Rocket Science, my landscape artwork, was recently installed in a rolling meadow
surrounded by local, middle, and distant horizons.
(click to see larger)
Rocket Science is ~32 feet (10 meters) high and ~72 feet (22 meters) long, and
is constructed from ~48,000 pounds (22,000 kilograms) of rusting scrap steel.
The picture above shows, for scaling purposes, the artist (6 feet, 1.8 meters tall)
standing inside the spaceship at upper right.
Below: Mike Nitowski, the welder from United Concrete who worked on Rocket Science,
crawled 72 feet (22 meters) up the hollow tube in the fuselage and spacecraft emerging
to see the fine view. The picture resembles a 1930s Soviet workers-paradise poster:
Rocket Science casts amazing shadows down on the rolling land, shadows that flow across
the land and move up the sloping hillside as the Earth rotates and the sun sets. Here are
shadow pictures taken from my spacecraft perch looking down to the ground.
Note the distortions in the shadow shapes. In creating the piece, I expected some good shadows
to show up, but these exceeded my expectations. The distortion of the human form is
an especially happy result.
The shadows formed by the 3 legs should be interesting but shadows cast by nearby trees
masked the leg shadows during this photo shoot. Eventually we'll make a time-lapse video
of one full day of shadow-flows (as Andrei Severny and I did for Larkin's Twig here).
Following an afternoon atop Rocket Science, I called for a rescue mission. Conducted by
Commander Andy Conklin, the mission arrived smoothly in due course. As seen in the
shadows below, Andy climbs aboard the spacecraft from the rescue vehicle:
After rescuing the camera guy, Andy conducts our long voyage (32 feet or 10 meters) back to Earth.
One reason that outer space activities produce intriguing images (other than their intrinsic content) is the complex
and unfamiliar points of view that naturally occur in front of the cameras of astronauts and cosmonauts. Here
we see the spacecraft, its shadow, and also the shadow of the rescue platform. This flatland image becomes
coherent when we realize that the rescue platform, where the photograph was shot, is in front of the rusting
steel spacecraft; thus the camera is looking down into the spacecraft and further down onto the shadowed ground
below (with the sun in back of the camera shining onto the artwork).
Theory of Rocket Science
Rocket Science surprises, generates stories, presents self-contained paradoxes, is self-contrary.
On Rocket Science paradoxes and internal contradictions:
RS is massive, assertive, made from grossly industrial materials;
BUT RS is toylike, funny, surprising, installed at a modest low point in a small valley that makes RS's massive
tiny compared to the surrounding landscape, treescape, viewscape.
RS is toylike
BUT RS does not appear to be an uncontextual enlargement from a small model, but rather it appears as a piece and
place in scale. RS was created at actual size from the scrap metal that went into the piece. Then, again at full scale, RS was revised during construction and installation. A small model was used late in the process to adjust the angles
of the legs and to provide a guide for the engineering of assembly and welding.
RS has a strong symmetry about the fuselage and spacecraft axis:
the RS legs are strongly askew.
The RS symmetry about a central axis combined with the crew headquarters in a capsule at the top is likely the best
design for space vehicles (Apollo, and the new post-Shuttle generation of space vehicles carrying humans--Constellation, Ares, Orion). Such
symmetry is contrary to the design of the current Shuttle (with its pretend airplane) that has contributed to its chronic
difficulties. Better also to place the crew at the top end of the rocket, in front of the launch debris-shower in an
unromantic capsule (no landings by astronaut commanders) as is the case for Apollo and the forthcoming Orion/Ares.
Thus, RS has the symmetric architecture for the vehicles of the future
BUT RS is crudely assembled, amateur rocket science.
Construction of Rocket Science
At United Concrete in Wallingford, Connecticut, a pre-launch high-level engineering
meeting of Bruce Woronoff and ET. We used Advanced Design System Methodologies
to plan Rocket Science, as can be seen in our working drawings below:
Here is the first time Rocket Science got off the ground.
At the factory, the fuselage and spacecraft were
connected by a temporary tack-weld for the lifting
shown at right. I then concluded that the fuselage was
stubby and needed to be longer by about the distance
between the rear 2 circular plates at the back of the
spacecraft (about 10 to 12 feet, 3 to 4 meters). The
resulting fuselage seam can be seen on the built piece.
Below, our model of Rocket Science. A little cardboard
human provides a sense of scale. I looked at many
photographs as well as the model itself. Some images are
desaturated to calm down the surface texture on the model.
Installation of Rocket Science
The United Concrete factory-built kit (some assembly required) for Rocket Science consisted of 8 items:
fuselage, spacecraft, 3 legs, and 3 concrete mounting pads (each weighing 12,000 pounds or 5,400 kilograms).
The installation took all weekend, with work late Saturday night.
The main tasks were: (1) attaching the spacecraft to the fuselage, (2) attaching the 3 legs to the fuselage,
(3) tying the leg baseplates to the concrete pads and tying the pads together by underground steel,
(4) cleaning up the fields under and around Rocket Science.
Photographs by Andy Conklin, Andrei Severny, Edward Tufte.
-- Edward Tufte
The top picture reminded me of the effect of "Mural with Blue Brushstoke" as presented on p. 17 of Visual
Explanations. As my eyes scanned the picture left to right I had a completely wrong idea of the scale until I saw the
person (ET?) on the right. The eye scanning motion here replaced the sidenote overlay in the book.
Kindly Contributor Jose Silva mentions an interesting connection. The relevant page from Visual Explanations is shown below.
Roy Lichtenstein's Mural with Blue Brushstroke is 68 feet high and Rocket Science 72 feet long; thus both are in the range of a human scale. Both Mural and Rocket Science use the creator of the artwork as the scaling device.
In contructing the essay about Rocket Science I briefly considered a Flash animation or a little clickable flap at the top right of the first image to cover/uncover me. But active, overly-didactic unveilings of scale would detract from the flow. There's still a good surprise as viewers realize what the scale is on their own.
-- Edward Tufte
This is pure flattery, but this is the best piece that ET have done, and I laid my eyes on. Though it looked like a cannon to me, even after reading the name rocket science. The long cylinder reminded me of a barrel, and the first picture did not give away the size of it at first. The size/scale effect is truly something, and I wish i could see it at location.
As I watched the movie of the installation of RS, I kept in mind what ET wrote of the contradictions of the piece. The movie's images were sped up however, the audio was real-time, maybe taken from segments of the various clips or just from one. Just a funny note that I thought tied in well to the piece.
Rocket Science is a symmetric vehicle, which is usually the right way to design launch vehicles. The shuttle
paid an enormous price for the asymmetry resulting from its faux airplane. The new proposed
NASA rockets are rigorously symmetric and thus correct a fundamental conceptual error in the shuttle design. See the
good graphics describing
the new spacecraft along with the story by John Schwartz, "The Fight
Overs NASA's Future,"The New York Times, December 30, 2008.