Space Toys May 2, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration, Writing.
Tags: Art & Science, Space Shuttle
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This year’s Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference took place at the beginning of March in Chicago, and we posted about that (click HERE). Whenever our travels take us to Chicago, we try to smash as many activities as we possibly can into the few days in the city that we’ve considered our second home for the better part of two decades. In addition to our conference obligations, this year’s mad dash included a party for our usual assemblage of lifelong friends, meeting with our writing group, bumping into new and old colleagues, and seeing whatever family we can corral into trekking up to Chicago.
In a roundabout way, the Saturday that time spent with his parents got us to thinking a bit about how the blog has become a community effort, a family effort. After our return to California, our inklings about this communal effort were confirmed.
A few weeks after AWP, an unexpected package for Anna arrived at our door. Anna will declaim loudly that she hates surprises, unless that surprise is a gift. After a decisive unwrapping, the gift that emerged was a recast vintage Barbie doll, clad in a spacesuit with a helmet. We named her Astro-Barbie.
The Barbie doll is a complex cultural object, but as we’ve mentioned recently (see our Marlin Perkins post HERE), we’ve been thinking about our childhoods, and there’s no denying that Barbie and Ken were a part of growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. This particular Barbie doll is a reproduction of the 1965 vintage Barbie decked out as Gemini astronaut. As if to somehow atone for her maker’s 1992 anti-STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) statement that “Math is tough,” a floating thought bubble is positioned next to our Barbie’s coiffure. The text reads, “Yes, I am a rocket scientist!” And, in all honesty, we think it rocks.
The plot thickened a few days later when Doug’s mother called to ask if we’d received any packages lately. She, and her favorite minion—Doug’s sister Suellen—were co-conspirators orchestrating the arrival of Astronaut Barbie. On the phone, Doug’s mom’s tone also made it clear that Doug should be expecting a gift in the mail any day. At first, Doug guessed that perhaps a similarly space-suited and booted Ken doll might be headed his way. Doug’s mom’s reaction, a hearty laugh laden with a “not even close” tone, convinced Doug to think a bit more. The day spent shopping in Chicago came to mind, and in particular, a stop at the Lego store in Water Tower Place. While there, Doug’s eye was drawn to the Shuttle Expedition Lego.
The Shuttle Expedition Lego kit has it all: astronauts and pad workers, orbiter (named Expedition, but around our house to be known as OV106), SRBs, fuel tank, even a few Lego lights for simulating that bathed-in-white-light look depicted in so many nighttime photos of the shuttle stack on the pad. The kit is reminiscent of many models that Doug built in his childhood, plastic vessels into which he poured time and effort, imagination and play, and time and money.
Time came up twice in that last sentence, and it was also one of the first things that Doug’s mom mentioned when he guessed that that was what she had put in the mail. She wondered openly when he would find the time to assemble OV106, and Doug did too. Then, just this week, while staring dreamily at the shuttle kit’s box, a habit Doug developed on childhood model building projects and a singularly important part of the process, he noticed that the part count was labeled prominently on the box: 1230 pieces. In one of those flashes of inspiration that hits us all from time to time, Doug realized that he could use building the model as a reward system for progress on writing projects.
Dividing the total number of pieces by four gives 307.5, which is a good page count goal for a novel manuscript. So, for every page that gets written, Doug can assemble together four pieces of OV106. We’ll keep you all informed as to how this space-shuttle as reward system works.
And if Anna finds some human-sized space boots that Astro-Barbie is sporting, she’ll set some serious goals for that reward.
For another Lofty Ambitions post about childhood toys, click HERE.
Guest Blog: Daniel Lewis March 19, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Guest Blogs, Science, Writing.
Tags: Art & Science, Biology, Museums & Archives
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At the end of last year, we wrote about the Huntington Library‘s “Beautiful Science” exhibit HERE. That exhibit was curated by Daniel Lewis, Chief Curator of Manuscripts (History of Science, Medicine, and Technology) and today’s guest blogger. If you can’t get to the Huntington Library yourself, you can watch a YouTube lecture about the exhibit by Lewis HERE.
Daniel Lewis is the author of the new book The Feathery Tribe and draws his guest post from his research into what it means to be an ornithologist. Whether or not you like birds, you’ll find that Lewis’s writing shows his enthusiasm for inquiry, his attention to detail, and his ability to make new, intriguing connections.
THE FEATHERY TRIBE: WHAT RESEARCH MEANS FOR WRITING
I mostly live to write. But more, I live to do original research, rooting around the sometimes-dusty (but often very clean) byways and side-roads of archives around the world, looking for correspondence that has often never been read by anyone other than the original recipient, and virtually none of which has ever been published. It’s a truism that it might take weeks of research to come up with a single sentence for a book. And it’s this kind of research that keeps the hamster wheel in my brain spinning and keeps me moving forward.
I’m an obsessive recorder and transcriber of archival information, storing correspondence I find in a database that records (among many other details) the correspondents, the date, the location written, the text of the letter itself, its call number and the collection it’s from, homegrown subject headings, a summary of the letter, and even where I transcribed the letter (dining room table, airport, hotel room, airplane, etc.). In the course of my most recent book The Feathery Tribe: Robert Ridgway and the Modern Study of Birds, just out from Yale University Press, I transcribed some 1,892 letters totaling 446,000 words, culled from archives around the world: the Natural History Museum in London; the Blacker-Wood Library in Montreal; the Smithsonian; the Bancroft Library in Berkeley; my own home institution, the Huntington Library; and others. I took all of this information, digested it, and tried to bend it into a particular notion.
I had an idea—after corresponding with the late great evolutionist Ernst Mayr, then in his nineties—that I should write a book about what it meant to be a professional in science, using the Smithsonian’s first Curator of Birds, Robert Ridgway, as the lens. What, after all, did it actually mean to be a professional then, and why did it matter? The answer can’t be reduced to a pat phrase, so I’ll resist doing so here, but it was the quest for the archival materials—correspondence, scribbled memos, postcards, marginalia—that fueled me.
Research turns up all kinds of things, some of which I was able to use in the book, but necessarily, much else that I couldn’t. Scientists are people too, as I’m fond of saying, but they also bring a wonky precision to their letters that can thrill.
People writing about birds for descriptive purposes took a variety of approaches to shorten, simplify, and clarify bird identities. One common practice was to refer exclusively to a number in a standard checklist as a shorthand reference in correspondence, assuming the recipient had the same guide in hand. Naturalists’ and collectors’ letters the world over were thus often filled with long strings of numbers, rather than bird names. Referring to a common checklist’s numbering system, a British birder writes in 1907 to his brother, “Before joining the main road, I saw a Reed Bunting; counting up, I found I had [seen eleven different birds]: 188.8.131.52.184.108.40.2069.277.278.453.”
Some inventive collectors went so far as to suggest new symbological languages to identify, with a single symbol, such things as a male bird in its first plumage, a male in mature plumage, a bird of unknown sex but of a determinate age, and so on, as noted in the image above.
Letters like these intrigue, and for me, they warrant going down a rabbit hole (almost always dusty) to find out more about scientists’ motivations, urges, and idiosyncratic passions. In the case of the people writing about birds, it was all that they wanted to do. “I am still in the medical profession (I see you took your degree too) but I don’t like it a bit. My life is ornithology,” one German physician wrote to a Smithsonian staffer in 1899, one who also happened to have earned a medical degree but then took a job working with birds.
Coming from diverse backgrounds, and often with great expertise in other areas, numerous people happily applied innovation to the discipline of ornithology. Passionate comments like this ornithologist’s motivated me to look at intersections of all kinds in trying to reach a meaningful set of descriptions of just what constituted a professional in science in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Guest Blog: M. G. Lord February 6, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Collaboration, Guest Blogs, Writing.
Tags: Art & Science, Books, Cognitive Science
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M. G. Lord is a cultural critic, journalist, and the author of Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll, Astro Turf: The Private Life of Rocket Science, and The Accidental Feminist: How Elizabeth Taylor Raised Our Consciousness and We Were Too Distracted by Her Beauty to Notice. Since 1995, she has been a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review and the Arts & Leisure section. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including the New Yorker, Vogue, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Travel + Leisure, and Artforum. She teaches at the University of Southern California and will anchor the nonfiction division at the first annual Yale Writers Conference in New Haven this summer.
We became interested in M. G. Lord’s work after Doug saw her present on a panel about science writing at the Association of Writers and Writing Program Conference. You can read our post about that panel HERE. After that, Anna read Lord’s book Astro Turf (lots of good Jet Propulsion Laboratory stuff) and, when the opportunity arose, invited Lord to participate in the upcoming AWP panel on creative nonfiction in the nuclear age.
If you’ve been paying attention, you know that Lofty Ambitions is featuring each of the presenters on that creative nonfiction panel. Click HERE for the post by Kristen Iversen, author of the forthcoming Full Body Burden. Click HERE for the post by Jeff Porter, author of Oppenheimer is Watching Me. Tom Zoellner, author of Uranium and A Safeway in Arizona, will be our next guest blogger. And if you’re in Chicago on March 2, join us at 1:30p.m. in the Hilton, Continental B.
We’re especially interested in what she’s doing now, namely collaborating on her next book project, which has to do with neuroscience, and, in the process, exploring the technology of drawing.
DISTRACTING ONESELF INTO THE NEXT PROJECT
On February first, Bloomsbury USA published my new book, The Accidental Feminist: How Elizabeth Taylor Raised Our Consciousness and We Were Too Distracted by Her Beauty to Notice. As you may glean from the title, this is a departure from my previous book, Astro Turf, a family memoir of aerospace culture during the Cold War and an informal history of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Both books, however, have a common attribute—one that, I suspect has blighted books since Gutenberg invented moveable type: Publication is hell. Or, in any event, publication taxes an author’s nerves.
My strategy for dealing with such stress is to avoid anything written about my work, whether it’s positive or negative. Instead, I immerse myself in a fresh project, ideally one that has little in common with the book under scrutiny. This means not only a different subject but also a new medium. That brings me to my latest endeavor. In collaboration with Dr. Indre Viskontas, a neuroscientist who also happens to be an opera singer, I am working on a graphic novel that has to do with the brain.
By working, I mean both writing and drawing, the latter of which today seems more like engineering than art. Two decades ago, when I retired from a 12-year run as a political cartoonist for Newsday, all a caricaturist needed to excel was hand-eye coordination and a mean spirit. I drew malicious pictures with a crow quill pen on Bristol board. But in 2012, the best graphic artists are also software virtuosos. They render some or all of their cartoons digitally, either scanning pen-and-ink drawings into the computer or executing an entire image in a program such as Adobe Illustrator.
To say I lack an aptitude for engineering would be a gross understatement. Never mind that I developed great admiration for engineers while writing Astro Turf. Initially, I was so intimidated by the drawing software that I hired a tutor to help me with it—or, more accurately, to help me decide whether mastery was a realistic possibility. Our first session—on my tutor’s equipment—was psychologically brutal. After two hours of scanning existing drawings and manipulating them in Adobe Photoshop, we moved to the true baptism of fire: drawing directly on a tablet connected to the computer.
All political cartoonists of my vintage—I was in college in the late 1970s—can draw Richard Nixon in their sleep. During Watergate, I taught myself to render the disgraced President on an Etch-a-Sketch, which back then was an eye-popping parlor trick. Compared with a tablet, however, the Etch-a-Sketch is an inexpensive, effortless drawing tool. Now, I faced a pricy, counterintuitive torture device. After another hour of tutoring, I managed to scratch out a digital approximation of Nixon’s flapping jowls and ski-jump beak. And I decided to commit both time and money to embracing the digital future.
Tablets come in two main styles: one on which you draw but your marks appear on a separate monitor; the other that is itself a monitor, so that you see what you have drawn beneath your stylus rather than feet away. As you can imagine, the latter iteration is pricier than the former. I was planning to go the cheap route until the universe sent me a message not to. Last month, a lifestyle magazine asked me to interview Rodolphe Guenoden, a DreamWorks animation supervisor. I expected we would talk about animated movies. But Guenoden’s great passion is graphic novels, and he showed me how he used hardware and software to render them digitally. He made drawing on a Wacom Cintiq—a tablet that also functions as a monitor—seem almost intuitive. I watched him change the way his lines appeared, simulating brushstrokes, pen lines, pencil marks. And I bought the Cintiq.
True, it took me three hours with a tutor to set it up. And another 45 minutes to figure out how to define the margins on a page. In the old days, with a T-square, I could pencil in margins while blindfolded. My hand still reaches for the pens and brushes on my desk. But I allow it to—even Guenoden does his initial storyboarding on paper.
A steep learning curve awaits. But that is exactly what I want. It is guaranteed to distract me from the vicissitudes of publication.
Guest Blog: Jeff Porter January 16, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Guest Blogs.
Tags: Art & Science, Books, Nuclear Weapons
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On March 2, Anna will be joined by four other writers at “Fallout & Facts: Creative Nonfiction in the Nuclear Age” at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference. Panelist Kristen Iversen, author of the forthcoming Full Body Burden, has already contributed a guest post to Lofty Ambitions (click HERE). Today, we a post by another panelist, Jeff Porter.
We’ve not yet met Jeff Porter, though Anna read Oppenheimer Is Watching Me, one of the books that inspired the panel. The book draws from Porter’s past: his father worked for a defense contractor, and young Jeff, like many of us, was born into the Cold War. His essays have appeared in numerous literary journals, including The Antioch Review, Shenandoah, The Missouri Review, and Isotope (a journal of literary writing about nature and science that we are sad to say is no longer publishing). Jeff Porter teaches at the University of Iowa and focuses on media studies as well as creative nonfiction.
ON JOHN HERSEY, ATOMIC WRITER
I’m an atomic writer, though I wish I had a t-shirt to prove it. Any real evidence of what I am is kept secret in my mitochondria, and I’d rather not go there. A t-shirt would be much cooler.
The very first atomic writer, John Hersey, did not receive a t-shirt either. He did, however, get a personal issue of The New Yorker, the only time the entire magazine was turned over to one story. William Shawn had sent Hersey to Japan nine months after the bombing of Hiroshima, suggesting that he look into the lives of the survivors. In the countless words thus far printed about the bomb, rarely had the human side of the story been put before readers. That changed with the August 31, 1946, edition of The New Yorker. For 15¢, you could read the stunning documentary tale of six people who lived through the nightmare of Hiroshima.
In all, Hersey had met with over fifty Japanese survivors. He narrowed that group down to six—a Jesuit priest, a clerk, a seamstress, a physician, a Methodist minister, and a surgeon—each of whom he interviewed for six weeks before returning to New York. A month later, Hersey turned in a 150-page manuscript. Initially, the editors planned to run the piece in four consecutive installments of the magazine, as they would later do with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, but at the last moment Shawn decided to take the unprecedented step of devoting an entire issue to Hersey’s story.
The magazine’s editor in chief, Harold Ross, wasn’t sold on the idea of turning the genteel The New Yorker into a house of tragedy. Banishing the magazine’s signature cartoons in favor of gloom and doom seemed a bad idea. Nevertheless he signed on, but not before requesting hundreds of changes to the text. At 31,000 words, Hersey’s story took up all 68 pages of magazine space. Everything else was stripped away except for the cover art, which featured a lively park scene teeming with people at play that gave little indication as to what lay inside the magazine. For readers, this would be no picnic.
Here’s Mr. Tanimoto, the Methodist minister educated in the U.S., fleeing in confusion after the flash of the bomb:
Mr. Tanimoto, fearful for his family and church, at first ran toward them by the shortest route, along Koi Highway. He was the only person making his way into the city ; he met hundreds and hundreds who were fleeing, and every one of them seemed to be hurt in some way. The eyebrows of some were burned off and skin hung from their faces and hands. Others, because of pain, held their arms up as if carrying something in both hands. Some were vomiting as they walked. Many were naked or in shreds of clothing.
Though grim, a description like this is a far cry from later narratives of atomic disaster, such as The Day After (1983), television’s sensationalized account of American survivors of an imaginary nuclear war. In fact, Hersey’s text repeatedly understates the catastrophe, focusing instead on mundane details delivered in a deadpan voice. Hersey’s style is so flat as to be ironic, but the irony mostly serves to dignify the subjects of the piece at the expense of the spectacle.
By many accounts “the most famous magazine article every published,” Hersey’s story of Hiroshima found a way around the nuclear sublime (and the enchantment of a new technology) that would cast a spell over American writers for decades to come. He opened the door of atomic discourse to literature, and for that he deserved his very own magazine.
Beautiful Science December 21, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science.
Tags: Art & Science, Books, botany, Einstein, Math, Museums & Archives, Science Writing
Last week, we wrote about a temporary exhibit at the Huntington Library. Today is the anniversary of Kelly Johnson’s death. We mentioned several of Kelly Johnson’s written pieces in last week’s blog because he was a central figure in Southern California’s aviation history. Read about “Blue Sky Metropolis” HERE.
Past that exhibit is an ongoing display called “Beautiful Science.” Most science museums, while relatively aesthetically inviting as spaces, especially in the sense of being navigable, don’t emphasize the aesthetics of science itself and the artistic representation of science. The Huntington Library uses its texts and artifacts to show the art in science as well as science as art.
Yesterday, after she submitted her grades, Anna traipsed off to a physical bookstore, a reminder that we are writers and have specific writing tasks we want to accomplish over the holiday break. Among her purchases was the annual anthology of The Best American Science Writing. In their introduction, the editors Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Floyd Skloot, Rebecca’s father and author of In the Shadow of Memory, write the following:
“[I]n our experiences, the arts and sciences are more alike than not: both involve following hunches, lingering questions, and passions; perfecting the art of productive daydreaming without getting lost in it; being flexible enough to follow the research wherever it leads you, but focused enough to never lose sight of your larger direction and goals. There’s an alchemy that occurs when art and science come together, when the tools of narrative, voice, imagery, setting, dialog, are brought to bear on biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, mathematics, and their various combinations.”
That overview echoes the impetus behind and experience of “Beautiful Science.” In fact, an early placard in the exhibition says of observation, “Our desire to understand and organize the living world has been a story of wonder, curiosity, and discovery. Observation has led to text and imagery that have matched our changing perceptions of nature’s order.” In other words, the way we write about and represent science tells us a lot about ourselves as well as about the world around us.
And the Huntington Library’s exhibit runs the gamut of the sciences, from illustrations of flora and fauna to anatomical dissection drawings to displays of dozens of light bulbs. Of course, the exhibit includes texts, notably numerous mathematical texts with varying amounts of formulas and illustration, but also a letter from Albert Einstein. Perhaps the most interesting display is of edition after edition of Origin of the Species, sweeping in linear feet along two walls.
Like any good science writing, “Beautiful Science” asks you to read, to look closely at the universe around you, and to keep thinking about the ideas it offers up.
In the Footsteps (Part 10) December 7, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Other Stuff, Science.
Tags: Art & Science, Books, In the Footsteps, Museums & Archives, Music, Nuclear Weapons
Late on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we overpacked our suitcases and headed out on the highway. Five hours later, we had checked into our Las Vegas hotel and were in search of the food you can find at the wee hours in the city that really does never sleep. On Monday, we made our now-annual visit to the Atomic Testing Museum on Flamingo Road.
We’ve written about this museum before HERE. This time, the museum boasted a special exhibit called “Building Atomic Vegas” that fits perfectly with our ongoing series “In the Footsteps.” This week, we’ll walk you through some of the highlights of that exhibit by sharing some of our photos.
The exhibit “Building Atomic Vegas” runs through January 5, 2012. For the video of the press preview for this exhibit, click HERE. If you’re in Las Vegas this Friday, December 9, check out the lecture on “Salvador Dali and Nuclear Art.”
Guest Blog: A Year-End Round-Up December 5, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Guest Blogs, Information.
Tags: Art & Science, Books
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Lofty Ambitions has been posting pieces by guest bloggers for more than a year now. We’ve been grateful to be able to share a wide range of voices, ideas, and topics with our readers, all the while remaining focused on the blog’s main interests of aviation and space exploration, science of the twentieth century and beyond, and writing as a couple.
With the holidays coming up and the calendar year’s end nearing, we decided to use this December guest blog spot to point out some of our guests’ books, just in case you have some holiday shopping to do or need a reading treat for yourself. We also have some non-book suggestions too!
To see all guest blog posts, click on the menu tab for “guest blogs.”
RECENT AND FORTHCOMING BOOKS BY OUR LOFTY CONTRIBUTORS:
The Boiling Season by Christopher Hebert, a novel due out in March
Welcome to Shirley by Kelly McMasters, a memoir about growing up nuclear
Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley, a memoir about allergies that is a Goodreads nomination for Best Food & Cooking
Celluloid Strangers by Eric Wasserman, a novel set in post-WWII Los Angeles
The Time It Takes to Fall by Margaret Lazarus Dean, a novel set on the Space Coast
Friendly Fallout 1953 by Ann Ronald, nuclear short stories
The Resurrection Trade by Leslie Adrienne Miller, a poetry collection (Y is forthcoming)
the weight of dew by Daniela Elza, a poetry collection due out in April
Truth, Lies and O-Rings by Allan J. McDonald, nonfiction about Challenger
Challenger Revealed by Richard C. Cook, nonfiction
The Berlin Candy Bomber by Gail Halvorson, nonfiction
AC/DC’s Highway to Hell by Joe Bonomo, nonfiction
OTHER ACCOMPLISHMENTS TO CHECK OUT:
The film Welcome to Shirley, based on Kelly McMasters’s memoir, made it into Sundance Film Festival this year. Watch the trailer HERE.
Lylie Fisher is showing some of her artwork in the exhibit The Space Between at the American Center for Physics gallery in College Park, Maryland, through May 4, 2012.
The Roger and Roberta Boisjoly Challenger Disaster Collection is housed at Chapman University. You can access the finding aid HERE, but there’s a lot more materials to come as they get sorted and catalogued from the many boxes from Roger’s garage.
WE ALSO RECOMMEND the work of our new colleague Tom Zoellner. He joined Chapman University’s faculty this fall, and we’d already read his book Uranium, for which he made an appearance on The Daily Show. Tom’s new book, A Safeway in Arizona: What the Gabrielle Giffords Shooting Tells Us about the Grand Canyon State and Life in America, is due out later this month and is available for pre-order at Powell’s HERE.
Tom and Anna will appear together on the panel “Fallout & Facts: Creative Nonfiction in the Nuclear Age” at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference on March 2, 2012, in Chicago. Both Tom and Anna will sign books on March 3 at the conference bookfair (Table D-21), which is open to the public that Saturday. Other “Fallout & Facts” panelists include Kristen Iversen, M .G. Lord, and Jeff Porter—all of whom have books available or forthcoming soon that are of interest to us here at Lofty Ambitions.
Happy Birthday, Neptune! September 23, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: Art & Science
On this date in 1846, the planet Neptune was discovered by Urbain Le Verrier and John Couch Adams, then verified by Johann Galle. Galileo (the philosopher-mathematician-astronomer, not the spacecraft that orbited Jupiter) may actually have seen it more than two hundred years earlier, but he mistook it for a star. Additional controversy surrounded whether the Frenchman and the Brit should really share credit for the discovery, and recent assessment leans toward Le Verrier doing the more significant work.
Between 1930 and 2006, Pluto held the title of farthest planet from the Sun. Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombough, who was born in Streator, Illinois, and later worked at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona. But Pluto was reclassified because it never cleared the neighborhood of its own orbit, and few were more devastated than the residents of Streator. In other words, it didn’t have enough planetary gravitas and doesn’t push and pull other objects in its orbital neighborhood. Neptune not only celebrates its discovery day today, but last week it celebrated the five-year anniversary of its return to ascendancy as the farthest planet from the Sun.
The eighth planet was named by its discoverer, Le Verrier, after the Roman god of the sea. The planet has thirteen moons. Neptune is seventeen times heavier than the Earth, has high surface gravity, and takes almost 165 years to orbit the Sun. None of us on Earth will live through a complete Neptune orbit. Imagine if each season lasted 40 years. What’s really mind-boggling when you think about time and how we measure it by the Earth’s rotation (a day) and orbit (a year) is that, because Neptune isn’t solid like the Earth, its equator takes about two hours longer to rotate than its poles, 18 hours and 16.1 hours, respectively.
Some of what we know about Neptune and many of the images we have of it—photos of its rings, its dark spots (storms)—are a result of the flyby of Voyager 2 in 1989. PBS based Neptune All Night on that spacecraft flyby. According to NASA, 11,000 workyears were devoted to Voyager 1 and 2 through the Neptune flyby; that’s equivalent to one-third of the work effort devoted to building the Great Pyramid at Giza. These spacecraft each carry a disc, the Golden Record, of 115 images and also many sounds, including greetings in 55 languages, chosen by Carl Sagan and his team, just in case Voyager runs into anybody else out there. Antennas are still tracking these spacecraft as they move farther and farther away, now into the Heliosheath. In fact, in 1998, Voyager 1 passed Pioneer 10 to become the spacecraft to travel farthest from Earth.
Okay, so maybe it’s not exactly the eight planet’s birthday, but discovery is worth celebrating. Unfortunately, Neptune can never be seen with the naked eye, but a telescope or even binoculars can help us make it out in the night sky. Click HERE for some information about peeking at Neptune this fall.
Guest Blog: Debora Rindge June 20, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Guest Blogs, Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Art & Science, Museums & Archives
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A few weeks ago, we noticed a print called Trust Zone in a temporary exhibition of Chapman University art at Leatherby Libraries, where Doug works. The blue outline of a space suit caught our eye, and then we noticed the map of Kennedy Space Center, a place we had recently visited. The print was of a Robert Rauschenberg lithograph, so we contacted our art historian friend to see what she had to say about it.
Debora Rindge is an art historian specializing in American art in Las Cruces, New Mexico. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Maryland, College Park (where Anna earned her M.F.A., though they didn’t know each other at the time). After a career in academia, Debora founded the fine art consulting firm, Mirari.
One of the best-known artists in a remarkable NASA program created in 1962 to celebrate American art and space exploration was Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), who is considered one of the founders of American Pop Art. In July of 1969 he, Jamie Wyeth, and other artists were invited to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, for the launch of Apollo 11, the first to allow humans (Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin) to walk on the moon. Rauschenberg recalled the frosting of the Saturn rocket as it took on liquid nitrogen: “It turned into the most beautiful icicle. The incredibly bright lights, the moon coming up, seeing the rocket turn into pure ice, its stripes and U.S.A. markings disappearing…The whole project seemed one of the only things at that time that was not concerned with war and destruction. What really impressed me in that space shot was the attitude of the people involved, the trust, the teamwork.” (The quote is from Calvin Tomkins’s book Off the Wall: A Portrait of Robert Rauschenberg.) Rauschenberg was delighted with the free access NASA granted to photographic archives, charts, maps, and other data and to technicians and astronauts.
Immediately after the launch, Rauschenberg was inspired to create the Stoned Moon series of 34 lithographs. The series title puns the medium itself. Lithography is a printmaking process involving a fine-grained stone that is inked, then run through a press and printed on paper in a limited edition. Each color requires a separate stone. This series includes both hand lithography, where the mark of the artist is evident in brushstrokes, and photolithography, where selected images are transferred mechanically to the stone.
Rauschenberg traveled to Los Angeles to work in collaboration with the important print workshop, Gemini G.E.L., a team effort not unlike what he observed at the space launch. The result included some of the largest hand-printed lithographs made at the time, an astounding technical achievement that also echoed the scale of NASA’s Apollo 11 launch.
Rauschenberg was born in Port Arthur, Texas. He discovered his interest in drawing while serving in the Marines, then studied art at the Kansas City Art Institute, the Academie Julian in Paris, and Black Mountain College in North Carolina. He worked in a variety of media, inventing the term combine for his pieces that combined painting with assemblages of found objects, and created early interdisciplinary performance work with composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham. In the 1960s he began to make visionary silkscreen prints with images appropriated from media, referencing bits of ordinary life in collage-like compositions. His appropriation of random photographic material mimics the transparency and occasionally grainy quality of a flickering television screen. If you close your eyes at the end of the day and imagine all the visual information you’d absorbed, it might look something like a Rauschenberg print.
The Stoned Moon series features a rich range of imagery. Sky Garden, the largest in the series at nearly 7.5 feet high, is the most literal record of the launch, taking the viewer from rocket construction to take-off in one breathtaking multi-layered view.
A more abstract rendition of figure (a space suit) and ground (the Kennedy Space Center landscape) is presented in the diagrammatic Trust Zone, an image that seems at first technically impenetrable, until the large space suit rises to the surface from the web of technical documentation.
For more on the NASA Art Program, click HERE. And if you’ll be in Washington, D.C., be sure to visit the exhibit, “NASA | ART: 50 Years of Exploration,“ on view from May 28 to October 9, 2011, at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
Writing Time & Timeliness June 8, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Collaboration, Writing.
Tags: Art & Science, Space Shuttle
Two weeks ago, in what might be characterized as a frenzy—a state of barely controlled activity, agitation, and emotion—we finished a short article that we pitched to Air & Space Magazine just before we headed to the airport for our research trip in New Mexico. The editor responded positively the next day—the very next day. There existed a few matters to work out, including explaining the timeliness of our topic because what’s interesting to us regardless of when it happened needs to be both interesting and timely to magazine readers. Also, it’s too long, so the editor is going to shorten the piece. But there we were, fretting about the several projects we were juggling together and individually. Then, suddenly, we have an article scheduled for the August issue of Air & Space Magazine, which has a circulation of more than 200,000.
Earlier this year, we saw Pico Iyer at Chapman University. Iyer has written novels like Video Night in Kathmandu and is a regular contributor to Time, Harper’s, and the New York Review of Books. After his formal talk, Anna asked about his writing life and work across genres. He responded that he’s always juggling four to six projects of different sizes and at different stages. That way, he can work on book projects when he has long stretches of time to focus and on individual articles or revision when he’s traveling. Earlier that day, in a separate campus event, Doug Cooney, author of a children’s book about an entrepreneurial kid who starts a pet funeral business, had told a room overflowing with creative writing students that he always had thirteen ideas ready to go. Iyer and Cooney made it clear that they don’t do just one thing at a time.
Last month, Julianna Baggott posted a piece on her blog called, “When do you sleep? The truth.” Baggott has published 17 books, has four children, and holds a position at Florida State University. One of her secrets is genre-hopping, so she works on multiple projects, including her blog, seemingly simultaneously. It’s clear that she’s always writing or thinking about writing, that she works on her writing in her head while she’s doing other things, and that she’s open to opportunities and looking for writing triggers. She also talks about fuel—timing her caffeine, grazing and exercising to maintain energy, staving off an evening glass of wine until the day’s writing is done—and about her daily writing practice, even when she’s tired. She works hard and works hard consistently.
Lately, we’ve been talking between ourselves about how busy we’ve been. We moved to California three years ago, in part, to reorient our lives and focus on those novel projects we each already had underway. Doug is working on The Chief and the Gadget and recently revised the chapter outline in a way that clears a path for revising and filling in. Anna has planned to revise The Undone Years since receiving good suggestions from an agent last fall; she knows what she wants to do but hasn’t looked at the manuscript in three months. Lately, it’s been difficult to keep our hands on our individual projects as we’ve expanded the research and writing we do together.
Last summer, we launched Lofty Ambitions Blog and committed to a regular post every Wednesday. We also agreed that we’d take it seriously and see where these topics could lead us. We didn’t make plans, but we had ideas. At the end of this April, just over a month ago, we flew across the country to see space shuttle Endeavour not launch, then went back to Florida less than two weeks later to see the actual launch (see our photos and video). A week after that trip, we headed to New Mexico to walk in the footsteps of Manhattan Project scientists. (We posted photos of that trip last Wednesday, and we’ll have more on that amazing trip in future posts.) Had we not already had those plans for this past week, we likely would have returned to Florida to see Endeavour land and Atlantis roll out to the launch pad. Right now, we’re in Victoria learning about digital humanities. We like doing research together, and we’ve learned new ways to write as a couple through these experiences.
In another post, Julianna Baggott writes, “For me it came to this: If I didn’t write, I would resent my children. And if I didn’t have children in order to have more time to write, I’d resent my writing. I had to do both.” At those times when we feel rather frenzied, maybe that’s the type of balance we should keep in mind, when other things compete for our novel-writing time. If we didn’t follow the end of the space shuttle program, we might resent our novels—or regret what finishing the novels sooner rather than later had cost us. Any resentment we feel over not focusing consistently enough on our individual projects can’t be directed anywhere in particular.
Someone else has set the schedule for the end of the space shuttle program, so this year is our only chance at that. Last week, we were awarded media credentials for the last launch, scheduled for July 8, just one month from now. We want to be there, even though it’s an expense for which we hadn’t planned and even though we recently set end-of-summer goals for our novel manuscripts. These trips to Kennedy Space Center are intense, with unpredictable hours and opportunities. But we don’t have the option of getting around to it later. Though we’re not exactly sure how this research is adding up, we feel we need to stick with it.
We need to stick with our novels too. And so we tell ourselves that our pace will slow in August, that we’ll rethink our priorities at the end of the summer, and that we’ll re-establish our daily writing practice and our weekly writing nights together in the fall. In the meantime, we’ll do the best we can to keep talking through and revising our novels. If we hadn’t had our article picked up by Air & Space Magazine, maybe these things we tell ourselves wouldn’t be enough and we’d switch gears. But for us—for us right now—we’re figuring out the best balance we can manage between our writing as a couple and our writing projects as individuals. We have to do both.