Milky Way at Dawn in Yosemite Valley (Wallpaper Wednesday)

19 06 2013

Milky Way at Dawn in Yosemite Valley. Image courtesy Gregg L. Cooper

I wrapped up my California research trip with a weekend in Yosemite. In my mind, Lick Observatory and Yosemite Valley are linked landscapes; it seemed appropriate to go from archives to the park. We did some quality star gazing out behind our cabin, but as frequently happens on vacation, I was ready for bed well before the darkest observing hours. Luckily, photographers like Gregg Cooper are out there doing the hard work while the rest of us are resting up. Enjoy this particularly successful photo taken at Valley View; it’s a lovely combination of moving water, the Milky Way, and the growing glow of sunrise.

Click on the image to go to Mr. Cooper’s flickr page, where you can see this and other beautiful Yosemite photos.

9/11 Memorial, New York

2 12 2012

Waterfall, South Pool, 9/11 Memorial

This seems to be our week for thanatourism. Three days after our visit to the Flight 93 National Memorial, we visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. I’ll spare you my words, but give you some of my photos.

Flight 93 National Memorial

26 11 2012

National Veterans Awareness Ride, 2012. Flight 93 National Memorial. Photo credit: JR

A year ago today, I was celebrating one of the milestones of aviation history, the successful launch of the Mars Science Laboratory (aka Curiosity, the Mars Rover). Today, I mourned one of aviation history’s greatest tragedies, the deliberate downing of Flight 93 in a field near Lambertsville, Pennsylvania.

If you’d like to see how I experienced the site this morning, you can watch the slideshow here.


5 11 2012

The “Cosmos” Pavilion, VDNKh, Moscow, USSR/”Космос” павииьон, ВДНХ, Москва, СССР, 1988

A few months ago, while looking for something else, my partner came across a set of postcards I bought in the Soviet Union in 1988. They’ve been sitting on my desk ever since, waiting to be scanned, uploaded, and explained. I bought them on the penultimate day of my trip, when I made a solo journey out to VDNKh, or the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy (ВДНХ, Выставка Достижений Народного Хозяйства), in the northern suburbs of Moscow. At the time, VDNKh was a massive exhibition grounds dedicated to celebrating the technological and economic of accomplishments of the Soviet government and states. Anyone who has been to a World Expo would have no difficult recognizing the purpose and organization of the grounds—dramatic vistas, state pavilions subsumed into a national narrative, folk music and costumes at every corner, heavy emphasis progress in science and technology. It would’ve been a nice lesson in state propaganda had I not already been immersed in it for weeks. I spent my afternoon in the Cosmos Pavilion (except when I was outside listening to music and eating bubliki, which for some reason weren’t available in Leningrad). I was practically pulsating with energy, a far cry from my usual state of melancholy that summer. It was my first opportunity to see real spacecraft and I was going to do it even if it meant navigating the Metro solo. That the spacecraft happened to be Soviet didn’t matter at all to me. At least, I don’t remember sorting out the exhibits in the Space Pavilion in terms of US vs. USSR, Us vs. Them. I was just excited to see real satellites and a bit awed by their size. A few of the postcards and their captions (click on the images for a larger view):

A citizen of the USSR Yuri Gagarin, the first man to orbit the earth in a space flight/The carrier rocket of the “Vostok” space ship//Первый космонавт–гражданин СССР Ю. А. Гагарин. Ракета космического корабеля “Восток”

The “Cosmos-1514” specialised biological satellite for the comprehensive study of animals and plants//Специализированный биологический спутник “Космос-1514” для комплексного исследования животных и растений

The “Lunakhod-2” remote-controlled lunar exploration vehicle transmitted 80,000 pictures of the lunar surface to the Earth//Автоматический самоходный аппарат “Луноход-2” передал на Землю 80 тысяч изображений луной поверхности

The Salyut long-term orbital station, docked with a “Soyuz” spaceship and a Progress cargo spacecraft, in flight//Долповременная орбитальная станция “Салют”, состыкованная с кораблем “Союз” и грузовозом “Прогресс” в полете

The “Cosmos-1500” artificial satellite of the earth for studying the World Ocean and the land surface; the “Luna-24” automatic interplanetary station delivered samples of moon rock to the Earth//Иссуственный спутник Земли “Космос-1500” для исследования Мирового океана и поверхности суши; Автоматическая межпланетная станция “Луна-24” обеспечала доставку образцов лунного грунта

Visiting Space Shuttle Discovery (Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum)

23 10 2012

First Sighting at James S. McDonnell Space Hangar. Photo credit: JR

I left for Los Angeles and my encounter with Endeavour just two days after returning from a visit to the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. The highlight of the Smithsonian visit was the Space Shuttle Discovery, of course, but after spending three days with Endeavour, I was a little hesitant to go back and look at my photos from my day at the museum. I was worried that the experience, even though it was so recent, wouldn’t hold up to the weekend following Endeavour. Of course, it doesn’t in many ways, but in others, seeing Discovery was also a great experience.

Landing Gear, Space Shuttle Discovery. Photo credit: JR

Endeavour’s landing gear was retracted during its move to the California Science Center, of course. I didn’t really think about it at the time, but when I started sorting through my Smithsonian photos, I realized how different the undersides of the two spacecrafts appeared, one staged for landing, the other staged for transport. The experience of scale was quite different, too. On the streets of L.A., Endeavour seemed like a behemoth, lumbering down the center lane. At Udvar-Hazy, Discovery seems quite small, although not as small as the Mercury capsule perched off to the side.

James S. McDonnell Space Hangar. Photo credit: JR

Otherwise, the real lesson I learned by comparing the two sets of photos: it’s vastly easier to figure out exposure and white balance when I’m outdoors in persistent lighting/weather conditions. Museum lighting continues to be a challenge for me. Most of my problems could be solved with a tripod, but white balance is always difficult in a creatively lit museum. It’s a good thing I’m not being paid for this.

Endeavour Day Two (Photos)

17 10 2012

Intersection of Crenshaw Dr., Crenshaw Blvd., 82nd. Photo credit: JR

I added Endeavour: Day Two photos to my flickr site last night (to go with Morning One, Afternoon One and Videos). It took me longer than I thought it would because I kept stopping to (re) watch the L.A. Times timelapse video of my weekend. Anyway, the Day Two collection is as much about the spectators as it is about the shuttle (don’t worry, there are plenty of Endeavour photos and all the engine porn you’d ever want). After being jostled around all day Friday—particularly at Randy’s Donuts—I was feeling a bit grumpy about the crowds. Saturday, I tried to use them to my advantage instead of fighting all the people. So, fewer clear sight lines, but more awesome moments of stranger happiness.

p.s. If you follow my twitter feed, you know I left the sidewalk unexpectedly at Crenshaw and King on Saturday night. A few days later, my right knee is definitely feeling the impact, but otherwise, all is good.

Intrepid Museum

3 10 2012

Douglas A4 Skyhawk, Intrepid Museum, New York, NY. Photo credit: JR

I failed to upload my photos from our trip to the Intrepid Museum in September. Imagine forgetting about visiting the Space Shuttle Enterprise! I was happy to see the spacecraft again and overall, I liked the new exhibit more than I liked its predecessor at the Smithsonian. Well, on the positive side, Enterprise was better lit at the Smithsonian, making it easier to see all the details and fine lines. On the negative side, visitors were kept well back from the orbiter. At the Intrepid, you can walk underneath it, practically kick its tires. So, while I’m not too happy with the darkness of the temporary pavilion (reminded me of the National Museum of the Air Force), I was pleased they let me get so close.

National Museum of the Air Force

12 09 2012

Boeing P26A, National Museum of the Air Force, Dayton, Ohio. Photo credit: JR

I don’t know if I mentioned it, but I just moved from Indiana to New Jersey for work. On the way east, we stopped at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. I have lots to say about it and no time to say it (did I mention I just started a new job?), but I finally managed to post a few passable photos out of the collection for your enjoyment. I thought the Museum of Flight was a challenge to photograph, but the Dayton museum made taking photos in Seattle look like a cake walk. I promise promise I will come back and talk about curatorial narratives, the arrival of the Space Shuttle trainer, and much more as soon as I get these article revisions out the door.

Spirit of Flight

31 07 2012

Courage. Photo credit: C. Johnson-Roehr

I admit, we had one other reason for visiting the Museum of Flight this summer. Just before we left for Washington, Exhibit Developer Geoff Nunn let me know that the 2012 Spirit of Flight Juried Photography Exhibit was up in the Great Gallery. I think participants in the #MSL #NASATweetup in November will recognize this photo, since I took it during our tour of Cape Canaveral at the end of the first day. Living in India has taught me one thing: if you stand still long enough, it doesn’t matter how many people are in the vicinity. Eventually, they’ll clear out of your shot, if only for 1/2 a second. It’s become second nature to stand still and wait for that moment. You’ll just have to imagine the roving Space Tweeps outside the frame of the photo.


Courage. 2011. Sunset at Launch Complex 34 (LC-34), site of the Apollo 1 fire that claimed the lives of astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White, and Roger B. Chaffee, Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photographer: S. Johnson-Roehr.

Shuttle Trainer

28 07 2012

Flight Deck, Full Fuselage Trainer, Museum of Flight, Seattle, Washington. Photo credit: JR

The above photo explains the timing of our visit to the Museum of Flight in Seattle: we wanted to see the package NASA dropped at Boeing Field a few weeks ago. While I’m sure the Board and employees of the Museum of Flight were disappointed by NASA’s decision to send the retired Shuttle fleet elsewhere, they must have been intrigued by the consolation prize, the Full Fuselage Trainer (FFT). A full-scale mock up of a Space Shuttle, the FFT served as a training ground for every Shuttle crew, allowing the astronauts to practice emergency egress and EVA procedures. The FFT has been arriving piece by piece (the aft section of the payload bay arrived earlier this week) and instead of waiting for the entire “spacecraft” to show up, the curators have been putting the pieces on display as they arrive.

Introducing the Full Fuselage Trainer. Photo credit: JR

I’m not sure how I would feel about it as a curator. Letting an exhibit go up before everything was in place would probably make me anxious. And the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery, the new home of the FFT, has an incomplete, cavernous feel to it at the moment as it sits more than half empty. On the other hand, anticipation is building and has been since the first shipment arrived via the Super Guppy. It’s a bold and quite possibly brilliant curatorial decision, inviting the public to witness the building process. Each Super Guppy touchdown is an opportunity for another press release; each component installed is a reason for visitors to return to the gallery. By the exhibit is complete, the community will be completely invested in the project and hopefully the financially longevity of the museum.

At present, though, the gallery is mostly empty, with a few smaller (intriguing!) exhibits holding down its edges. As in the Great Gallery, the wall of glazing at the front of the building creates a difficult lighting situation for photography and I spent a lot of time trying to find a setting that compensate for the glare without erasing the details of the FFT.

The Charles Simonyi Space Gallery. Photo credit: JR

As you can see from the photo at the top of this post, the nose of the FFT consists massive wooden shell painted with matte black. The auto focus on my camera refused to cooperate for close up photos and even when I pulled back, the (lack of ) contrast between the black wood and the black walls of the gallery forced me rely on manual focus.

I’ve uploaded a few more photos to my flickr site. I’m looking forward to going back and documenting the completed trainer one day soon.

Observatories and Instruments