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Blog posts tagged as 'space'

“That wasn’t planned originally…”

45 years ago, Lunar Orbiter 1 took our first picture of home.


…at some point during the Lunar Orbiter 1’s mission, NASA contemplated pointing the spacecraft’s camera at Earth.

“That wasn’t planned originally,” said Williams. “That only came up after the mission was already in operation.”

Williams said that repositioning the satellite was a high risk maneuver. “If you turned the spacecraft maybe it wouldn’t turn back again. You don’t want to mess with a working spacecraft if you don’t have to.”

But there was a debate about whether they should even attempt this at all. In the end, Williams said that NASA decided it wanted the picture, and would not blame anyone if something went wrong during the repositioning maneuver.

So on August 23, the spacecraft successfully took a photo of an earthrise, the blue planet rising above the moon’s horizon.

Image credits: NASA, and thanks to @arielwaldman for pointing the anniversary out…

Friday Links – Kinects, jittergifs, and robots

Chris O’Shea’s Body Swap is a Kinect-based installation that lets two people control “paper cut-outs” of one another. Especially fun, as the video proves, with two people of very different height – and the provision of music to encourage acting and play is a nice touch.

Photo credit: obvious_jim

Another Kinect-related link: this Flickr set shows what happens when you map depth data (from a Kinect sensor) to a traditional digital camera photograph – and then pivot and distort it in three dimensions. The above image is probably my favourite, but the whole set is worth a look – if only for the way the set progresses through increasingly distorted takes on the original photographs.

3ERD is a tumblelog of jitter-gif photographs from Matt Moore. He’s using a stereoscopic compact camera (a bit like, say, the Fuji W1) to take stereoscopic images – but then turning the left and right image into a two-frame animated gif. The results are uncanny. It’s hard to comprehend that both frames were taken at the same time, however simple the idea may seem; the translation of two images separated in space into two images separated by time is a strange one to wrap your head around. A little slice of bullet-time.

Teriyaki blog

50 Watts’ Space Teriyaki is a wonderful collection of Japanese futurist art and imagery from the seventies and eighties. It veers between the bleak and gynaecological; throughout, though, there’s a fascinating use of colour and form.

And finally: a robot arm, repurposed into a physical feedback system for a racing computer game. It brings a whole new meaning to “force feedback”.

Thursday Links: a drawerful of photographs, fictional logos, flashy advertising, and space

John Kestner’s Tableau is a nightstand that drops photos it “sees” in its Twitter feed into its drawer, to be discovered by its owner. It can also upload images of things placed into its drawer. Kestner describe it as an “anti-computer experience”:

The nightstand drawer becomes a natural interface to a complex computing task, which now fits into the flow of life.


Matt J found this site collecting logos from through the James Bond movies. The Bond films are a franchise fascinated with branding and status; it’s great to see the branding of the many fictional corporations and firms in the franchise juxtaposed like this.

This BMW cinema commercial – produced by Serviceplan Munich – uses the after-image of text flashed at a cinema audience to reveal text to them only when they close their eyes. It’s a high-powered version of the Image Fulgurator, although here, the image is left in your sight (temporarily) rather than your photograph (permanently).


I loved astronaut Douglas Wheelock’s photographs taken from the International Space Station. This one (above) is of the Bahamas, but whether facing earth or the stars, his pictures are beautiful.

One more to end on: the moon.


Links for a Friday Evening: Maps and Rivers, Space and Kinetic Sculpture


Pistil SF make customised blankets based on OpenStreetMap imagery. The custom maps can be centered around any latitude/longitude, and are available in a variety of custom colour schemes thanks to the Cloudmade styles. Freely available data turned into a beautiful, desirable product.


Andy spotted Mr Switch – a switch blanking plate designed by John Caswell, that injects character (and a little fella) into any light switch.


I loved James Bridle’s Romance Has Lived Too Long Upon This River. It’s a really abstract representation of the height of the Thames, manifesting as a single-serving webpage. It’s also a synecdoche for the whole river, perhaps even the city of London; a glanceable manifestation of nature, in a window on your computer, or on your tablet, or on your phone. James explains the technicalities – and the romance – over on his blog.

Chris Burden’s Metropolis 2 is a kinetic sculpture: 1200 toy cars racing around a colossal series of tracks. Brilliant. The noise sounds deafening. (via Kottke).

The noise of Metropolis II reminded me of this delightful marble run around a the edges of a room. I particularly like the way deftly curved lengths of wood are used to slow the marbles. It embraces momentum, rather than artificially killing it.


Several of us have been admiring Spacelog this week. It’s a really lovely representation of the space missions it covers, taking original radio chatter and mapping it to not only mission personnel, but also the phases of the mission itself. It’s another kind of macroscope: the many small actions of the vast teams at NASA, distilled into a few hours of spaceflight, and explained through careful representation of that data.

Another Science Fiction: An Intersection of Art and Technology in the Early Space Race

Matt Jones writes...

This week, we’re proud to present a guest post from Megan Prelinger, cofounder of The Prelinger Library. Megan’s piece is the first in an occasional series of guest blogposts we're going to commission from friends, colleagues and others we admire. In it, she previews her book "Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race 1957–62" that hits on some of our studio's obsessions - mid-20thC art, design and... rocketry...

As an historian, I dig through found evidence of past decades looking for unseen intersections between technology and design. The two were of course close mutual contextualizers during the mid-century Modern era and incredibly, the untapped historical record of this era is rich and multi-layered: Monthly and weekly periodicals recorded events as they unfolded, catching disinformation and hypotheses along with facts, and a tremendous range of imagery that was never captured in books or annuals as part of the designated record of the era.

Artwork: Number IX by Oli Sihvonen. Advertisement: LASL in Missiles & Rockets, 1 Feb., 1960

Artwork: Number IX by Oli Sihvonen. Advertisement: LASL in Missiles & Rockets, 1 Feb., 1960

The most compelling imagery is in industrial trade magazine advertising. Aviation Week and Missiles and Rockets of the 1950s and 60s, were both published out of the U.S. during the peak of the Cold War.

Aviation Week, October 1957

Aviation Week, October 1957

Aviation Week has published since the 1940s and is still a world leader in covering military and civilian aerospace technology developments. Missiles and Rockets was a short-lived competitor (1956 – 65), whose pages made up for in style what they lacked in tenure.

Missiles and Rockets, February 1958

Missiles and Rockets, February 1958

Within the realm of monthly and weekly periodicals, trade publications aimed at working professionals within industry are less examined than their internationally-known general interest counterparts such as Science and Scientific American. Together they offer a body of advertising literature that forms a time capsule of the emerging dynamic between design and technology during the late 1950s and very early 1960s, the peak of technological eruption during the Cold War in the U.S. During those years mid-century Modern design asserted itself within the trade-based advertising literature as a powerful visual language with a killer application.

Recruitment advertisements for the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, illustrate a special case of the relationship between Modernism and industry. This is a set of five images appropriated from regional fine painters into service for the recruitment campaign at Los Alamos.

Artwork: Space by Charles Stewart. Advertisement: LASL in Missiles and Rockets, 26 Nov., 1962

Artwork: Space by Charles Stewart. Advertisement: LASL in Missiles and Rockets, 26 Nov., 1962

The dominant activity of the Laboratory was then, as now, nuclear weapons development. A place seared into public memory by its role as the site of the research and testing of the first atomic bomb, the Laboratory has, since the end of the civil nuclear rocket programs, been mostly a weapons research laboratory. However in the 1950s and 60s there was initiative and federal funding to adapt the atomic legacy to civil purposes. Toward that end Project Rover, sited at the Laboratory, was devoted to the development of a strictly civil-applicable nuclear rocket. The project yielded the NERVA (Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application) rocket — mothballed before it was ever tested after political support for it dried up — and the development of small nuclear batteries used in lunar exploration. In those, Laboratory’s program roster included civil space activity as a very large second area of research and development. The dominance of space-related visual motifs in these artworks indicates the widespread prevalence of the civil space program as a leading face of a technological directive that served both martial and peaceful objectives.

Between the two World Wars, a fine arts tradition was established and flourished in nearby Taos, New Mexico, founded by both American and European expatriate artists. Members of this group were thousands of miles from the other early modernist painters, yet their work was in dialogue with the dominant themes of modernism. In New Mexico the movement took shape in the emphasis on a spare, sun-dominated landscape expressed in the works of the Taos artists.

Painter Emil Bisttram started making paintings titled Space Images as early as 1954.1 In his work, the interplanetary and interstellar landscape of space that the enormous New Mexico sky brought into close juxtaposition with the high desert is recast as a suitable subject for depiction in an abstract expressionist mode. Bisttram’s Ascending, has been subtitled by the Laboratory: “scientific objectivity characterizes the examination of natural forces in the experimental laboratories at Los Alamos.”2 In the painting, Bisttram combines an abstraction of space with a strong suggestion of the mechanical engineering processes that will get us there:

Artwork: Ascending by Emil Bisttram, 1958. Advertisement: LASL in Missiles and Rockets, 6 June, 1960

Artwork: Ascending by Emil Bisttram, 1958. Advertisement: LASL in Missiles and Rockets, 6 June, 1960

The form that dominates the center right of the painting, and the lines that attach all the forms to one another, are suggestive of engineering diagrams. Or even internal rocket structure, or just the process of forming connection between one idea and the next. One possible extrapolation, that the abstracted systems/bodies at the top, bottom, and left center of the image represent planets and orbits, is left to the viewer’s imagination.

The geographic relationship between the LASL research station and the landscape that inspired the Taos artists led to a neighborly connection between the two that adds considerable depth to the relationship between the images and their “subject matter.” Incredibly, a catalog prepared for an exhibition of the works, titled Art and the Atom, explains that the works were not commissioned for the advertisements. Instead advertisements were created by Laboratory personnel director Robert Meier based on pre-existing artworks. In other words, the “profound dialogic relationship with environment”3 that inspired the artists was an independent parallel to the functionally dialogic relationship with the environment held by the LASL nuclear test facility. These parallel lines of development are expressed poetically in Art and the Atom:

“The artist is aware of space, mass, motion and energy. He is cognizant of our world in conjunction with outer space and is abreast of the development in the world of science. He searches intuitively rather than theoretically. The scientist is equally involved with the same observations. He explores the potentials; he is the discoverer: the man of research. Both artist and scientist are involved with the mysteries of the Universe.”
—Leone Kahl, Director, Stables Art Gallery, Taos, ca. 19634

Exhibition catalog, pub. The Stables Art Gallery of Taos. n.d., circa 1963.

Exhibition catalog, pub. The Stables Art Gallery of Taos. n.d., circa 1963.

In the foreword to Art and the Atom, Reginald Fisher, then director of the El Paso Museum of Art, writes that “the semantics of this exhibition revolve around such terms as: space, energy, motion, dynamics, thrust, propulsion, acceleration, curiosity, probe, experiment, empirical, technology, mystery, experience.” He notes that the paintings were selected from pre-existing artworks “on the basis of the capacity of the particular piece to portray symbolically the essence of the research field under consideration [for recruitment].” The remaining historical evidence of this transaction between industry and artist is mute on the question of how the artists felt having their works utilized in this manner, or whether any chose to opt out.

Below is a straightforward meditation by Bisttram on the shapes and spaces that emerge when a painter contemplates a starscape. The inky midnight blue shades here echo the tones used by Van Gogh in his Starry Night, but here space is foregrounded through the omission of a ground plane. The figure–ground shift in this image has captured what the Earth-centric regulatory approach to space neglects to account for: that in space there is no “ground,” only the whole new spatial logic of the solar system environment. Titled Moon Magic by the artist, its catalog description carries the added thought, “Mysteries of the universe provide the dynamics for projects.”

Artwork: Moon Magic by Emil Bisttram, 1958. Advertisement: LASL in Missiles and Rockets, 25 April, 1960

Artwork: Moon Magic by Emil Bisttram, 1958. Advertisement: LASL in Missiles and Rockets, 25 April, 1960

Taos artist Oli Sihvonen extends the visual language connecting atomics research and space themes to the regional landscape. In the top image (far above), a background field that could be sand, desert, or stylized space billows behind a round shape that suggests the sun, or of course, the atom, or perhaps is meant to suggest both at the same time. The work is titled Number IX, and in the catalog bears the subtitle “Diverse scientific interests ranging from basic research to space problems.” The organic shape of the rippled background suggests the desert, a natural environment. The image takes a step toward minimalism in its reduction of the field to its two dominant shapes, the golden rectangular ground and the spherical black figure of the “sun.”

The work below by Sihvonen is titled Blue Spot, subtitled “Experimentation in nuclear motion and energy:”

Artwork: Blue Spot by Oli Sihvonen. Advertisement: LASL in Missiles and Rockets, 5 October 1959

Artwork: Blue Spot by Oli Sihvonen. Advertisement: LASL in Missiles and Rockets, 5 October 1959

The blue spot disrupts the conventionally romantic stylization of planetary or solar bodies by contracting the sphere to its minimal form. Sihvonen here seems to references the early 20th century Russian constructivists, with the prolonged vertical angular shape aimed at the planetary circle. It brings to mind El Lissitzsky’s constructivist graphic composition Beat Back the Whites with the Red Wedge which pioneered the use of juxtaposed triangle and circle as a graphic strategy to represent political conflict. I find it ironic that the graphic legacy of Communist action should be re-articulated and put into service — whether with or without the artists’ sanction — in the service of American Cold War-era weapons and civil space technological programming.

The investigation that yielded the discovery of these artworks and their history is part of a larger project: In Spring 2010 Blast Books will publish my monograph Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race 1957–62, which gathers and interprets over 175 advertising images from Aviation Week and Missiles and Rockets. It clusters the advertisements into five subjects, including those that recruit for satellites, for human space exploration, for propulsion systems engineering, and for projects that recast space as a new landscape. Lastly, Mid-Century Modern Space rounds out the book with a longer discussion of industry’s use of modern design in advertising. This essay was adapted from this chapter.

The book itself is but one product of the cultural enterprise co-developed by my spouse Rick and myself: The Prelinger Library (, a private research library that is open to the public in San Francisco. We are an experimental, image-appropriation friendly library with both analog and digital holdings, including over 30,000 titles and ephemeral artefacts in the areas of media, technology, and landscape and social history. Thanks to BERG for visiting us this past summer! All are invited.

  1. Gerald Peters Gallery, Modernist Themes in New Mexico: Works by Early Modernist Painters. Introduction by Barbara G. Bell.
  2. Art and the Atom: An Exhibition of Contemporary Art Used in Scientific Advertisements. Gallery catalog, Stables Art Gallery, Taos. Robert Meier, Assistant Personnel Director in Charge of Recruitment, Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, curator. N.d., circa 1963.
  3. Art and the Atom, first verso page of Foreword.
  4. Art and the Atom, first verso page of “Catalogue” section.

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