To some, art and science are opposed to one another. Art is aesthetics, expression, and intuition, while science is all cold, hard, rational thought. But that’s a simplistic understanding. They’re both quintessential human endeavours, and they’re both part of the human spirit.
Some at NASA have always understood this, and there’s actually an interesting, collaborative history between NASA and the art world, that reaches back several decades. Not the kind of art that you see hanging in elite galleries in the world’s large cities, but the kind of art that documents achievements in space exploration, and that helps us envision what our future could be.
Back in 1962, when NASA was 4 years old, NASA administrator James Webb put the wheels in motion for a collaboration between NASA and American artists. Artist Bruce Stevenson had been commissioned to produce a portrait of Alan Shepard. Shepard, of course, was the first American in space. He piloted the first Project Mercury flight, MR-3, in 1961. When Webb saw it, he got a bright idea.
When Stevenson brought is portrait of Shepard to NASA headquarters, James Webb thought that Stevenson wanted to paint portraits of all seven Mercury astronauts. But Webb thought a group portrait would be even better. The group portrait was never produced, but it got Webb thinking. In a memo, he said “…we should consider in a deliberate way just what NASA should do in the field of fine arts to commemorate the …historic events” of the American space program.
That set in motion a framework that exists to this day. Beyond just portraits, Webb wanted artists to produce paintings that would convey the excitement around the entire endeavour of space flight, and what the deeper meaning behind it might be. He wanted artists to capture all of the excitement around the preparation and countdown for launches, and activities in space.
That’s when the NASA collaboration with artists began. A young artist named James Dean was assigned to the program, and he took a page out of the Air Force’s book, which established its own art program in 1954.
There’s a whole cast of characters involved, each one contributing to the success of the program. One such person was John Walker, Director of the National Gallery. He was enthusiastic, saying in a talk in 1965 that “the present space exploration effort by the United States will probably rank among the more important events in the history of mankind.” History has certainly proven those words to be true.
Walker went on to say that it was the artists’ job “…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race.”
And that’s what they did. Artists like Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol, Peter Hurd, Annie Liebowitz, Robert Rauschenberg, and others, all took part in the program.
In the 1970’s, thinkers like Gerard K. O’Neill began to formulate ideas of what human colonies in space might look like. NASA held a series of conferences where these ideas were shared and explored. Artists Rick Guidice and Don Davis created many paintings and illustrations of what colony designs like Bernal Spheres, Double Cylinders, and Toroidal Colonies might look like.
NASA continues to work with artists, though the nature of the relationship has changed over the decades. Artists are often used to flesh out new discoveries when images are not available. Cassini’s so-called Grand Finale, when it will orbit between Saturn and its rings 22 times before crashing into the planet, was conceptualized by an unnamed artist.
The recent discovery of the exoplanets in the TRAPPIST-1 system was huge news. It still is. But TRAPPIST-1 is over 40 light years away, and NASA relied on artists to bring the discovery to life. This illustration was widely used to help us understand what planets orbiting the TRAPPIST-1 Red Dwarf might look like.
NASA now has quite a history of relying on art to convey what words can’t do. Space colonies, distant solar systems, and spacecraft ending their missions on other worlds, have all relied on the work of artists. But if I had to choose a favorite, it would probably be the 1981 water color by artist Henry Casselli. It makes you wonder what it’s like for an individual to take part in these species-defining endeavours. Just one person, sitting, contemplating, and preparing.
In the ultimate example of science imitating art, engineers working with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter recently beamed an image of the Mona Lisa to the LRO and back via laser beam in order to measure the rate of transmission between the spacecraft and Earth. This allowed them to then calibrate their software to correct for any discrepancies between the image sent and the one received, resulting in a picture-perfect result.
Leonardo would definitely have approved.
From NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center:
As part of the first demonstration of laser communication with a satellite at the moon, scientists with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) beamed an image of the Mona Lisa to the spacecraft from Earth.
The iconic image traveled nearly 240,000 miles in digital form from the Next Generation Satellite Laser Ranging (NGSLR) Station at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, to the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) instrument on the spacecraft. By transmitting the image piggyback on laser pulses that are routinely sent to track LOLA’s position, the team achieved simultaneous laser communication and tracking.
“This test, and the data obtained from it, sets the stage for future high data-rate laser communications demonstrations that will be an essential feature of NASA’s next Moon mission: the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer.“
Google’s one of those tech companies that makes a big deal about space exploration.
There’s not only the Google Lunar X-Prize, or its maps of the Moon and Mars, or memorable April Fool’s pranks such as the lunar Google Copernicus Hosting Environment and Experiment in Search Engineering (G.C.H.E.E.S.E.)
The Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant often puts space front and center in its periodic “Google Doodles”, which are variations of its logo shown on the site. Google’s been pencilling those since 1998. Over the years the sketches have become more elaborate – and sometimes animated!
After reviewing the space doodles featured on Google’s Doodle site, here are five of the most memorable of them:
May 1-5, 2000 – Google Aliens series
This appears to be the first set of space-themed Google Doodles. The drawings are simple – for the most part, they show a UFO flying past or landing on the Google logo. Still, running them in a series over several days was smart, as it encouraged Internet users to visit the young search engine several days in a row to see what was happening next. More eyes on the page is always good for advertising.
Jan. 15, 2004 – Spirit lands on Mars
Mars landings are always big media events, and NASA was in the midst of a bonanza of attention in 2004 as both Spirit and Opportunity successfully touched down on the Red Planet. Thousands of Google users would have been searching out the rovers’ latest exploits. Commemorating Spirit’s landing in a doodle, just as that excitement was at a fever pitch, was a great way for Google to highlight the ability for users to seek out information about the rovers on its own site.
Aug. 9, 2010 – Anniversary of Belka and Stelka spaceflight
The best Google Doodles are those that show you what you don’t know before. In this case, few outside the space community are likely aware of who Belka and Stelka were, and where their spaceflight fits in history. (They were among a series of animal flights flown in the 1960s to determine the risks of space travel to humans.) From Google’s perspective, running a doodle one needs to learn more about encourages users to click on it, generating more page views.
June 15, 2011 – Total lunar eclipse, featuring Slooh
This is a brilliant example of cross-promotion. Astronomy geeks are well-aware of Slooh, a site that turns telescopes to celestial events such as the recent Venus transit of the sun. Google brought the site to the masses through promoting Slooh’s June 15, 2011 lunar eclipse feed right on the home page; the colour of the moon in the logo changed as the eclipse progressed. Google also showed the eclipse on its YouTube channel and on Google Earth, and promoted the Slooh Android app (also hosted by Google.) Slooh mentioned Google’s participation on its own website, too.
Nov. 8, 2011 – Edmond Halley’s birthday
Commemorating Edmond Halley’s birthday is not unique in itself, as Google has singled out other astronomers for the honour – see Ruby Payne-Scott and Johann Gottfried Galle, for example. What makes this sketch memorable is you can barely see the “Google” logo in the doodle. This is a company that is so confident in its brand that it is willing to let its readers fill in the blanks by imagination. (Astute readers will notice Scott’s doodle follows the same principle, but Halley’s doodle did run first.)
What other doodles should Universe Today readers check out? Share your thoughts in the comments.
All images are from Google’s Doodle website.
Elizabeth Howell (M.Sc. Space Studies ’12) is a contributing editor for SpaceRef and award-winning space freelance journalist living in Ottawa, Canada. Her work has appeared in publications such as SPACE.com, Air & Space Smithsonian, Physics Today, the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., CTV and the Ottawa Business Journal.
NASA’s first Earth-observing Landsat satellite launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on July 23, 1972, and to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the program they asked the public to vote on their favorite images of the planet from the Landsat Earth as Art gallery. After over 14,000 votes, these were chosen as the top 5 favorites. Happy 40th anniversary, Landsat!
Landsat images from space are not merely pictures. They contain many layers of data collected at different points along the visible and invisible light spectrum. A single Landsat scene taken from 400 miles above Earth can accurately detail the condition of hundreds of thousands of acres of grassland, agricultural crops or forests.
“Landsat has given us a critical perspective on our planet over the long term and will continue to help us understand the big picture of Earth and its changes from space,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “With this view we are better prepared to take action on the ground and be better stewards of our home.”
In cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), a science agency of the Interior Department, NASA launched six of the seven Landsat satellites. The resulting archive of Earth observations forms a comprehensive record of human and natural land changes.
“The first 40 years of the Landsat program have delivered the most consistent and reliable record of Earth’s changing landscape.”
– Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division
“Over four decades, data from the Landsat series of satellites have become a vital reference worldwide for advancing our understanding of the science of the land,” said Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar. “The 40-year Landsat archive forms an indelible and objective register of America’s natural heritage and thus it has become part of this department’s legacy to the American people.”
The next satellite in the series, the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) is scheduled to launch on February 11, 2013.
Video: NASA/GSFC. Inset image: Industrial growth in Binhai New Area, China. Sub-feature: Erg Iguidi, an area of ever-shifting sand dunes extending from Algeria into Mauritania in northwestern Africa, one of the chosen top 5 Earth as Art images. NASA/GSFC/USGS.
For over 50 years, award-winning space and astronomy artist David A. Hardy has taken us to places we could only dream of visiting. His career started before the first planetary probes blasted off from Earth to travel to destinations in our solar system and before space telescopes viewed distant places in our Universe. It is striking to view his early work and to see how accurately he depicted distant vistas and landscapes, and surely, his paintings of orbiting space stations and bases on the Moon and Mars have inspired generations of hopeful space travelers.
Hardy published his first work in 1952 when he was just 15. He has since illustrated and produced covers for dozens of science and science fiction books and magazines. He has written and illustrated his own books and has worked with astronomy and space legends like Patrick Moore, Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan, Wernher von Braun, and Isaac Asimov. His work has been exhibited around the world, including at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. which houses two of his paintings.
Universe Today is proud to announce that Hardy has helped us update the banner at the top of our website (originally designed by Christopher Sisk) to make it more astronomically accurate.
Hardy has also recently debuted his own new website where visitors can peruse and learn more about his work, and buy prints and other items.
We had the chance to talk with Hardy about his enduring space art and career:
Universe Today: When you first started your space art, there weren’t images from Voyager, Cassini, Hubble, etc. to give you ideas for planetary surfaces and colored space views. What was your inspiration?
David Hardy: I got to look through a telescope when I was about 16. You only have to see the long shadows creeping across a lunar crater to know that this is a world. But I also found the book ‘The Conquest of Space‘ in my local library, and Chesley Bonestell’s photographic paintings of the Moon and planets just blew me away! I knew that I wanted to produce pictures that would show people what it’s really like out there — not just as rather blurry discs of light through a telescope.
UT: And now that we have such spacecraft sending back amazing images, how has that changed your art, or how have the space images inspired you?
Hardy: I was lucky to start when I did, because in 1957 we had Sputnik, and then the exploration of space really started. We started getting photos of the Earth from space, and of the Moon from probes and orbiters, then of Mars, and eventually from the outer planets. Each of these made it possible to produce better and more realistic and accurate paintings of these worlds.
UT: We are amazed at your early work — you were so young and doing such amazing space art! How does it feel to have inspired several generations of people? — Surely your art has driven many to say, “I want to go there!”
Hardy: I certainly hope so — that was the idea! In 1954 I met the astronomer Patrick Moore, who asked me to illustrate a new book in 1954, and we have continued to work together until the present day. Back then we wanted to so a sort of British version of The Conquest of Space, which we called ‘The Challenge of the Stars.’ In the 1950s we couldn’t find a publisher — they all said it was ‘too speculative!’ But a book with that title was published in 1972; ironically (and unbelievably), just when humans visited the Moon for the last time. We had hoped that the first Moon-landings would lead to a base, and that we would go on to Mars, but for all sorts of reasons (mainly political) this never happened. In 2004 Patrick and I produced a book called ‘Futures: 50 Years in Space,’ celebrating our 50 years together. It was subtitled: ‘The Challenge of the Stars: What we thought then –What we know now.’
I quite often find that younger space artists tell me they were influenced by The Challenge of the Stars, just as I was influenced by The Conquest of Space, and this is a great honour.
UT: What places on Earth have most inspired your art?
Hardy: I’m a past President (and now European VP) of the International Association of Astronomical Artists (IAAA; www.iaaa.org), and we hold workshops in the most ‘alien’ parts of Planet Earth. Through these I have been to the volcanoes of Hawaii and Iceland, to Death Valley CA, the Grand Canyon and Meteor Crater, AZ, to Nicaragua. . . all of these provide not just inspiration but analogues of other worlds like Mars, Io or Triton, so that we can make our work more believable and authentic — as well as more beautiful, hopefully.
UT: How has technology changed how you do your work?
Hardy: I have always kept up with new technology, making use of xeroxes, photography (I used to do all my own darkroom work and processing), and most recently computers. I got an Atari ST with 512k (yes, K!) of RAM in 1986, and my first Mac in 1991. I use Photoshop daily, but I use hardly any 3D techniques, apart from Terragen to produce basic landscapes and Poser for figures. I do feel that 3D digital techniques can make art more impersonal; it can be difficult or impossible to know who created it! And I still enjoy painting in acrylics, especially large works on which I can use ‘impasto’ –laying on paint thickly with a palette knife and introducing textures that cannot be produced digitally!
UT: Your new website is a joy to peruse — how does technology/the internet help you to share your work?
Hardy: Thank you. It is hard now to remember how we used to work when we were limited to sending work by mail, or faxing sketches and so on. The ability to send first a low-res jpeg for approval, and then a high-res one to appear in a book or on a magazine cover, is one of the main advantages, and indeed great joys, of this new technology.
UT: I imagine an artist as a person working alone. However, you are part of a group of artists and are involved heavily in the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists. How helpful is it to have associations with fellow artists?
Hardy: It is true that until 1988, when I met other IAAA artists (both US, Canadian and, then, Soviet, including cosmonaut Alexei Leonov) in Iceland I had considered myself something of a lone wolf. So it was almost like ‘coming out of the closet’ to meet other artists who were on the same wavelength, and could exchange notes, hints and tips.
UT: Do you have a favorite image that you’ve created?
Hardy: Usually the last! Which in this case is a commission for a metre-wide painting on canvas called ‘Ice Moon’. I put this on Facebook, where it has received around 100 comments and ‘likes’ — all favourable, I’m glad to say. It can be seen there on my page, or on my own website, www.astroart.org (UT note: this is a painting in acrylics on stretched canvas, with the description,”A blue ice moon of a gas giant, with a derelict spaceship which shouldn’t look like a spaceship at first glance.”)
UT: Anything else you feel is important for people to know about your work?
Hardy: I do feel that it’s quite important for people to understand the difference between astronomical or space art, and SF (‘sci-fi’) or fantasy art. The latter can use a lot more imagination, but often contains very little science — and often gets it quite wrong. I also produce a lot of SF work, which can be seen on my site, and have done around 70 covers for ‘The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction’ since 1971, and many for ‘Analog’. I’m Vice President of the Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists (ASFA; www.asfa-art.org ) too. But I always make sure that my science is right! I would also like to see space art more widely accepted in art galleries, and in the Art world in general; we do tend to feel marginalised.
UT: Thank you for providing Universe Today with a more “accurate” banner — we really appreciate your contribution to our site!
Hardy: My pleasure.
See more at Hardy’s website, AstroArt or his Facebook page. Click on any of the images here to go directly to Hardy’s website for more information on each.
If you think about it, spacecraft are kind of ethereal in that once they are launched into space, we don’t ever see them again. Australian artist Peter Hennessey has created life-size wooden sculptures of several different spacecraft, giving people the chance to see and touch these objects that are immediately recognizable but which we will never actually experience. Hennessey says he wanted to “reverse the virtualization of physical things” by creating life-size reproductions of the spacecraft such as the Voyager space probe, Apollo Lunar Rover, the Hubble Space Telescope, and more. From Hennessey’s website: “By ‘re-enacting’ space traveling, scientific and military objects in plywood, galvanized steel and canvas, the artist creates ‘stand-ins’ that allow the viewer to contemplate their physical, symbolic and historical resonances as well as the political processes that they represent.”
I just think they are really cool, and I’d love to see them – Hubble has to be huge! See below.
“My Hubble (the universe turned in on itself) is now on display in Sydney Australia as part of “Biennale of sydney 2010.” This life size ‘re-enactment’ of the Hubble Space Telescope was constructed “with the aim of giving the viewer a physical experience of the object.” It is constructed from lasercut plywood and steel and simultaneously enacts the scale and detail
of the original. This is an interactive sculpture: visitors are encouraged to play with, modify and create their own mini universes on the ground, which are then reflected by the telescope into the heavens.
According to the Design Bloom website, when creating his work Hennessey looked at 7 different images of the Hubble, and rather than using 3D software to model individual parts as one might expect, he used adobe illustrator. Building the telescope took about 3 months – in which 6 weeks were dedicated to laser cutting individual parts and building them into sections and the rest of the time was dedicated to assembling it.
With ‘My Moon Landing’ Hennessey’s wanted to explore the “physicality, presences and symbolic power of the inaccessible objects that derive from the space race.”