The Mars Science Laboratory was the occasion
for as much anticipation as any space mission. It's destination,
Gale crater, was the product of much soul searching and sifting
of the relative merits of several places. The choice assures a
maximum return of insights into the history of Mars, and a great
variety of landscapes in the journey of this most sophisticated
extension of our senses ever delivered to another world. Planetfest
was timed to coincide with the landing of MSL, named 'Curiosity'
as the result of a national student contest.
The Planetary Society brought space and science people together over that weekend at the Pasadena Convention Center. I was part of the Saturday August 4 Planetfest panel discussion 'Why create space art? With Jon Ramer, myself, Rick Sternbach, Don Dixon and Aldo Spadoni. We each were given a few minutes to talk, then each answered questions. I said a few things I wanted to get out there and started to say something that was never finished, 'Mars Hill' being first a space artists gathering place, than its name being formalized, and finally its use as Mars landing sets for two nearly identical science TV show productions. The most important thing I felt like saying was along these lines, People have asked me if the Hubble images and various space probe images are the death of space art, if they make space artists irrelevant. Not at all, they are inspirations for many more works of art inspired by what we are learning about the Universe around us. If nothing else, the visual information available for reference for many amazing celestial object gives us several revalatory visions where we formally had one. There's always some threshold we wish we could see more of than any real image can show, always a place where an artist can carry on the idea of what its like to be there.
The others spoke of their recollections of some early visual influences, and something of their own lives and their operating philosophies. Rick recalled the origin of the International Association of Astronomical Artists, the major group of space artists, at an Orange Julious during the 1981 Planetfest. I then mentioned the 1983 Death Valley workshop, and Death Valley's 'Mars Hill', the rubble strewn rise that superficially resembles the Viking 2 landing site. Every one of us did well speaking in front of a crowd. The horrible part is the waiting to come on, but so long as you stay on what you know and love you will do fine.
I had a couple Mars oil paintings that had been damaged in the Northridge Quake that I finally to decided to retouch, cleaning them and bringing my old oil paint tubes and related solvents, treating visitors to the sight of someone painting in traditional media.
It turned out to be the start of something of a revival of my doing oil paintings, pogressing from retouching damaged old works. Three times I was asked about a book I recommended for artists, the old Dover editions of 'The Nature of Light and Color in the Open Air' by M. Minnaert. A highlight was a little girl brought to me by her mom, she asked me if the two stars at the top of the Tim Mutch Memorial Station painting, the original which was shown there, were the Earth and Moon, which they were! I congratulated her on her being so observant.
I am finishing up my quadrant of the quickie Mars painting
which was outlied broadly by Jon Ramer, who started the sky on
his section earlier. I painted in both oils and acrylics while
at Planetfest. Photo by Jon Ramer.
Above me to the right can be seen the original oil painting I did of the Viking 1 lander. The new plaque shown on the dusty old lander is now at the National Air and Space Museum, awaiting a mission to place it there. (below right, seen in a digitally updated color version)
Later Saturday Afternoon I went to JPL to get my badge, once in I visited the courtyard and auditorium, taking many photos of the models on display for future reference. There was hardly anyone there, and the interior of Von Karman Auditorium was lit fairly brightly. The now venerable Voyager spacecraft mockup was along the North wall as always, with a little exhibit about the record nearby. Other spacecraft were there, Mars Odyssey and a reduced model of the Cassini Saturn Orbiter and the Huygens Titan probe. The models were lit more subdued than before, with colored gel filtered lights illuminating them giving an almost festive ambiance.
I waited until the Sun angle allowed most of the fairly high fidelity rover model to be most evenly lit. At one point an obliging reporter took a photo of me next to the replica. Later while walking about I ran into one of the Rover controllers, Nagin Cox. She knew who I was, and we briefly discussed art and science. When I asked how long after landing it would likely be until we saw images she said thumbnails should be down within minutes, unless we had to wait for the next Odyssey orbit some 90 minutes later.
Sunday, August 5, was a long eventful, tense and joyous day. I arrived at Planetfest 45 minutes after opening. I brought a range of acrylic paints needed to do a quick quadrant painting of a Martian landscape with MSL about to land in the distance. Jon Ramer prepared a board with a general format guideline sketched in with soft pencil lines, which also demarcated our quadrants to paint. I did the lower right, in between talking to people managing to paint in 90 minutes a reasonably coherent rough of rocks, dunes, talus slopes and textured terrain receding into the distance. With the paints I left, Jon, Rick and some locally recruited talent filled in the rest.
(right) The finished work. I painted the lower right quadrant in about 90 minutes at Planetfest. Then Aldo Spadoni did the upper right, followed by Jon Ramer at upper left, and finally a group effort recruiting young artistically inclined Planetfest attendees under Jon's guideance at the lower left.
I left a little after five PM to get to JPL, the warning having been given to arrive before 6:30. There was no backup, the main media lot was full but there was plenty of room in the outer lots stretching to the Northwest, lined by mature oak trees. Walking across the lot, the towers of the satellite trucks had sprouted overnight like tall mushrooms. Generators roared, glimpses of mobile TV broadcast booths could be had in open doors. Looming over it all was the building that controlled the mission.
Inside the JPL campus were crowds of media, roving groups of VIPs and hangers on, and occasional personnel directly involved with the mission. Extensive effort had obviously been made to organize the tasks to accommodate efficiently hundreds of people. The Curiosity Rover and the models in the courtyard under the shade structure were crowded with cameras and associated electronics and power boxes, cared for and prepared for live and taped interviews broadcasting all over. People from across the world were gathered there, groups conversing in this language and that as one walked across the campus within the limits for media clearly demarcated by signs. I wandered as far West as possible to take a look at Mars in the evening sky. I came upon rows and groups of people pointing up and there was the brilliant ISS making a pass overhead! I then walked East enough to see the bright triangle of Spica, accompanied by the planets Saturn and on the right Mars, both worlds having spacecraft around them spawned from and communicated with from here, in the building where there is no day or night. Mars was above a light and one had to look between trees but there it was, a place we would soon see a new landscape of.