Monday, October 15, 2012

Space Art

Ever since I was a kid, I was fascinated by space. I read all the great sic-fi writers of the 50's - Bradbury, Heinlein, Asimov, Dick...the list went on and on. Even the comics were far less violent but far more inventive as well. I don't think I ever dreamed that the many gadgets of Dick Tracey's era would be a reality in mine today.

I can't even begin to count the hours we would stay up all night to watch a rocket launch only to have the first few Vanguards go up, and then disastrously come down in front of our weary eyes. The month before my father died we were at the Seattle World's Fair and they told us that soon we would see live television from Europe. Sure enough we did. Those were heady days.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer stationed in the jungles of Liberia, West Africa, I would get a projector and movies from USAID and showed my village Apollo 11, plus several of the space walks. A few had been to Monrovia and seen movies so to think that man had flown there, as the NASA film of Apollo 11 clearly shows, to them it was well, a movie!

I missed the premier of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" and waited until I was home to see it. I think I must have watched it 50 times over the years and each time find something else I didn't notice before. The idea that man could go into space, was probably not alone (consider all the planets that have been discovered just this past year alone) fascinated me. The early Hubble photos of space were stunning. All those stars until you are told those are not stars but galaxies, just like our own that seem to go on forever. If that doesn't make you humble then nothing will.

The space shuttle is in some ways man's attempt to learn more, not only about space but about ourselves. The shuttle, created and built in California shows a more confident and maybe a more naive America. The last of the shuttles, one where we even knew people who helped build it, returned home. We watched it wing by on its mother ship and waited eagerly to see it move through the city to its final resting place this last weekend.

Last Friday was moving day and that seemed to go well. Saturday we were told it was moving and in fact arrived near the Forum ahead of schedule. We piled into the car, went down Crenshaw and decided the mall at the corner of Martin Luther King Blvd. and Crenshaw was the place to be. At 10 the crowds were light. After a bit we decided to go down Crenshaw and found a tiny triangle of a park with grass, trees and shade. It was perfect. So we and a few other souls camped out. It was about an hour away, we thought, what better place to be. Finally, after lunch at one and then the report that it was still miles away (it took 90 minutes to go five blocks) I calculated the time and realized that at 26 blocks away it would be dark by the time it arrived. We had better go south. And we did.

At 60th and then Florence we saw it. I loomed over the street like some huge dinosaur. A beautiful, scarred but regal creature that man created. It was beautiful. I am sure it had many design decisions in its creation to make it safe and able to enter and return from space, yet there was a symmetry that was truly beautiful. As we walked further south it disappeared. Finally we stopped and waited for it to come to us. And it did. We could see a wing, then the nose and then the tail and finally, there it was.

Slowly it lumbered towards us and was going at a pretty good clip as if at four hours late it had to make up for lost time. It loomed over us and then was past when suddenly it stopped. They blocked the sidewalk and then looking up I could see why. The wing was maybe a foot away from the building to the side and there was a stand of trees up front.

Carefully the remote operator walked her down the street and once clear of the building turned her left to miss the trees. Everyone clapped.

Walking along beside her and then past her there were many beautiful things occurring. The operator was performing one of the most intricate ballets I would ever see, and we were seeing a truly functional piece of equipment that was also one of man's most beautiful yet functional pieces of art.

There is beauty around us and often it may not be beauty of its first viewing. I don't think scientists ever worry about such things, yet, nature itself often demands that the things we create will be beautiful because to be functional there often is a symmetry that is inescapable.

While art may be in the eyes of the beholder, it is often art that we clearly did not expect. Create!


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