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Endeavour’s landing gear was retracted during its move to the California Science Center, of course.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.

Wallpaper Wednesday

25 04 2012

Shuttle Discovery is Demated. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

What a beautiful photograph.

I’m buried up to my ears in end-of-the-semester grading right now. I’ve been feeling so pressed for time that I almost broke the only rule I set for myself when I created this site last year: never post about my own research. It’s precisely days like these that tempt me to dig into my own photo archives: a stack of papers to grade with more on the way, final exams just around the corner, two conference paper proposals due next week, and so on. But the moment I start talking about my own research is the moment this site because more of a chore and less of a pleasure, so even though it would be easier to upload something from my hard drive, I took some time to look at the latest NASA releases instead. It’s better for you and me both this way, trust me.

The photo above shows Space Shuttle Discovery suspended from a crane boom, shortly after it was lifted off the back of the NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) that carried it to Dulles International last week. In composition, the shot resembles the one Bill Ingalls took of Atlantis on the launch pad last July. He certainly knows how to take advantage of reflective surfaces.

As always, click on the image to download the wallpaper.

Wallpaper Wednesday

18 04 2012

Space Shuttle Discovery Flown Over the U.S. Capitol. Image Credit: NASA/Smithsonian Institution/Harold Dorwin

Really, was there any doubt about today’s image? Click on the Capitol Building to download.

Wheels Down at Dulles

18 04 2012

Wheels down at Dulles International, OV-103 (Discovery), April 17, 2012. Image Credit: NASA

The Internet can be an amazing place, or an amazing tool, however you want to conceptualize it. Yesterday, instead of working on an article I really need to finish, I spent two hours watching the transfer of the Space Shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Center to Dulles International Airport, courtesy of NASA TV. During the two hours I was glued to NASA’s live stream, I serial tweeted, carried on several fragmented but enthusiastic online conversations about the landing, updated my fb status, took dozens of screenshots just for the hell of it, and did some preliminary research on the terminal at Dulles. I eventually connected with my partner via cellphone, and we watched the landing together (along with one or two of her co-workers who wandered into her office during our phone call).

NASA 905 SCA (Pluto 95 Heavy) & OV-103 flyover Washington, D.C., April 17, 2012. Image Credit: NASA

Boy, I burned through a lot of nervous energy yesterday, worrying that something would go wrong. It’s a good thing launch control had their emotions under control, if only because they had to land the T-38 escort (Pluto 98) in a fuel critical situation. While it’s not particularly unusual for me to grow sentimental when engaging with space science, it is atypical of me to confess to those sentiments to everyone following me on twitter. Unquestionably, the Shuttle program has shaped the course of my life and, to be honest, that hasn’t always been a good thing. So, while part of me was sad yesterday as Discovery disappeared behind the terminal at Dulles, a greater part of me was relieved to see it all finally come to an end.

If you follow me on twitter, you might have seen  my serial tweets as the SCA taxied to the terminal. If you’re my facebook friend, you probably saw the conversation about wood-fired propulsion systems. If you’re one of my architecture students, you’d better have been in class this morning to see me use the following image as a transition between Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Kahn.

Passenger Terminal, Dulles International Airport. Image Credit: NASA

That’s Eero Saarinen & Associate’s passenger terminal (1958-62) in the background. As as I said in class today—this was one of the first American airports built specifically for jet traffic. It’s a gateway to the deeply symbolic political landscape of the nation’s capital. But it’s not just a gateway, it’s a Modern gateway, in terms of program, structure, and function. The caternary curve of the cable-reinforced concrete roof simultaneously implies the rest and motion experienced by the world traveler. The splay of the massive columns that anchor the steel cables on either side of the terminal provides both formal and structural tension. Passenger circulation paths are controlled through the use of “mobile lounges.” That they function as spaces of surveillance is all but masked by their efficient use as people movers.

Saarinen’s design marks the moment the federal government committed itself to international air travel. Discovery’s retirement to the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly marks the moment the government decided to stop investing in space exploration, the logical outcome of all that travel through the atmosphere in 747s. More importantly, yesterday’s landing marked the end of (one version of) the Modernist project, the progressive, curious, optimistic one that put us into rapid motion at mid-century. If we’ve given up on looking at the universe around us, and it seems we have, I’m afraid we’ve pretty much given up on humanity.

Space Shuttle + 747 = Match Made in Heaven

15 04 2012

As my students know, I love a good timelapse video (ask them how many times I’ve made them watch the construction of the exhibition model for BIG’s W. 57th project). As a timelapse, the Space Shuttle and 747 Mating isn’t the most creative work of art I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, the conjunction of two heavy duty flying machines doesn’t need much artistic interpretation in order to produce a riveting movie.

p.s. Of all the videos I’ve showed my students, the BIG model construction was the only one that  made them clap afterward.

Observatories and Instruments