This week’s suit may not look as exciting as some of the more absurd proposals from the mid-century, or as compelling as some of the creative imagery conjured up by various art folks, but this orange space suit is a workhorse and has been worn by shuttle astronauts since STS-26.
Slate has a great interactive graphic about all the gizmos and parts of this suit, and among the annotations atop the STS-135 crew I learned that a NASCAR flag beat me into space. The suits are bright orange so that the astronauts are easy to find in the event of a water landing. Much of the equipment incorporated into the suit is designed to help the astronaut survive should he or she need to eject from the shuttle during its ascent. A knife, some flares, an emergency radio, paratrooper boots- everything except a survival guide written by Bear Grylls.
Space Colonies once seemed inevitable, but when public interest migrated elsewhere, the momentum behind extraterrestrial exodus quietly evaporated into thin air. The proposed space colonies pictured above were produced over a series of summers at Ames Research Center and a larger gallery of the work produced across these optimistic summers can be seen here. While reading about these habitat designs, I came across quite possibly my favorite sentence on the NASA website. Here, the author–a serious scientist– is talking about the need for pseudogravity in space colonies so that the colonist keep enough physical strength to return to earth: “To rule it out, as might be the case if bones and muscles were allowed to deteriorate too far by long habitation in zero gravity, would be to make of the colonists a race apart, alien to and therefore quite possibly hostile to those who remain on Earth.”
I’m surprised there isn’t more interest amongst architects and architecture students to imagine the possibilities of space making in… um… space. Greg Lynn recently lead a studio in Vienna through the design of a space colony, but I’m not aware of other recent examples. (If you know of one, please email me at [email protected]) Maybe it’s too ironic that architects spend their time fighting against gravity on the earth and go to space only to recreate those problems. So many earth-bound projects strive to look like they are somehow frozen in motion, immune from gravity or at least defying structural expectations. But we don’t have those expectations or limitations in space and could finally make everything float if we wanted. The only potential problem is that people floating around in these snazzy abodes would start to plot how to destroy the humans still on earth.
I usually don’t get terribly excited about hot air balloons because most of them are kinda boring with bad color schemes. This past weekend was different: I had the opportunity to celebrate freedom, watch fireworks, and see a giant hot air balloon shaped like a space shuttle… all at the same time. The balloon shuttle (above) is the Patriot, a 190-foot tall balloon built by these proud Americans whose website includes a section called “Why America is Great’ as well as a series of vehicles completely covered with graphics of the american flag. I can not imagine a better group of people to be around for the 4th of July. I also couldn’t have known that this would be a great symbol for the end of the shuttle missions.
The irony of a hot air balloon morphed into the shape of a space shuttle is glaring: an eighteenth century technology stitched into the image of a vehicle still compelling in the 21st. Compelling because NASA is the only space agency that has been able to build and implement the use and reuse of a spaceplane. Other agencies have tried, but all have abandoned their vehicles. And that’s what the shuttle is: a vehicle. A vehicle born in an effort to both save resources (namely dollars) required to reach space, and to allow more folks to reach low earth orbit. However, the savings were not realized as hoped, public interest flagged and the shuttle era has been marked by tragedy for the entire crew of two shuttles. As vehicles, it is clear that shuttles are not perfect, but remain impressive. The people that enabled them deserve respect for the technial marvel of the a vehicle that has become the symbol of american space travel for a generation.
Moments ago, the shuttle Atlantis launched for the last time. The end of the shuttle era at NASA is sobering news, and many people writing about the final shuttle mission see a sad future for NASA without their most visible space vehicle. I happen to be more optimistic about NASA’s future because I believe the space agency has enough vision to strategize moving forward even if that vision isn’t as focused or as clear as it was during the Apollo era. To me, this news is a step forward, not backward, for the agency. Still, I understand the gravity of shuttles being permanently grounded. Hopefully healthy debate over the future of NASA will kindle broader public interest in the agency and deep space exploration.
The public at at this past weekend’s Fourth-of-July balloon festival were very interested in the Patriot balloon shuttle: getting close while it started to fill with air, taking pictures around it and walking up to touch its surface. When the balloon inflated and lifted off the ground, everyone in the park clapped. It was our shuttle launch, and I realized that I would never have the opportunity to watch an actual shuttle rumble into space, but this was the next best thing.
Later I watched the Patriot deflate, thinking of the final shuttle launch while cooling hot air escaped the aircraft fashioned into a spacecraft. Hot air is critical to levity the balloon as well as to the combustion engines of the spacecraft. It turns out that the political variety of hot air has inflated and deflated the buoyancy of NASA ever since the cold war catalyzed the space race. There’s plenty of hot air surrounding the final shuttle launch, making dire predictions about the relevancy of the agency, ignoring that the agency will focus on what’s next. In the eighteenth century, nobody could have imagined the sequence of advances that would lead to the Patriot deflating in front of me, and a lack of imagination now isn’t going to illuminate NASA’s future. The agency is devoted to exploration and discovery. The next vehicle is being built in the shadow of a giant, but will ultimately be better equipped to explore, discover and take us to the future.
I was pointed to the great fickr site of Brent Schoepf, who has recently posted several space-suit-centric designs. Some are up as wallpapers and others are up on threadless where they hope to become t-shirts that you can wear on your body. And just in case the youngin’ wasn’t busy enough, he made this music. I prefer the colorful and curious collages to his black and white stuff, but even those are great. He says that he “pretends to make art” in a self-deprecating understatement. But he says a lot of things, like his favorite color being “mint-seafoam-aqua-green-teal” or “magic wizard purple.” You can watch a video of him talking here.
P.S. I’m not exactly sure why “the end” appears on on a few of his space suit designs, but I can’t help but think of the end of the shuttle program. This week, the final launch date of the entire NASA shuttle era was announced: the 8th of July.
This is nice. To coincide with the end of NASA’s shuttle missions, artist/designer/independent publisher Nate Utesch launched a year-long project called OrbitalFleets. The project is, in his words, “screen-printed posters that have a bunch of nerdy data and icons for all 5 of the shuttles’ lifespans. One for each shuttle.” Nate is also “making 5 art prints that are illustrations of an astronaut from one of those shuttles.” And the posters are educational! For instance: did you know that the shuttle Discovery participated in a classified mission for the Department of Defense? Both of Nate’s series (the shuttle series of first-edition screenprints and the crew series) are stellar and affordable. The dollars he rakes in from this project will fund another excellent project of his: Ferocious Quarterly which binds together fresh illustrators, writers and artists.