NASA Enlists Andy Warhol, Annie Leibovitz, Norman Rockwell & 350 Other Artists to Visually Document America’s Space Program

It’s hard to imagine that the space-crazed general public needed any help getting worked up about astronauts and NASA in the early 60s.

Perhaps the wild popularity of space-related imagery is in part what motivated NASA administrator James Webb to create the NASA Art Program in 1962.

Although the program's handpicked artists weren’t edited or censored in any way, they were briefed on how NASA hoped to be represented, and the emotions their creations were meant capture—the excitement and uncertainty of exploring these frontiers.

NASA was also careful to collect everything the artists produced while participating in the program, from sketches to finished work.




In turn, they received unprecedented access to launch sites, key personnel, and major events such as Project Mercury and the Apollo 11 Mission.

Over 350 artists, including Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell, and Laurie Anderson, have brought their unique sensibilities to the project. (Find NASA-inspired art by Warhol and Rockwell above.)

(And hey, no shame if you mistakenly assumed Warhol’s 1987 Moonwalk 1 was created as a promo for MTV…)

Jamie Wyeth’s 1964 watercolor Gemini Launch Pad includes a humble bicycle, the means by which technicians traveled back and forth from the launch pad to the concrete-reinforced blockhouse where they worked.

Photographer Annie Leibovitz offers two views of NASA’s first female pilot and commander, Eileen Collins—with and without helmet.

Postage stamp designer, Paul Calle, one of the inaugural group of participating artists, produced a stamp commemorating the Gemini 4 space capsule in celebration of NASA's 9th anniversary. When the Apollo 11 astronauts suited up prior to blast off on July 16, 1969, Calle was the only artist present. His quickly rendered felt tip marker sketches lend a backstage element to the heroic iconography surrounding astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins. One of the items they carried with them on their journey was the engraved printing plate of Calle’s 1967 commemorative stamp. They hand-canceled a proof aboard the flight, on the assumption that post offices might be hard to come by on the moon.

More recently, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has enlisted a team of nine artists, designers, and illustrators to collaborate on 14 posters, a visual throwback to the ones the WPA created between 1938 and 1941 to spark public interest in the National Parks. You can see the results at the Exoplanet Travel Bureau.

View an album of 25 historic works from NASA’s Art Program here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Queen Guitarist Brian May Is Also an Astrophysicist: Read His PhD Thesis Online

Photo by ESO/G. Huedepohl, via Wikimedia Commons

Queen couldn't possibly have been Queen without Freddie Mercury, nor could it have been Queen without Brian May. Thanks not least to the recent biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, the band's already larger-than-life lead singer has become even larger still. But its guitarist, despite the film's surface treatment of his character, is in his own way an equally implausible figure. Not only did he show musical promise early, forming his first group while still at school, he also got his A Levels in physics, mathematics, and applied mathematics, going on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Physics with honors at Imperial College London.

Naturally, May then went for his PhD, continuing at Imperial College where he studied the velocity of, and light reflected by, interplanetary dust in the Solar System. He began the program in 1970, but "in 1974, when Queen was but a princess in its infancy, May chose to abandon his doctorate studies to focus on the band in their quest to conquer the world." So wrote The Telegraph's Felix Lowe in 2007, the year the by-then 60-year-old (and long world-famous) rocker finally handed in his thesis. "The 48,000-word tome, Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud, which sounds suspiciously like a Spinal Tap LP, was stored in the loft of his home in Surrey." You can read it online here.




According to its abstract, May's thesis "documents the building of a pressure-scanned Fabry-Perot Spectrometer, equipped with a photomultiplier and pulse-counting electronics, and its deployment at the Observatorio del Teide at Izaña in Tenerife, at an altitude of 7,700 feet (2567 m), for the purpose of recording high-resolution spectra of the Zodiacal Light." Space.com describes the Zodiacial Light as "a misty diffuse cone of light that appears in the western sky after sunset and in the eastern sky before sunrise," one that has long tricked casual observers into "seeing it as the first sign of morning twilight." Astronomers now recognize it as "reflected sunlight shining on scattered space debris clustered most densely near the sun."

In his abstract, May also notes the unusually long period of study as 1970-2007, made possible in part by the fact that little other research had been done in this particular subject area during Queen's reign on the charts and thereafter. Still, he had catching up to do, including observational work in Tenerife (as much of a hardship posting as that isn't). Since being awarded his doctorate, May's scientific activities have continued, as have his musical ones and other pursuits besides, such as animal-rights activism and stereography. (Sometimes these intersect: the 2017 photobook Queen in 3-D, for example, uses a VR viewing device of May's own design.) The next time you meet a youngster dithering over whether to go into astrophysics or found one of the most successful rock bands of all time, point them to May's example and let them know doing both isn't without precedent.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Atlas of Space: Behold Brilliant Maps of Constellations, Asteroids, Planets & “Everything in the Solar System Bigger Than 10km”

A great deal remains to be learned about our solar system, but a great deal has already been learned about it as well. Yet huge amounts of data such as those produced by outer-space research so far can't do much for us unless we can interpret them. Luckily, the age of the internet has made possible unprecedentedly easy access to data as well as unprecedentedly easy distribution of interpretations of that data. Eleanor Lutz, a biology graduate student at the University of Washington and the creator of the science illustration blog Tabletop Whale, has taken advantage of both conditions to wow her ever-growing fan base with her maps of the realms beyond Earth.

"Atlas of Space, her latest project, is all about the solar system," writes Wired's Sara Harrison. "She plumbed the depths of publicly available data sets from agencies like NASA and the US Geological Survey and used them to create vivid maps of constellations, asteroids, and planets. In one image, luminescent bands of fuchsia and aquamarine asteroids swirl around the bright, white point of the Sun. In another, Earth seems to pulsate as an animation of Arctic sea ice shows how it extends down the continents during the winter and then retracts back to the poles in summer."




Lutz plans to release all the images she has created for her Atlas of Space over the next few weeks, along with instructions teaching readers how to create similar illustrations themselves. In her introductory post to the project, she promises "an animated map of the seasons on Earth, a map of Mars geology, and a map of everything in the solar system bigger than 10km."

Lutz also briefly describes her plans to write about everything from "working with Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) in Bash and Python" to "using the NASA HORIZONS orbital mechanics server and scraping internet data" to "updating vintage illustrations and painting in Photoshop." That last element has already made the project particularly eye-catching: you'll notice the Atlas of Space pages published so far, "An Orbit Map of the Solar System" and "A Topographic Map of Mercury," both possess a strong retro design sensibility, though each of a completely different kind. Levi Walter Yaggy would be proud — and no doubt astonished by just how much more information we've managed to gather about the solar system over the past 130 years.

via Wired

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

How the Universe Will Come to Its Explosive End: Trillions of Years Covered in 29 Timelapse Minutes

We all know that Earth won't last forever. But nothing else in the universe will either, and you can witness the series of explosions, evaporations, expirations, and other kinds of cosmic deaths that will constitute the next one trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion years in the video above. Conveniently, it doesn't take quite that long to watch: the time-lapse gets from just a few years into the future to the time at which the last black hole vanishes in under half an hour, doubling its own speed every five seconds. Not only does Earth go first, destroyed by the dying sun, but it happens at the 3:20 mark.

Most of us have no idea what might possibly play out in the universe over the next 26 or so time-lapsed minutes. But more astrophysics-inclined minds like Brian Cox, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Sean Carroll, Janna Levin, and Michio Kaku have put a great deal of thought into just that, and it is from their words that this video's creator John D. Boswell, known on Youtube as melodysheep, crafts its narration.




And what this formidable cast of scientists narrates resembles sequences from the biggest-budget science-fiction movies, which shows how far visual effects have come since A Brief History of Time, Errol Morris' thematically similar 1991 documentary on the late Stephen Hawking — a figure who has also appeared in Boswell's previous work.

However it's told, the narrative remains the same: "the death of the sun, the end of all stars, proton decay, zombie galaxies, possible future civilizations, exploding black holes, the effects of dark energy, alternate universes, the final fate of the cosmos," as Boswell puts it. "This is a picture of the future as painted by modern science," and one that "gives a profound perspective — that we are living inside the hot flash of the Big Bang, the perfect moment to soak in the sights and sounds of a universe in its glory days, before it all fades away." Thanks to the work of generation upon generation of scientists, as well as the work of creators like Boswell who interpret their findings in far-reaching ways (this time-lapse of the future has already racked up nearly 12.5 million views), we know how the story of the universe ends. Now what will we do with the chapters granted to us?

via Aeon

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Johannes Kepler Theorized That Each Planet Sings a Song, Each in a Different Voice: Mars is a Tenor; Mercury, a Soprano; and Earth, an Alto

Johannes Kepler determined just how the planets of our solar system make their way around the sun. He published his innovative work on the subject from 1609 to 1619, and in the final year of that decade he also came up with a theory that each planet sings a song, and each in a different voice at that. Mars is a tenor, Mercury is a soprano, and Earth, as the BBC show QI (or Quite Interesting) recently tweeted, "is an alto that sings two notes Mi and Fa, which Kepler read as 'Miseriam & Famem', 'misery and famine'" — two phenomena not unknown on Earth in Kepler's time, even though the scientific revolution had already started to change the way people lived.

Not all of the best minds of the scientific revolution thought purely in terms of calculation. The blog ThatsMaths describes Kepler's mission as explaining the solar system "in terms of divine harmony," finding "a system of the world that was mathematically correct and harmonically pleasing." Truly divine harmony could presumably find its expression in music, an idea that led Kepler to explain "planetary motions in terms of harmonic relationships, a scheme that he called the 'song of the Earth.'"

According to this scheme, "each planet emits a tone that varies in pitch as its distance from the Sun varies from perihelion to aphelion and back" — that is, from the nearest they get to the sun to the farthest they get from the sun and back — "producing a continuous glissando of intermediate tones, a 'whistling produced by friction with the heavenly light.'"

Kepler named the combined result "the music of the spheres," but what does it sound like? Switzerland-based cornettist Bruce Dickey wants to give us a sense of it with Nature's Whispering Secret, "a project for a CD recording exploring the ideas about music and cosmology of Johannes Kepler." Demanding the musicianship of not just Dickey but composer Calliope Tsoupaki, singer Hana Blažíková, and a group of singers and instrumentalists from across Europe and America as well, all "among the most distinguished musicians performing 16th-century polyphonic music today." The Indiegogo campaign for this ambitious tribute to Kepler's ideas at the intersection of science and aesthetics, which involves an album as well as a series of live performances into the year 2020, is on its very last day, so if you'd like to hear the music of the spheres for yourself, consider making a contribution.

via Quite Interesting

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

How to Take a Picture of a Black Hole: Watch the 2017 Ted Talk by Katie Bouman, the MIT Grad Student Who Helped Take the Groundbreaking Photo

What triggered the worst impulses of the Internet last week?

The world's first photo of a black hole, which proved the presence of troll life here on earth, and confirms that female scientists, through no fault of their own, have a much longer way to go, baby.

If you want a taste, sort the comments on the two year old TED Talk, above, so they're ordered  "newest first."

Katie Bouman, soon-to-be assistant professor of computing and mathematical sciences at the California Institute of Technology, was a PhD candidate at MIT two years ago, when she taped the talk, but she could've passed for a nervous high schooler competing in the National Science Bowl finals, in clothes borrowed from Aunt Judy, who works at the bank.




The focus of her studies were the ways in which emerging computational methods could help expand the boundaries of interdisciplinary imaging.

Prior to last week, I’m not sure how well I could have parsed the focus of her work had she not taken the time to help less STEM-inclined viewers such as myself wrap our heads around her highly technical, then-wholly-theoretical subject.

What I know about black holes could still fit in a thimble, and in truth, my excitement about one being photographed for the first time pales in comparison to my excitement about Game of Thrones returning to the airwaves.

Fortunately, we’re not obligated to be equally turned on by the same interests, an idea theoretical physicist Richard Feynman promoted:

I've always been very one-sided about science and when I was younger I concentrated almost all my effort on it. I didn't have time to learn and I didn't have much patience with what's called the humanities, even though in the university there were humanities that you had to take. I tried my best to avoid somehow learning anything and working at it. It was only afterwards, when I got older, that I got more relaxed, that I've spread out a little bit. I've learned to draw and I read a little bit, but I'm really still a very one-sided person and I don't know a great deal. I have a limited intelligence and I use it in a particular direction.

I'm pretty sure my lack of passion for science is not tied to my gender. Some of my best friends are guys who feel the same. (Some of them don't like team sports either.)

But I couldn't help but experience a wee thrill that this young woman, a science nerd who admittedly could’ve used a few theater nerd tips regarding relaxation and public speaking, realized her dream—an honest to goodness photo of a black hole just like the one she talked about in her TED Talk,  "How to take a picture of a black hole."

Bouman and the 200+ colleagues she acknowledges and thanks at every opportunity, achieved their goal, not with an earth-sized camera but rather a network of linked telescopes, much as she had described two years earlier, when she invoked disco balls, Mick Jagger, oranges, selfies, and a jigsaw puzzle in an effort to help people like me understand.

Look at that sucker (or, more accurately, its shadow!) That thing’s 500 million trillion kilometers from Earth!

(That's much farther than King's Landing is from Winterfell.)

I’ll bet a lot of elementary science teachers, be they male, female, or non-binary, are going to make science fun by having their students draw pictures of the picture of the black hole.

If we could go back (or forward) in time, I can almost guarantee that mine would be among the best because while I didn’t “get” science (or gym), I was a total art star with the crayons.

Then, crafty as Lord Petyr Baelish when presentation time rolled around, I would partner with a girl like Katie Bouman, who could explain the science with winning vigor. She genuinely seems to embrace the idea that it “takes a village,” and that one’s fellow villagers should be credited whenever possible.

(How did I draw the black hole, you ask? Honestly, it's not that much harder than drawing a doughnut. Now back to Katie!)

Alas, her professional warmth failed to register with legions of Internet trolls who began sliming her shortly after a colleague at MIT shared a beaming snapshot of her, taken, presumably, with a regular old phone as the black hole made its debut. That pic cemented her accidental status as the face of this project.

Note to the trolls—it wasn't a dang selfie.

“I’m so glad that everyone is as excited as we are and people are finding our story inspirational,’’ Bouman told The New York Times. “However, the spotlight should be on the team and no individual person. Focusing on one person like this helps no one, including me.”

Although Bouman was a junior team member, she and other grad students made major contributions. She directed the verification of images, the selection of imaging parameters, and authored an imaging algorithm that researchers used in the creation of three scripted code pipelines from which the instantly-famous picture was cobbled together.

As Vincent Fish, a research scientist at MIT's Haystack Observatory told CNN:

One of the insights Katie brought to our imaging group is that there are natural images. Just think about the photos you take with your camera phone—they have certain properties.... If you know what one pixel is, you have a good guess as to what the pixel is next to it.

Hey, that makes sense.

As The Verge’s science editor, Mary Beth Griggs, points out, the rush to defame Bouman is of a piece with some of the non-virtual realities women in science face:

Part of the reason that some posters found Bouman immediately suspicious had to do with her gender. Famously, a number of prominent men like disgraced former CERN physicist Alessandro Strumia have argued that women aren’t being discriminated against in science — they simply don’t like it, or don’t have the aptitude for it. That argument fortifies a notion that women don’t belong in science, or can’t really be doing the work. So women like Bouman must be fakes, this warped line of thinking goes…

Even I, whose 7th grade science teacher tempered a bad grade on my report card by saying my interest in theater would likely serve me much better than anything I might eek from her class, know that just as many girls and women excel at science, technology, engineering, and math as excel in the arts. (Sometimes they excel at both!)

(And power to every little boy with his sights set on nursing, teaching, or ballet!)

(How many black holes have the haters photographed recently?)

Griggs continues:

Saying that she was part of a larger team doesn’t diminish her work, or minimize her involvement in what is already a history-making project. Highlighting the achievements of a brilliant, enthusiastic scientist does not diminish the contributions of the other 214 people who worked on the project, either. But what it is doing is showing a different model for a scientist than the one most of us grew up with. That might mean a lot to some kids — maybe kids who look like her — making them excited about studying the wonders of the Universe.

via BoingBoing

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City tonight for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Earthrise, Apollo 8’s Photo of Earth from Space, Turns 50: Download the Iconic Photograph from NASA

Just a little over fifty years ago, we didn't know what Earth looked like from space. Or rather, we had a decent idea what it looked like, but no clear color images of the sight existed. 2001: A Space Odyssey presented a particularly striking vision of Earth from space in the spring of 1968, but it used visual effects and imagination (both to a still-impressive degree) to do so. Only on Christmas Eve of that year would Earth be genuinely photographed from that kind of distance, captured with a Hasselblad by Bill Anders, lunar module pilot of NASA's Apollo 8 mission.

"Two days later, the film was processed," writes The Washington Post's Christian Davenport, "and NASA released photo number 68-H-1401 to the public with a news release that said: "This view of the rising earth greeted the Apollo 8 astronauts as they came from behind the moon after the lunar orbit insertion burn."




The image, called Earthrise, went "as viral as anything could in 1968, a time that saw all sorts of photographs leave their mark on the national consciousness, most of them scars." Life magazine ran it with lines from U.S. poet laureate James Dickey: "Behold/ The blue planet steeped in its dream/ Of reality."

It's often said of iconic photographs that they make their viewers see their subjects in a new way, an effect Earthrise must exemplify more clearly than any other picture. "The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring," said Apollo 8 command module pilot Jim Lovell at the time, "and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth." At the recent celebration of the mission's 50th anniversary at the Washington National Cathedral, Anders remembered, "As I looked down at the Earth, which is about the size of your fist at arm’s length, I’m thinking this is not a very big place. Why can’t we get along?"

You can download Earthrise from NASA's web site and learn more about the taking of the photo from the video above, made for its 45th anniversary. Using all available data on the mission, including audio recordings of the astronauts themselves, the video precisely re-creates the circumstances under which Anders shot Earthrise, forever preserving a view made possible by a roll of the spacecraft executed by Apollo 8 commander Frank Borman. To what extent their photographic achievement has convinced us all to get along remains debatable, but has humanity, since the day after Christmas 1968, ever thought about its blue planet in quite the same way as before?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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