parks at a later time.

Upon returning home, it took me some time to catch up with email. I also went back to work on my web site. In addition to making a number of minor cosmetic changes to the site and correcting some previously undiscovered errors, I spent some time doing SEO (search engine optimization) work. Earlier in the month I had purchased the book The Truth About Search Engine Optimization by Rebecca Lieb. I’m only half way through the book but am quite impressed with what I’ve seen so far and am using its advice to improve my own site’s standing in the search engines.

In addition to the aforementioned site maintenance, I’ve also added two new art galleries. The first is a Computer Art Gallery featuring art that combines elements of algorithmic art with freehand digital painting. All the art in this gallery will have been created using interactive algorithmic software of my own design.

The second gallery is a Space Art Gallery featuring art that commemorates human space exploration. I previously had a Space Art Gallery that contained astronomical art. All of that art, depicting astronomical scenes including planets, moons, nebula, and stars, has been migrated to a new Astronomical Art Gallery.

I also prepared an application and submission package for participation in a corporate art gallery program. My inclusion in that program is a long shot as none of the artists in that program are digital artists nor does my artistic style match that of the other artists. However, nothing ventured nothing gained.

The Illustration

The picture I used to illustrate this post is a self portrait taken at Bryce Canyon National Park. This photograph was taken about an hour after sunset. With my camera on a tripod, I set my camera to its slowest ISO speed and the lens aperture to its widest opening. Opening the shutter for a 13 second exposure, I had ample time to amble around to a position in front of the camera after several seconds of exposure had already elapsed. I remained in the field of view for several seconds before exiting the scene. The result was the ghostly effect seen in the photograph.

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Congressman Kirk and Space Solar Power

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

space based solar power satellite
Space Based Solar Power Satellite Illustration from NSSO Report

Yesterday I attended a Candidate and Issue Forum sponsored by the Schaumburg Township Republican Organization. The featured speaker was U.S. Representative Mark Kirk. Congressman Kirk is a member of the House Committee on Appropriations as well as the House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus and the Congressional Climate Change Caucus. Congressman Kirk represents the 10th District and is a popular representative here in Illinois.

Because of the congressman’s membership on the House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus, I was interested in learning about his position on space solar power. The question that I asked of Congressman Kirk was if during his time on the Renewable Energy Caucus the general subject of space solar power had been discussed and if the caucus had specifically considered the findings and recommendations of the National Space Security Office Space-Based Solar Power As an Opportunity for Strategic Security Feasibility Study. The congressman quickly described the SSP concept at a very high level as large structures in space beaming energy to Earth and referred to it as an exotic energy source which he readily dismissed by quoting one number: launch costs of $10,000 per pound. Congressman Kirk then went on to discuss a variety of other alternative and renewable energy options.

While I was disappointed by his dismissive attitude, he did correctly identify the Achilles’ Heel of Space Solar Power: the cost of access to space. It should be noted that the cost of access to orbit is not the best single number to use in quantifying the cost of space solar power. Rather the discussion should concentrate on the mass required to produce a kilowatt of electricity (kg/kw) and the total system cost to produce a kilowatt of electricity (cost/kw)

Some thirty years ago, Gerard K. O’Neill recognized that launch costs were the central problem associated with the construction of a system of solar power satellites. In his paper Space Colonies and Energy Supply to the Earth (Science, 5 Dec 1975), O’Neill also identified the increasing demand for power as well as the environmental impacts of its production. His visionary solution was to propose the creation of a Space Manufacturing Facility at either the L4 or L5 Libration points which would be supplied by raw materials mined from the Moon. This would drastically reduce over the long term the amount of mass that had to be delivered to space from Earth. More importantly, it would be the first step in the creation of a spacefaring civilization. While this may sound like science fiction, recall that powered flight, space travel, submarines, and nuclear power were all once science fiction. Following are two quotes regarding nuclear power from a couple of visionary scientists.

There is not the slightest indication that (nuclear) energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will. – Albert Einstein, 1932

Anyone who looks for a source of power in the transformation of the atom is talking moonshine. – Ernest Rutherford, 1936

In other space solar power related news, I will be participating in the Space Solar Power track of programs at the upcoming International Space Development Conference in Florida. I will be a member of the USA and International Strategic, Policy and Technology Issues panel. My co-panelist Kent Tobiska of Space Environment Technologies will give a short presentation on Terrestrial and Space-based Solar Power Systems for Desalination in S. California and Ben Shelef of Spaceward Foundation will give a short presentation on Tie-in between SBSP and the Space Elevator architecture. The title of my segment is The Strategic and Policy Issues of SSP. This will not be a formal presentation. Instead I will share my views with the audience and my co-panelists and solicit their input with respect to my observations. Not being an engineer, I am not in a position to speculate on the engineering aspects of space solar power. However, as a reasonably well informed citizen, I can attempt to understand the social and political objections to space solar power in light of growing world demand for energy – especially green energy. Understanding the societal and political obstacles to space solar power will make it possible to formulate an effective response to those objections, something that lies within the realm of the capabilities of activist organizations.

I have also taken on the job of serving as administrator for the SSAFE (Space Solar Alliance for Future Energy) web site and blog. That is one way in which I can contribute to the dissemination of knowledge about space solar power.

Ad Astra, Jim

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A Bad End to a Great Vacation

Monday, June 30th, 2008
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Wow. My last blog post was May 29 about A Day in Washington DC. I’ve certainly been off my blog game of late but I do have a really good series of excuses. First of course was my week at the International Space Development Conference in Washington. I actually thought that I would have time to blog from the conference but that was not the case. Other than the one post mentioned above I was on the go the entire time.

I then had a week back home to play catch up before leaving on a two week vacation. I just had time to create one new piece of digital art, which I’ll write about once I have added it to my web site, and produce three web graphics for the National Space Society Awards Committee based on photographs I had taken at the ISDC.

Then it was off on vacation. We left home in the morning, reached Sioux Falls, South Dakota that afternoon with time to do some sightseeing. Next morning we headed off to our first stop: Badlands National Park. Fortunately we had a reservation for one of the few cabins in the park (the only accommodations in the park). We spent a couple days hiking around there. A very alien looking environment. Bottom line is that the entire Badlands is a variation on a single theme: that being the prolonged effects of erosion on a weak sedimentary structure. For the kids, the highlight seemed to be the prairie dog town.

Following the Badlands our next stop was the town of Keystone which served as our base of operations for our visits to the Black Hills area. While there we visited Mt. Rushmore, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, and Jewel Cave National Monument. I would say that the highlight here was Jewel Cave National Monument. Jewel Cave is much more visually interesting than Wind Cave because water had a role to play in the formation of some of its features. Both caves, but primarily Wind Cave, feature an interesting rock texture pattern called boxwork.

It was then on to Wyoming for the second half of our trip – a visit to Yellowstone National Park. For the visit we stayed in West Yellowstone. I won’t go into detail about our visit but I will say that it is the stinkiest park we ever visited. It didn’t bother me but the sulfur fumes from the various hot springs and geysers did make my youngest son unwell. Two wildlife highlights stand out. One was having practically a front row seat to watching a coyote stalk and make a kill. The second was while stopped to allow a buffalo to cross the road, the animal made a sharp left at the front of the car and paused even with my open driver’s side window a mere couple feet away. I could have easily reached out and given him a pat on the head. Scenically the highlight was the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and its falls. Unfortunately the bulk of the North Rim was closed for reconstruction of both the roadways and hiking paths. The Artists Paintpots was also closed because the week before a woman had fallen through the path and been scalded by the hot waters. So heed those warnings to stay off what appears to be solid ground because you can not know just how thick or thin it is.

All told I collected about 10 gigabytes worth of photographs shooting in raw mode. We arrived home the night of Saturday the 21st. Sunday morning I got up and with a slight feeling of dread fired up the laptop to begin to wade through the email that had been accumulating in my absence. I was rather irritated when I could not access my primary email account, which is hosted by Corecom. Now I never signed on with Corecom but had established my account with Megsinet who were subsequently purchased by Corecom. A call to tech support and I was told that they were migrating servers and that email would not be available until after 8:00am Monday (06/23). Well Monday it still wasn’t available. Another call to tech support was a waste of time. Seems that though they did get the server up, it failed to authenticate requests from desktop clients to access their mailbox. Tuesday the problem continued and worsened: calling intermittently the entire day to two different 800 numbers got me nothing but busy signals. I finally resorted to calling the line to order new service. After waiting what seemed like an hour a person came on. I was told that there were intermittent problems impacting some users. I asked if the problem was as minor as she seemed to indicate then why were both their regular customer technical support and business hosting technical support lines busy the entire day. No good answer other than they couldn’t handle the call volume.

In the end the problem was not resolved until Wednesday the 25th. And this was only after I had gotten through to their tech support, whose two 800 numbers were still continuously busy, via back channels. And here I learned the truth of the matter. First, their email system had been down since the previous Wednesday! Second, my email account was only “fixed” to work with their new server once I was able to get through holdhell and talk to a technician (no call – no fix). The worst part is that once I was able to retrieve my email I discovered that ALL EMAIL from the 20th through the latter part of the day of the 24th and some from the 25th as well has been LOST! Corecom’s handling of this entire fiasco makes the fictional company that Dilbert and Wally work for look like a model of efficiency and competence.

On the up side, Corecom is crediting my account for one month’s service. I confirmed it today – but only after multiple attempts to get through to their still busy support number. Obviously not everyone has had their problems resolved yet.
So until next time, Ad Astra. Jim

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View the Heavens With Google Searches

Monday, June 25th, 2007

For some time now I have been using a particular technique to search the web for pictures of astronomical and planetary objects. That technique relies on the ability to limit searches to specific domains. I also make use of the ability to specify the size of the images I am searching for because I don’t want to see every thumbnail, banner ad, and site logo out there – I am only interested in full size images.

As an example, let’s say that I want to search for any picture that Google associates with the search term “Mars”. Here’s what to do.

  1. Go to the Google Advanced Image Search page.
  2. In the Find results section, for the option related to all of the words box, enter the word “Mars” without the quotes
  3. For Size, click the drop-down arrow for the box and select “large”
  4. For Domain, let’s limit the search to the Mars Art Gallery so enter the domain name “” without the quotes.
  5. Click the Google Search button to execute the search and see the results.

That’s all there is to it. Some of my favorite search terms are nebula, galaxy, planet, exoplanet, messier, and supernova.

Taking a look at the Google Search Box you will see that the search term is:

It should be apparent that to switch to a different site, all you need to do is replace the domain name component so if you want to you can skip using the Advanced Image Search by entering the search term directly. Some of my favorite domains to site search on are (including the site keyword):

And don’t forget to make sure that you have the large image option selected.

For a final suggestion, if you want to see all the images available on a site, you can do each of the following searches in sequence:
Note that you can search on only one image file extension at a time, otherwise it does not work.

Happy Searching.

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Recovering From ISDC

Monday, June 4th, 2007
National Space Society Award for Excellence
National Space Society Award for Excellence Presented to Jim Plaxco

Well I’ve been home almost a week from the ISDC (International Space Development Conference) and I still haven’t fully caught up. I have quite a store of materials, recordings, and photographs to go through in order to produce some written reviews of some of the presentations I attended.

I arrived in Dallas at noon on Thursday the 24th just ahead of thunderstorms that were to cause massive flight delays and cancellations. I wound up sharing a shuttle bus to the hotel with an author working on a book about space tourism. Arriving at the hotel, I dumped my bags and headed straight off to the afternoon session of the Space Venture Finance Symposium. After sitting through three of the presentations, I ducked out in order to attend the meeting of the NSS Fundraising Committee. While not a member of the committee, I felt obliged to attend in order to report on the financial aspects of the NSS Space Settlement Art Contest and Calendar.

A dinner break and it was back to committee meetings. While I sorely wanted to attend the Space Settlement Advocacy meeting, I felt obliged to attend the meeting of the Web Oversight and Internet Development Committees. These were the two committees I created as chair of a special committee established to identify an alternate solution to the society’s Internet needs. Fortunately our committee was able to implement an all-volunteer system of web site support while procuring complimentary hosting from CyberTeams, producing substantial cost saving for the society. The meeting finally broke up shortly after midnight and that’s when I called it a night.

Friday was the first full day of the conference and I attended too many sessions to cover here. I also got a nice guided tour of the ISDC Space Art Show and Sale which had some very cool space art. Unfortunately I just can’t recall the name of the attractive young lady who so kindly walked me through the show. The Friday night dinner featured science fiction author and scientist Dr. Ben Bova whose presentation I will cover at a later time. Following dinner, which lasted a few hours and included a number of award presentations, I headed back to my room in order to download the photographs I had taken that day and to go over the three presentations I was slated to give on Saturday.

Saturday was more sessions and a busy afternoon as I had my own three presentations to give. Probably the most interesting session of the day was given by General Simon “Pete” Worden, Director of NASA Ames Research Center, who delivered his talk via the virtual community Second Life in which NASA has a presence. Afterwards General Worden appeared from behind the curtain to take questions from both the live audience as well as the audience in Second Life.

Saturday’s Gala Dinner featured Dr. Steve Squyres, Principal Scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Mission who spoke at length about that mission. The most memorable moment for me was when, during the awards segment that followed Dr. Squyres presentation, I was presented with the National Space Society’s 2007 Award for Excellence (see graphic above) in recognition of my work as the chair of the NSS Space Settlement Art Contest and Calendar Committee.

With my presentations behind me, I took the opportunity to spend Saturday night partying. I stuck it out until after 3:00am before heading back to my room in order to dump the photos I had taken that day to my laptop. Probably the longest conversation I had that evening was with Darel Preble, chair of the Georgia Tech Space Solar Power Institute SSP Workshop. We had an extensive discussion on, you guessed it, space solar power. You can learn more about Darel and hear him interviewed about space solar power on The Space Show.

Sunday came much too quickly. It was another morning of space with Robert Zubrin of the Mars Society opening the day with his Mars Direct presentation. The luncheon speaker that day was Apollo 9 astronaut and B612 Foundation Chairman Rusty Schweickart who spoke about the NEO impact hazard. Earlier Rusty had graciously autographed a 16×20 photo composite I had created from NASA photographs of his Apollo 9 mission. The speaker at that evening’s NSS Awards Dinner was former U.S. Senator and Apollo 17 Mission Scientist Harrison “Jack” Schmitt whose presentation dealt with mining lunar helium-3 as a fuel source for fusion reactors. His book on the subject, Return to the Moon was one of my primary sources for a class I taught on the subject at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

Monday morning I opted to attend the three hour Moon Rock and Meteorite Samples Certification Course. I had previously taken this course in 1989 and felt that it was about time that I go through the course again. A good portion of the class was spent doing hands-on activities meant to be done by students in the classroom. I think most people liked making craters the best.

And that is how ISDC went for me. Following the Moon Rock class, it was time to check out and head to the airport. As it was on my arrival, the weather was nasty but I was able to catch an earlier flight by flying standby and was able to depart Dallas before the worst of the storms hit.

It felt good to be back home but am not sure when I will be able to go back through the pages of notes I took, the hours of presentations I recorded, and the hundreds of photographs I took. ISDC may be over but the real challenge of ISDC still awaits me.

Ad Astra, Jim

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