Monday, April 20, 2009

Look Up - Part 2

Writers of science fiction, throughout the years, have often been the predictors of humankind's progress in the sciences, particularly exploratory science. Jules Verne took us to the Moon, and many leagues under the sea along with many other fantastic voyages. Additionally, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and Kurt Vonnegut, to name just four among hundreds, have carried us far into the realm of fantasy, and imaginative science. So this blog article is not intended to either minimize or discredit these works of artistic expression of both real and imaginary science.

There is a common denominator between the creations of science-fiction writers and the works of speculative science that emanates from recognized scientist/engineers and science writers/journalists. The common factor is their ability to ask "what if" and then proceed to answer the question. Imaginative and creative thinking is a critical ingredient in both efforts.

The concept of manned space travel goes way back into the library of science fiction. A key non-fiction, but highly imaginative series of articles and books promoting manned space exploration were the works of science writer, Willy Ley, space artist, Chesley Bonestell (see "Look Up - Part 1" for more) and aerospace scientist/engineer Dr. Wernher von Braun (a fortuitous import following the end of WWII). It is the work of Willy Ley and his collaboration with Bonestell and von Braun that I present in this blog.

Willy Ley, like Dr. von Braun, was a native of Germany. In addition to being natives of the same country, Ley and von Braun were both members of the German amateur rocket society in which Ley was a founding member. It was Ley who elevated von Braun's already intense interest in rocketry to the point where he (von Braun) became professionally involved in the science.

Willy Ley was highly educated from German universities and until the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party, he authored many articles and books on rocketry and space travel. When Hitler rose to power and put pressure on Ley and the rocket society to cease writing about rocket science, Ley fled to England and then the United States. He became a U. S. citizen in 1944. It was not until the middle of WWII and afterword that Willy Ley began to expand his writing on space travel. If you wish you may go here to see a full listing of his works. The foregoing link also includes a more detailed biography of Willy Ley.

After WWII Dr. von Braun was recruited to become a key scientist of first the Army Missile Command and later NASA. At the same time the old friendship between Ley and von Braun was revived and they along with space artist Chesley Bonestell began presenting to the American public a series of informative, dramatic and graphic articles advocating the manned exploration of space. They remain landmarks of the beginning of public and governmental interest and action toward developing a national space science program. The rest, is of course, incredible history, with von Braun leading the way that put the Apollo program in orbit and the United States on the moon.

The public interest that Willy Ley and his friend and associates stimulated is now supplanted by both live and recorded video reports of actual rocket launches and live reports from space. In fact this is so commonplace that we often become too casual toward these momentous events. Willy Ley, Wernher von Braun and Chesley Bonestell have all passed on, but the heritage they founded not only lives on, but grows and expands before our eyes. I am sure all three are together joyously smiling and applauding as they see their dreams coming true.

The image above is entitled "Looking Toward Home"
2D Digital Art, Science Fiction, Looking Towards Home - free computer desktop wallpaper.

Art in Science (c) 2009 Waddell Robey All individual copyrights apply.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Look Up! - Part I

"Look Up" is the encouraging imperative expressed by many astronomers and especially by my friends at

Since the earliest times in the history of humankind, we have been looking up in awe, with inspiration and with a variety of cultural, spiritual and scientific interests. Entire cultures have evolved and revolved around the stunning revelations of our Milky Way galaxy and beyond. Today, with the benefits of space telescopes like Hubble, Kepler, and Spitzer to name three, looking up takes us deep into the universe.

Long before we had powerful telescopes like those mentioned above, we were entranced by the imagination and art of illustrator/artists and science writers who focused our minds eye on what could be in our solar systems and the universe beyond. In this two-part issue of "The Art in Science" I talk about two men who's artistic craft have kept us fascinated and interested in astronomy and humankind's exploration of space.

The magnificent image of Saturn and four of its moons taken recently by the Hubble Space Telescope provides an ideal entry point(click on the image to enlarge it). If you click here you will see an artist's imagination of what it would be like to venture into space. The artist is Chesley Bonestell who I suspect helped keep many of you devoted to astronomy and especially to the concept of space travel. The entire concept of "Man Conquers Space" was a combined effort of Bonestell, Wernher von Braun, Willy Ley, Fred Whipple and Cornelius Ryan. This was the first of many collaborations between Chesley and various leading space scientists to present to the public their concepts of the coming exploration of space.

The following is a direct excerpt from Wikipedia which succinctly covers Bonestell amazing career.

"Bonestell was born in San Francisco, California. His first astronomical painting was done in 1905. After seeing Saturn through the 12-inch (300 mm) telescope at San Jose's Lick Observatory, he rushed home to paint what he had seen. The painting was destroyed in the fire that followed the 1906 earthquake.

Bonestell studied architecture at Columbia University in New York City. Dropping out in his third year, he worked as a renderer and designer for several of the leading architectural firms of the time. While with William van Alen, he designed the art deco fa├žade of the Chrysler Building as well as its distinctive gargoyles. During this same period, he designed the Plymouth Rock Memorial, the U.S. Supreme Court Building, the New York Central Building, Manhattan office and apartment buildings and several state capitols.

Returning to the West Coast, he prepared illustrations of the chief engineer's plans for the Golden Gate Bridge for the benefit of funders. When the Great Depression dried up architectural work in the United States, Bonestell went to England, where he rendered architectural subjects for the Illustrated London News. In the late 1930s he moved to Hollywood, where he worked (without screen credit) as a special effects artist, creating matte paintings for such films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), Citizen Kane (1941), and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)"

It was at this point that Chesley recognized that he could pull together his artistic talents and experience and apply them to graphic representations of our solar system and outer space. In this regard he was especially fascinated with manned exploration of our solar system and space. He collaborated with science author Willy Ley ("The Conquest of Space") and with rocket scientist Wernher von Braun he began a stunning new career creating space art.

Bonestell's art in science legacy lives on, and in my eyes the works of Marilynn Flynn carries forward that legacy with stunning results. To view more of Chesley Bonestell's work you may click here. To visit Marilynn Flynn's web site you may click here.

In Part 2 of this posting, I will present the works of Willy Ley who, as a space science writer used his art of writing to stimulate our minds to look beyond Earth out into deep space. Please join me.

The Art In Science (c) 2009 Waddell Robey. Individual copyrights apply.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Art and Science: The beauty of it all

I wish I was a scientist (astrophysics) and I am glad I am not. Hmm, a deranged contradiction? I hope not. Consider this soliloquy as just an expressed self-realization that I, as a writer, photographer, and art lover along with a deep, abiding appreciation for the sciences see all of this in a different dimension and light. This view or attitude, puts me at serious odds with many a serious scientist who has neither the time nor the compulsion to go where I go. Am I wrong, are they lost? No, in both instances. The scientist looks up, and sees an assortment of compelling mysteries and rightfully asks why and when. Me, I look up, become stunned, awed and humble. I ask why, too, but wind up exclaiming "WOW" from shear awe in the mystery and beauty of all that I see.

I think there is room for both of us: the scientist and me the klutzy "arteest." I reach for the soul, and the scientist reaches for the mind. Most importantly, we both reach for the heart.

Regarded by many as a nutcase, Vincent van Gogh looked up and said (I think and hope), "WOW." Like much of his work, "Starry Night"(see image above) has absolutely no scientific credibility, but one must ask does it capture the drama and sheer beauty of an instance of the universe? I see an expression of both the glory and the power of all that celestial energy. Others may simply examine the arrangement of color and form and decide on the quality of the art. To me it represents both, and obviously, considering the value of this artwork, it fully succeeds.

British composer Gustav Holst in 1914 was so astounded with what he both saw and learned about the planets in our solar system he composed a symphonic poem to the planets.

Albert Einstein, in his greatness and simplicity of vision states, "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed." I am inspired to keep my eyes open and see the art, and I revere those who likewise, eyes wide open, seek to explain all that surrounds us.