Monday, May 10, 2021

Reading | Earth + Space and In The Stream Of Stars

Earth + Space | Photographs From the Archives of NASA

If there's anything NASA has done well since the heady days of the manned flight programs, it's to take photos. Taken from space - beyond the interference of earth's atmosphere - by astronauts or space telescopes, including our old friend Hubble, the images are crisp, clear and mind-blowingly beautiful. Arranged from near to far, the images move out from earth to moon to solar system to star-birthing nebulas to galaxies, and leave me grasping for words to describe their majesty. Apparently, the person who wrote the captions had the same problem, because the texts presented are rather wooden and technical. But no matter, the pictures speak for themselves and they are pure poetry.

In the Stream of Stars | Edited by Harmann, Sokolov, Miller & Myagkov

We all know about the notorious Space Race, the Cold War competition between the Americans and the Commies to be the first to the moon. Well, during the late 1980s, in an attempt to wipe that old slate clean with a new focus on partnership and collaboration, Soviet and American space artists worked together to create this fascinating collection of art. Organized into themes - such as The History of Space Art, Visions of Flight, and An Artist on the Moon - each chapter opens with an essay penned by a different artist in this field, and their writings range from virtually incoherent to sublime. But the paintings, which burst off the pages and astound me with their variety and creative punch, are transcendent, each and every one. 

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Daughter of a mathematician and a would-be chemist, I was schooled early in the holy trinity of math, science, and well, nothing else. No other areas of human endeavor compared. I'm not sure if they delivered their message in these exact words - though they may very well have - but my parents made it crystal clear to me that English was for runners-up and art for those with raw talent rather than intellect, but the chosen few, the truly smart people (as their daughter surely must be) should devote ourselves only to the brilliant twin stars of math and science. 

It never occurred to me in those days that my parents were dead wrong about that but, as I know now, the exact opposite is true. 

The authors of the Stars book build a compelling case for art as the driving force of scientific exploration, where the expression of our collective dreams and fantasies pushes us to seek the truth about our world around us and even more so, the universe beyond. The NASA photographers present an eye-popping visual record of our discoveries to date, as well compelling proof positive that if anything is true about the mysterious universe in which we float, it is beautiful beyond compare. 

And I am thankful for both of these books which help to grow me not into a math nerd or a science geek but a well-rounded and deeply inspired human being. 

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