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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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From Capricon to Floral Photography

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

The Flyers of Fomalhaut b Digital Art Painting
The Flyers of Fomalhaut b Digital Painting

Part 1: The Capricon Science Fiction Convention

This year Capricon was a short affair for me. While the con ran Thursday thru Sunday, I only attended Friday and Saturday and then only until 6:30pm as I had made plans to attend the opening of a photo exhibition at the Prairie Arts Center in Schaumburg. And because I was not returning on Sunday I did not participate in the art show. On Saturday I did make sure to go through the art show and was happy to see work exhibited by a couple of my friends. What I found disturbing though was the fairly large number of empty display bays in the show. In my experience the Capricon Art Show generally has little, if any, unused space. Unfortunately I had to leave before the start of the art auction so have no idea how well that went.

With respect to programming, my only job Friday was as a panelist on Pluto Is Still a Planet in Illinois with Bill Higgins (Fermilab physicist) moderating and copanelists Brother Guy Consolmagno (Vatican Observatory) and Steven Silver (Capricon Fan Guest of Honor). This was a really good panel given that Brother Guy was a part of the IAU meeting at which the Pluto vote was made and Steven was a friend of Clyde Tombaugh, the man who discovered Pluto. If you were at Capricon and missed this panel – it was definitely your loss.

I arrived back at the con Saturday morning shortly before I was scheduled to give my presentation The Art of the Exploration of Space. I especially liked that I had 75 minutes to speak as this allowed me to go at a leisurely pace and engage in conversation with the audience as I went along. This was immediately followed by my moderating a panel at the opposite end of the convention on Goodbye, Space Shuttle. My copanelists were Henry Spencer, Chris Gerrib, and Kent Nebergall. Kent had the misfortune of being in the audience of my space art presentation whereupon I drafted him for the Space Shuttle panel as I knew that he would have valuable insights to contribute.

I next attended The Coming War on General Purpose Computation presentation by Cory Doctorow, the author guest of honor. It was a fascinating presentation. While I agreed with Doctorow on SOPA and other aspects of attempts to stamp out the theft of intellectual property, I came away dissatisfied that he offered no remedy for the authors, artists, and musicians who are having their work stolen. I was also somewhat surprised by his stance towards Facebook in that he seemed to believe that people should not be given the choice of sharing their information on social networks. I viewed this as being inconsistent with what I would characterize as a free and open internet perspective.

The last panel I attended was the most boring panel I have ever attended at any science fiction convention. Now with a title like Civil Disobedience: Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party Movement you would expect there to be an invigorating debate between the panelists and between the panelists and the audience. However, this panel was run by the brown shirts. No audience participation was allowed. There was a short period at the end where 5 people were identified and allowed to ask one question each with no follow up or commentary by the questioners permitted. In short, this panel was a total waste of time for the audience.

In summary, I’d say that the best things about Capricon were:

  • The accidental meetings
  • The conversations in the halls
  • The food in the green room
  • Prowling the Dealers Room
  • Checking out the art show
  • How well my The Art of the Exploration of Space presentation went and the ensuing conversations
  • Being on the Pluto panel with Brother Guy Consolmagno, Bill, and Steven
  • Friday lunch in the Green Room with Brother Guy, Bill Higgins, and Henry Spencer
  • Drafting Kent Nebergall to serve on the Space Shuttle panel.

Only one more year until Capricon 33!

Part 2: The Photography Exhibition at the Prairie Art Center, Schaumburg IL

Departing Capricon, I swung by home to grab a bite to eat and then headed over to the Prairie Art Center to take in a photography exhibition that was opening that night in the Herb Aigner Gallery. Titled Flowers in Our Soul, the show is devoted to artistic photographs of flowers and consists of 27 separate works. The photographers that I identified as having work on display in the show are Maria Aiello, Mary Angelini, Debbie Beller, Cindy Brumm, Susan Couch, Randee Lawrence, and Karie Strangeway. I had the opportunity to speak with several of them about their work. I was also curious to learn whether they printed their own work or used an outside service. If you would like to see the show, it runs through the end of February. See Prairie Center for the Arts, Schaumburg IL.

The Illustration

To illustrate this post I decided to use a piece of science fiction art that I just added to my web site. Titled The Flyers of Fomalhaut b, it is an imagining of what the life of exoplanet Fomalhaut b is like (note: not only is there no evidence of life on this planet, there is some question as to whether or not the planet even exists). Fomalhaut b appears to be a Jupiter-like planet that is about three times more massive than Jupiter and which orbits the star Fomalhaut once every 872 years. By comparison Pluto takes 248 years to complete an orbit of the Sun.

For more about this digital painting, see The Flyers of Fomalhaut b.

Until next time, Ad Astra, Jim

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