Essay about Photography and Exploration from 18° century to modern Space era. Originally posted in ICP Library Blog on February 6, 2015, here.
I'M THE STATION NIGHT OWL TONIGHT, AND THE SKY IS NOT THE LIMIT that's because, as a rule and with no exceptions, things always want to flow out in Space*
A view from ISS
It is black, but something thicker than black. You could touch it and say it’s almost sliding on your skin, like a fluid. I’m somewhere, fluctuating in one point of the Universe. And in front of me I do see just a total darkness. But then, on my left, a thin line is appearing. God, you can’t understand, long, blue, whitish, slowly increasing towards right as an immense ark, it is designing the gigantic side of a sphere. A ray of light shines, then a kind of silent explosion: the greatness of a Star gives shape to what was just obscurated: the planet Earth, lying down on me, waiting for an interstellar dawn of the Sun.
credits Emiliano Cavicchi via ISS Earth Viewing
Well, I am not with Astronaut Cooper on the ‘Endurance’ spaceship, the main character played by Matthew Mc Conaughey in the recent Cristopher Nolan’s film ‘Interstellar’. And unfortunately I am not even writing from the Space, also if what I described is just what you can see from the International Space Station, the largest artificial satellite with inner microgravity and crews, in low Earth orbit from 1998. But I can turn up my old friend Mac laptop, and just start watching the ‘ISS HD Earth Viewing Experiment’, a free no-stop live streaming of different cameras mounted on ISS, monitoring Earth. Here at my kitchen table, in Rome, as well as from an internet point in Asia, or somewhere from a pc in the Americas or Africa. Perhaps the Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri, who talked about the Earth photo of 1969 ‘Life‘ cover as the ‘definitive Image’, would be smiling: “Ok. But then, what we can do now with these images, what they do represent ?“.
Towards the Unknown
Fourty-five years after the Neil Armstrong’s walk on the Moon (1969), and fifty-three after Russian Yuri Gagarin for first orbiting around Earth (1961), on November 12, 2014,
European Space Agency’s Rosetta satellite has soft-landed its Philae probe on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, a mission achieved for first time in
History. And if Moon landing was in some way introduced by Stanely Kubrick masterpiece 2001 A Space Odissey in 1968, the Rosetta peak was also ‘batpized’
just by Nolan kolossal Interstellar (out just in November 2014).
The 10 year journey of Rosetta began March 2004: European Ariane 5 rocket lifted off from French Guyana, launching then into the Space the ‘comet chaser’. After passed two more asteroids in 2008 and 2011, entered the deep-space hibernation mode in 2011, finally the ‘wake up’ on January 20, 2014, and the delicate ‘Rendezvous with the Comet’.
Animation tracks Rosetta’s journey through the Solar System, using gravity slingshots from Earth and Mars to reach Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Nominal mission’s end is December 2015 – credits: ESA
It is a new adventurous journey of Exploration to the Unknown. With Survival, our main challenges from the dawn of Humanity. I could follow all the Philae touchdown (even hearing the sound of it) in real-time by Esa websites/social media, along with newspapers and other agencies involved.
Saturn V on transporter on May 20,1969 (left) Spiro Agnew and Lyndon Johnson watch Apollo 11 liftoff on July 16, 1969 (right) – courtesy Nasa via ‘The Project Apollo Archive’
It was exciting, touching, for the unpredictable situation, for the joy and tension of scientists to see results after years, for the extreme distance of what was happening on a running comet, and just for the question: “what the hell we will see there?”.
Apollo 11 astronauts swarmed by thousands in Mexico City on September 23, 1969 (up) and (left up) celebrating the Apollo 11 landing at Nasa – courtesy Nasa via ‘The Project Apollo Archive. ‘My mother holding the Washington Post on Monday, July 21st 1969’ (right up, courtesy Jack Weir, source internet)
NYC welcomes Apollo 11 Astronauts on August 1969 (left) and welcomed on August 1969 in Chicago (right) – courtesy Nasa via ‘The Project Apollo Archive’
But before Philae kid was trying to approach Ms Comet, the Nasa Rover Curiosity on August 6, 2012 was thrown too into the Unknown. And his landing on Gale Crater of Red Planet Mars is a terrific fully in colours movie:
Curiosity descend to Mars on August 6, 2012 – original Nasa video interpolated and enhanced by Bard Canning, courtesy via youtube
Flashes of Lights and Darkness
“..I see flashes of lights and darkness..” says Cooper in Interstellar, rocketing his spacecraft over Time and Matter just inside Black Hole ‘Gargantua’. He still talks on radio, trying to visually describe his descend to Unknown. Astronaut Bowman (actor Keir Dullea) of 2001 A Space Odissey in his jump ‘beyonde the Infinite’ is overhelmed, almost paralized. But his Eye is just wide shut, he can not avoid to see. We need to code what is Unknown firstable by an Image (or when there is no possibility to see/understand it, by description).
Screenshots from the movie ‘2001 A Space Odissey’ by Stanley Kubrick, 1968
All Photography process is just the same: looking and be impressed by something. Pointing on a subject or landscape, letting light enter in a Camera Obscura, or on digital sensor or on the paper, in Darkroom, and then sliding it in the water. Also Rosetta’s satellite camera can not avoid to look. Just like Cooper and Bowman, as of course it is part of her mission:
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken by Rosetta OSIRIS camera, September-December 2014 © 1, 2 ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA © 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0
Esa made a prior similar mission on March 13, 1986, when Giotto robotic spacecraft mission succeed approaching Comet Halley‘s nucleus at a distance of 370,34 miles (596 km). The following video, is based on the 111 images by Giotto spacecraft pioneering digital camera:
Name came by the Early Italian Renaissance painter Giotto di Bondone (1266-1337), who had observed Halley’s Comet in 1301 with naked eye, depicting then it as the Star of Bethlehem in Adoration of the Magi fresco (1303-1305) in Padova, Italy. Three centuries later in Venice, the ‘father’ of scientists Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), improving prototypes of German-Dutch optician Jacob Metius, looks through first ‘Cannocchiale’ (Telescope) at the Celestial Corps, closer than any other at his times.
Today ‘AstroPhotography’ is practiced both by passionates both by professionists: the sharpest and biggest image ever taken, the Andromeda galaxy at 2.5 million light years from Earth, has just been realized by Hubble Space Telescope, launched by Nasa and Esa into Earth orbit in 1990. The image is 1.5 billion of pixels, you need more than 600 HD television screens to display the whole image.
Giotto di Bondone ‘The Adoration of the Magi’, Cappella Scrovegni, Padova, Italy, 1305 (left), extract from Galileo Galilei‘s ‘Sidereus Nuncius’, 1610, Venezia (center), ‘Galileo displaying his telescope to the Doge of Venice’ H. J. Detouche, 1754 (right)
Andromeda Galaxy by NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, courtesy NASA/ESA, J. Dalcanton & B. F. Williams & L. C. Johnson (University of Washington, USA), the PHAT team, and R. Gendler (up). Halley’s Comet taken June 6, 1910, courtesy The Yerkers Observatory (left). Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy -discovered on Aug 2014 by Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy- on Jan 25, 2015, by The Virtual Telescope Project, Ceccano (FR), Italy (right)
Endurance & Aurora
But before the undetermined not-so-far future of Interstellar, there was another ‘Endurance’ ship ready to leave. A Norwegian wood of 348tons gross, chosen by the Anglo-Irish Commander Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton (1874–1922) to embark his 28 men crew for the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-1917).
The route of the ‘Endurance’ in Weddell Sea and to South Georgia island (left). The ‘Endurance’ breasting the Antarctic ice-packs (center). The ‘Endurance’ in early sea-ice (right) Photographer: Frank Hurley, 1914-1916, courtesy National Library of Australia
After Norwegian Roald Amundsen‘s South Pole conquest (1911), Shackleton purpose was to be the first to cross about 1,800 miles (2,900 km) of Antarctica, from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea. To support this challenge, The Ross Sea Party formed by British Captain Aeneas Mackintosh (1879–1916) and his men boarded on ‘Aurora’ ship, would have been preparing supply depots along the South polar route established by earlier Antarctic expeditions, like Captain Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912).
Endurance in pack ice on 7 August 1915 (left), a midnight sunset and the Endurance in the Weddell Sea (Feb 22, 1915). Looking for a passage in the ice in the Weddell Sea, 1914 c.a (right) Photographer: Frank Hurley, courtesy National Library of Australia
But the Endurance mission not even started. The ship became trapped then swallowed by pack-ice in Weddel Sea border, forcing Shackleton crew to escape by camping on the sea-ice first and then reaching by lifeboats the inhabited island of South Georgia, a stormy journey of 720 miles.
Men with an instrument on a tripod under the stern of the snow-covered Endurance, July 1915 (left). The James Caird sets out for Elephant Island (center). Photographer: Frank Hurley, courtesy National Library of Australia
Despite various extreme misfortunes, disputes and ultimately the death of three of its members including Mackintosh, the Ross Sea party instead achieved its mission. But vainly, as they were not aware of the fate of Endurance.
Lost Roll of Antarctica
A century later the stories of all these men, on December 2013, the not-for-profit organisation New Zealand’s Antarctic Heritage Trust, responsible for the conservation of five historic sites in the Ross Sea region, discovered a box in expedition photographer Herbert Ponting (1870-1935) darkroom, in Captain Scott last base at Cape Evans, in the west side of Ross Island in Antarctica. A small treasure of twenty-two clumped together cellulose nitrate negatives were hidden in.
Cellulose nitrate negatives found blocked together (left), then the Silver gelatines negatives examinated (right) © Antarctic Heritage Trust
Removed from Antarctica, the negatives were brought in New Zealand, for a detailed restore treatment. Although if damaged, never seen before Antarctic images were recognized by the Trust: landmarks around McMurdo Sound and portraits of Alexander Stevens, chief scientist and geologist of Ross Sea Party, visible in two images of the Lost Roll, support that they came just from the 1914-1917 Aurora expedition.
Sea and glacier, McMurdo Sound (left) flat sea ice, McMurdo Sound (center) Big Razorback Island, off the west side of Ross Island (right) © Antarctic Heritage Trust
Also if identity of photographer remains unknown, it is thought to be Ross Sea Party photographer and chaplain, Arnold Spencer-Smith (1883-1916). Chemists, naturalists, physicians, geologists were sent on these missions for studying the new lands and human reaction in the environment, as well as photographers, in charge about the important need of making all these challenges public, with visual documents proving expedition results.
Iceberg and land, Ross Island (left) Alexander Stevens on ‘Aurora’ ship looks south (center) with Hut Point Peninsula of Ross Island in the background (right) © Antarctic Heritage Trust
Frank Hurley close to Endurance trapped in pack ice (right) Photographer: Frank Hurley, courtesy National Library of Australia
Then, getting impressive and engaging images of new far-away lands and heroic events could generate profitable incomes too, in a time when a photo was not easily to be made like today. Australian James Francis “Frank” Hurley (1885 – 1962), among to be a filmmaker, official photographer in Endurance mission, various Antarctica expeditions and with Australian forces in wartimes, was also a succesfull producer of postcards, touristic and advertising materials in Australia (sometime also using staged and darkroom manipulation to realize his images).
Chief scientist and geoligist Alexander Stevens on the Aurora ship (left), Contact sheet with various negatives (center) © Antarctic Heritage Trust. Andrej Tarkovsky’s 1972 ‘Solaris’, Original Soundtrack cover (right)
Anyway, he, as many other fellow photographers, chosen Documentary Photography, ready to go and take images of never seen before, extreme places, surely called by a wish for exploring too. Photography can be a tool, like all arts, to push us facing the Unknown and giving a shape of it. Over the ghostly view of men passed years to last in the worst conditions, cut off, almost forgotten in the polar night, these Lost Roll visions are lunar, not-from-Earth landscapes, fascinating, basically timeless, touching a feeling of ‘Alien-by-Me‘ alongside with a sense of ‘terrible Beauty’, as I personally experience too, in some places photographing during far or close travels. As well as looking at Hurley images, Rosetta photos, or when in Interstellar Cooper lands on the Water World in a remote galaxy, recalling also the ocean living planet of Andrej Tarkovsky’s milestone ‘Solaris‘ (1972).
The Ross Sea Party who set out on their first depot laying journey just nine days after dropping anchor at Cape Evans. Gaze collection, Canterbury Museum. 1975.231.75
New Explorers and the Beauty of Space
If Cooper attempt in Interstellar is just going off the Earth more far-away than any others, Astronaut Ryan Stone (actress Sanda Bullock), at her first Space mission just struggles with all herself to be back on Earth, after destruction of her shuttle and even of International Space Station, in the movie of Alfonso Cuarón, ‘Gravity’, out in 2013. A very feminine, almost maternal, feeling fully togehter with the primordial Survival instinct, crosses all the story.
Planet Earth ecosystem view by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst during ‘Blue Dot mission’ on ISS in 2014 (right), credits:ESA/NASA.
Just now another woman is at her first mission in ISS: the Italian Air Force pilot and engineer, Esa Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti (born in Milan 1977). Following first Astrounaut from Italy on long term on ISS, Esa Major Luca Parmitano (‘Volare’ mission, 2013), ‘AstroSamantha’ is the third European woman on Space, and first from her country, departing from Earth on November 23, 2014 for a full six-months mission.
Discovery shuttle as seen from ISS, 2011 (left top) credits: Paolo Nespoli, ESA/NASA. ‘Futura mission’ and ‘ISS’ crew (right top), Venice, Italy, from space (left) credits: 2014 Samantha Cristoforetti/ESA/NASA. Luca Parmitano on ISS, June 2013 © ESA/NASA (right)
She is now almost a celebrity not only in her country, with a Twitter/FB account who she updates regularly with amazing photos and stories took just by the ISS, also because her mission ‘Futura’ is just began on the 50ies anniversary of Esa birth (1964).
First spacewalk for an ESA astronaut, Thomas Reiter (DE), during the ESA-Russian ‘Euromir 95’ mission to the Mir Space Station, credits: ESA/NASA (left). ‘Spaceinvaders’, credits: Samantha Cristoforetti/ESA/NASA (center). The latest arrival Soyuz TMA-11M, on Dec 2013, credits: Luca Parmitano/ESA/NASA (right)
Giant solar flare, credits: Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, Nov 4, 2003 (left). ISS and the docked Space Shuttle ‘Endeavour’ by astronaut Paolo Nespoli from the Soyuz TMA-20 (center) credits: ESA-NASA. Hybrid solar eclipse (right) © credits Eclipse-SWAP composite by Daniel B. Seaton, Royal Observatory of Belgium Eclipse image by Allen Davis and Jay Pasachoff, Williams College Eclipse Expedition SWAP image courtesy PROBA2-Royal Observatory of Belgium-ESA
And we are now entered in 2015, proclaimed by the United Nations as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies, hopefully the begin of a new great Space era too. Also just to recall us that over a Streaming on internet, over a photograph of Space, something is really out there, to be discovered.
So, may this year be full of flashes, darkness and colours, for all the damned blessed explorers in the World and over, stubbornly looking for their Unknown, whatever that Unknown is for them…Aye!
ISS seen from Space Shuttle Discovery in March 2009 Credit NASA (up) / The remains of a star gone supernova Credits ESA-Hubble & NASA, acknowledgement Claude Cornen (down)
REFERENCES / LINKS
*Essay’s title from Samantha Cristoforetti’s diary aboard International Space Station, during her current ‘Futura’ mission http://outpost42.esa.int/logbook/
United Nations International Year of Light 2015 www.light2015.org/Home.html
Samantha Cristoforetti ESA page: http://samanthacristoforetti.esa.int/
ISS HD Earth Viewing Experiment live streaming www.ustream.tv/channel/iss-hdev-payload/theater
International Space Station website www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/
European Space Agency www.esa.int/ESA
Esa Rosetta http://rosetta.esa.int/
Nasa Mars Laboratory www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html
– ON-LINE PUBLIC ARCHIVES:
Apollo Mission Image Archive www.apolloarchive.com/apollo_archive.html
Esa Images Archive www.flickr.com/photos/europeanspaceagency/
Esa ‘Volare’ mission Image Archive www.flickr.com/photos/volaremission/
– SCIENCE & ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY:
The Virtual Telescope Project in Ceccano (FR), Italy http://www.virtualtelescope.eu/
Hubble SpaceTelescope www.spacetelescope.org/
Andromeda Galaxy image with zoom tool www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic1502a/
– ABOUT ANTARCTICA LOST ROLL AND ACTIVITY OF ‘NEW ZELAND ANTARCTIC HERITAGE TRUST':
– ON IMPERIAL TRANS-ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION:
Shackleton, Ernest (2002). South: The story of Shackleton’s 1914–17 expedition (originally published 1919) Penguin Books
Scott Polar Research Institute – University of Cambridge www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/itae1914-16/
National Library of Australia | Pictures Collection www.nla.gov.au/what-we-collect/pictures
Ennis, Helen (2010). Frank Hurley’s Antarctica. Canberra: National Library of Australia
– FILMS QUOTED IN ESSAY:
‘2001 A Space Odissey’ by Stanley Kubrick, 1968
‘Solaris’ by Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972
‘Gravity’ by Alfonso Cuarón, 2013
‘Interstellar’ by Christopher Nolan, 2014
Saturn’s shadows (left1) Samantha Cristoforetti on ISS, credits: ESA-NASA (2) Titan, Epimetheus and Saturn’s rings (3) Ringside with Dione Cassini spacecraft took this view of Saturn’s moon Dione (4) 1, 3, 4 credits: NASA-JPL-Space Science Institute
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