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Visual Display of Quantitative Information
Envisioning Information
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Rocket Science

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;
RS is toylike, funny, surprising, installed at a modest low point in a small valley that makes RS's massive size
tiny compared to the surrounding landscape, treescape, viewscape.

RS is toylike
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.

RS has the symmetric architecture for the vehicles of the future
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.

Here is our movie showing the 2-day installation:

This video is also available on YouTube and Vimeo

Photographs by Andy Conklin, Andrei Severny, Edward Tufte.

-- Edward Tufte

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.

-- Peter H (email)

Installation movie

At the end of the initial contribution above, we've added a video showing the installation of Rocket Science.

-- Edward Tufte

Welders speak out on Rocket Science artwork

Mike, our welder on Rocket Science, posted his work on WeldingWeb, resulting in many comments by professional welders:

-- Edward Tufte

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.

-- lucas (email)

Abandoned rocket science

A remarkable collection of abandoned spacecraft, ideal materials for another Rocket Science sculpture.

-- Edward Tufte

Symmetric vs. asymmetric vehicles

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.

John Schwartz wrote several stories in the Times about my work on engineering by PowerPoint in the Columbia accident.

-- Edward Tufte

Click here for the July issue of Chronogram

-- Edward Tufte

Threads relevant to sculpture:
Ace and Porta do multimedia
Bird Series
Aluminum and stainless steel; many, many pieces moving in the air.
Bouquet sculpture series--and Walking, Seeing, Constructing
Beginning of Bouquet series (now 7); along with theoretical statement beginning the volume 5 project.
Buddha with Bird Nest: sculpture
Complex sculptural shapes
Dear Leader I: landscape sculpture May 2006
Narrative piece about some mysterious porcelain objects in a stainless steel perspective box.
Dog sculpture (Porta the Portuguese Water Dog)
ET Modern
ET museum/gallery in the Chelsea Art District in New York 2010-2013.
ET show at George Champion Modern Shop
ET gallery show in Woodbury, Connecticut.
Escaping Flatland sculptures
Ten large stainless steel pieces in the landscape generate many views and painted color fields as the sun moves across the sky and the season changes.
Feynman Diagrams, Edward Tufte sculptures and exhibits
The Conceptual and Cognitive Art of Feynman Diagrams. Art show + 16 page essay.
Flame Theater
Georgia O'Keeffe and Escaping Flatland
Hogpen Hill #1: sculpture installed August 2006
First major piece (24 feet light, stainless steel) installed in new 122 acre sculpture park underway in Woodbury, Connecticut.
Ironstone artworks, torqued steel
Magritte's Smile
Masks Quartet, 2011
bronze casting
Megaliths, Continuous and Silent, Stuctures of Unknown Significance
Stone+air artworks. Scuplture, megaliths
Millstone sculpture series
Massive industrial pieces sorting out circles and light. Redesigning and repurposing scrap from nuclear power plant.
Multiplicity in visual experiences (ET presentation for a museum show)

Nine reviews of ET's Aldrich Museum sculpture show
ET museum show in Connecticut 2009-2010
Paradox sculptures
Petals 1-3
Aluminum hyperbolic paraboloids in the landscape reflect light and shadow. The pieces move with the contour of the land.
Philosophical Diamond Signs
Philosophical alerts, imperatives, and thoughts about the path past and future.
Rocket Science #2 (Lunar Lander)
Rocket Science 3: Airstream Interplanetary Explorer
Sculpture Forgings
Steel forging mounted on wood base. Blacksmithing video.
Sculpture: Negative space studies
Three table pieces; strong positive elements create active negative volumes (the air) to torque. Movies.
Seeing Around: New ET essay published
Skewed Machine
Spring Arcs, an ET landscape sculpture
Four solid stainless steel arcs in the landscape. Long thread, many photographs on meaning, construction, viewing of the piece.
Stainless steel images: anisotropic calligraphy
Big series of engraved 3D anisomorphic images that move with light.
Steel sculptures
Rough, thick, rusting steel, with surface images in the steel's patina.
Table sculptures
About a dozen major table pieces in wood, steel, stainless steel.
The Drawing Center fax show: ET exhibits
The Twigs: Landscape artworks made from steel and air
The beautiful Twig. Steel, 32 feet high, with accompanying thread on reading the piece and the complexities of modeling large 3D objects.
Theater Museum artworks
Tong Bird of Paradise
Towers: a new memorial for 9/11
Visual complexities of light, shadow, perpsective. Perforated stainless steel.
ZZ Smile (Zerlina's Smile)