For all my talk lately about satelloons, Olafur's stayed very politely quiet about his own giant, swinging aluminum balls. Maybe because he only has one? Seriously, though, I hope it's an edition.


Your Imploded View is a 51-inch diameter, 660-lb polished aluminum sphere that swings like a pendulum. It dates from way back to 2001 [!], though it's not clear when it was first realized. At that weight and dimension, it has to be solid, which is rather spectacular. Such precision-manufactured geometry reminds me of the fantastically produced objets de science like Le Grand K, the International Kilogram Prototype stored outside Paris.

Anyway, the Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St Louis purchased Your Imploded View in 2005, and it's on permanent view in the atrium there. Kemper curator Meredith Malone's YouTube video is nice and informative, but HD would be better for capturing the sculpture's experience. Don't miss they guy using the special, custom-made Your Carpet-Wrapped Pushing Trident to get the ball swinging.

Your Imploded View (2001) by Olafur Eliasson on permanent view at the Kemper Museum, St Louis []

February 20, 2010

Echo Echo


The giant, reflective aluminized mylar satelloons of Project Echo were designed to be seen by the naked eye from anywhere on earth. As I trace down depictions and accounts of seeing them, I wonder how watched they actually were outside the scientific community.

Echo II was launched January 25, 1964. Shortly afterward, scientists at Sandia Corporation calculated the crossing of the two satelloons and snapped this photo, a 6-minute exposure. Echo I [100-ft diameter, 870-mi. orbit] is traveling from the upper left. Echo II [135-ft dia., 670-mi. orbit] is traveling from the lower left. The photo was a double page spread in LIFE Magazine on Feb. 28.

Sandia was a division of Western Electric, a subsidiary of AT&T, which ran the Sandia National Labs in New Mexico. It was a different division from Bell Labs, the division of AT&T which ran the Echo communications system on the ground. Sandia is now owned by Lockheed Martin, which manages it for the Department of Energy.

I think I'd now like to track down some vintage prints of this photograph, and not just the copies of LIFE, which I already hoovered up from eBay.

"Heavy Traffic In Outer Space," Feb. 28, 1964 [LIFE via Google Books]

Related, but the exact opposite: Trevor Paglen's The Other Night Sky


I've been searching for historical and primary source material for Project Echo, one of NASA's earliest missions, which kicked into high gear in 1958. The giant, inflatable satelloons were functional--passive reflection communication satellites. That they were shaped just like Sputnik, only a hundred thousand times bigger, and were visible to the entire world with the naked eye, were, I'm sure, just a happy Space Race coincidence.

Echo I [above, right] was 100 feet in diameter and launched in 1960. Echo II was 135 feet, and launched in 1964. By then engineers at NASA's Langley Research Center figured out that over-stressing the aluminized Mylar would help the giant sphere keep its shape, even if it deflated a little bit. [Echo I was found to have partially caved in a few months after launch.]

Film and TV cameras were included in the Echo II rocket--the film canisters were recovered in the ocean, but I haven't found images from the footage. Video of the Echo II Inflation, however, is right here. Retired Goddard engineer Ron Muller screened it as part of a history of The Echo Project at a 2004 NASA conference on solar sails. It's pretty awesome, right down to the end. [The avi is available for download at the conference page.]

I put a little film strip together after the jump, too:


Regular readers of will recall the Moon Museum. Initiated by the artist Frosty Myers--who know prefers to be called Forrest Myers, I take it--the Moon Museum was the first art on the moon, a tiny ceramic chip containing etchings by six artists, which was secretly attached to the lunar landing module for the Apollo 12 mission in 1969.

When I posted about the Moon Museum in 2008, I was happy to even find a grainy picture of the entire thing. Andy Warhol's contribution, a graffiti-style doodle of a penis, was deemed unfit to print by the NY Times when the art project's existence was first revealed.

Now Reg at We Make Money Not Art has posted a much nicer, color photo of the chip from Myers himself. It was featured in an exhibition of "art of extreme environments" in Paris last fall. She actually notes that "a few were made," which is awesome. That means they might be--or become--available some day. At least one other example of the Moon Museum was, in fact, given to MoMA in 1993 by Ruth Waldhauer. It's described as a "tantalum nitride film on ceramic wafer." This warrants further inquiry.


The American Museum of Natural History maintains a Digital Universe Atlas, which maps all the objects in the universe using the most current data available.

They just released The Known Universe, an animated version of the data, in conjunction with the Rubin Museum of Art [which presumably paid to have the Powers of Ten-style roundtrip through all time and space begin and end in Tibet.]

While it's encouraging to see so much empty-looking orbital space for me to put my satelloon, this is my favorite shot: "the empty areas we have yet to map."

Watch The Known Universe by AMNH in HD [youtube via kottke]
Download or visit the Digital Universe Atlas []

Previous posts on the charming concept of trying to depict everything in the universe: On The Sky Atlas And The NGS-Palomar Observatory Sky Survey

December 17, 2009

Delirious DC


At the 1931 Beaux Arts Ball, more than a dozen New York architects came dressed as their buildings: [l to r] A. Stewart Walker [Fuller Building], Leonard Schultze [Waldorf-Astoria], Ely Jaques Kahn [Squibb Building], William Van Alen [Chrysler Building, who clearly booked his own stylist], Ralph Walker [Irving Trust Company], and Joseph Freedlander [Museum of the City of New York].

Rem Koolhaas included the Ball in his 1978 history/"retroactive manifesto," Delirious New York.

Which was hook enough for Lali Chetwynd, whose 2006 performance piece, "Delirious!" reimagined the Beaux Arts Ball as a skyscraper cocktail party. It was ably documented by Showstudio:



"Delirious!" was staged in the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion designed by Koolhaas and Cecil Balmond, which comprised a giant, inflatable ovoid canopy atop a cylindrical amphitheater/event space.


Which, of course, bears a striking resemblance to the much-discussed, little-funded inflatable balloon space Diller Scofidio + Renfro have designed for the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC.


So now we have some idea what will go down in the Hirshhorn Balloon if and when it is realized: Liz Diller will appear at a $5,000-a-table benefit, dressed as her creation, and probably looking not a little like this:


but in light blue.

Or perhaps.

Soon after "Delirious!," Chetwynd changed her first name to Spartacus. Tom Morton discussed the implications of this move in Frieze:

Chetwynd's adopted moniker seems designed to make us stage a mock-heroic mini-drama in our minds, in which she persuades a band of artists to stop pitting themselves against each other and instead revolt against their masters. Push this fantasy a little further (and Chetwynd's art is nothing if not about pushing idle thoughts as far they'll go), and we might imagine the defeated rebels refusing, pace Stanley Kubrick's 1960 film Spartacus, to identify their chief, instead claiming one after the other 'I'm Spartacus', only to be symbolically crucified by a poor auction result or a less than complimentary review.

If this flight of fancy resembles the absurd, unexpectedly telling narratives and motifs that characterize Chetwynd's work, then this is no mistake. In her practice the epic and the everyday speak through each other in accents of giggled hope.

Giggled hope seems to be an apt operating principle for the Hirshhorn's Balloon of Cultural Democracy. Is it not now time for us balloon lovers, each of us, to put on our puffy down coats, cinch our hoods around our noses, and raise the defiant cry to all who dare challenge or pooh-pooh us, "I'm Liz Diller!" "I'm Liz Diller!" To the Mall!

[hoodie image via old chum's flickr, thanks to the purely coincidentally titled blog, an ambitious project collapsing]


A periodic check on eBay for Project Echo-related material turned up this photo from April 29, 1963: "NASA-MERCURY, HANGAR 5, CCMTA - Left to Right - William Carmines and William Armstrong of NASA describe the balloon experiment for the MA-9 mission."

MA-9 was Mercury-Atlas 9, the last of the first series of manned US space flights. L. Gordon Cooper was the first American to spend more than a day in space. "The balloon experiment" was designed to measure atmospheric drag at various altitudes by inflating a 30-inch balloon behind the orbiter, which would trail at the end of a 100-ft nylon cable. Cooper was also supposed to take photos of the tethered balloon to test visibility in space.


The balloon experiment was a carryover from MA-7, 1962, in which astronaut M. Scott Carpenter became the second American [after John Glenn] to orbit the earth. As the MA-7 flight plan describes it, the balloon experiment was a color test:

Objective: The objective of the visual portion of the experiment is to evaluate the relative merit of various colors for optimum visibility in space at short and long ranges.


The test device consists of a 30-inch diameter balloon constructed of 30 gores of 1/2 mil Mylar - 1/2 mil aluminum foil material. It will be divided into five equal size lunes composed of uncolored aluminum foil, yellow and orange Day-Glo, flat white paint, and phosphorescent paint (figure 1, below).



The balloon, [inflating] bottle, and shock absorber will be packaged between two balsa half cylinder shells in a metal cylinder which si three inches in diameter and seven and one-half inches long. It will be mounted in the Mercury spacecraft antenna fairing. [The assembly would be ejected out of a spring-loaded door by the firing of an electric squib.]


A small quantity of 0.250-inch diameter Mylar disks will be placed in the folds of the balloon. The Mylar is backed by aluminum foil on one side and is coated with Claray (diffuse-reflecting) compound on the other. These will disperse as the balloon inflates.

So, small explosion, burst of mylar confetti, and deployment of beach ball-like balloon on the end of a 100-ft cord. Then photos of the whole thing. Sounds awesome.

Unfortunately, the MA-7 balloon tore on inflation, and only the aluminum and orange Day-Glo lunes were visible. The orange was so much brighter, that the MA-9 balloon, above, was painted entirely in orange. Unfortunately again, the MA-9 balloon failed to deploy at all.

Those balloons would look nicer in color.


The first Project Echo satelloon may have started out as a 100-meter sphere, but it didn't stay that way. Echo IA launched on August 12, 1960, and it stayed in orbit and visible to the naked eye until May 24, 1968. It inflated successfully, but as a paper in Bell Labs Report, Sept. 1961 explains, by May of that year, its shape had already been somewhat deformed in orbit:

On several early passes the average "scatering cross section" was equal to that corresponding to a perfectly conducting 100-foot sphere. From this it is assumed that the balloon inflated as planned.

There apparently has been a long-term decrease, of a few db, in the average "scattering cross section." As of last May, Echo I [technically IA, since Echo I burned up soon after launch in March 1960] was probably an approximately spherical object with a diameter of no less than 70 feet, and a somewhat wrinkled skin. There may have been a few flattened areas, as indicated by occasional deep fades in the radar signal, but voice communication was then still possible as shown by successful tests with NRL on May 25.

One factor may have been the solar sail effect, the slight pressure generated by photons from the sun bombarding the satelloon's skin.

image: The Odyssey of Project Echo []


Thaddeus S. C. Lowe was once one of the country's most famous aeronauts. His grand plan to fly a balloon across the Atlantic was shelved by the outbreak of the Civil War. He preferred to be called Professor. On July 11, 1861, with the help of Prof. Joseph Henry of the Smithsonian Institution, Lowe demonstrated the aerial reconnaissance capabilities of his varnished silk, gas-filled balloon Enterprise by ascending 500 feet above the Columbia Armory [on the site of the National Mall where the National Air & Space Museum now stands] and transmitting the first aerial telegram to President Abraham Lincoln.

Like many first messages, Lowe's telegram is mostly about itself:

This point of observation commands an area near fifty miles in diameter. The city with its girdle of encampments presents a superb scene. I have pleasure in sending you this first dispatch ever telegraphed from an aerial station and in acknowledging indebtedness to your encouragement for the opportunity of demonstrating the availability of the science of aeronautics in the military service of the country.
Lowe persuaded Lincoln to appoint him Chief Aeronaut and to establish the Union Army Balloon Corps.


Lowe ordered seven balloons be fabricated in Philadelphia, while portable gas generators were built in Washington:

The generators were built at the Washington Navy Yard by master joiners who fashioned a contraption of copper plumbing and tanks which, when filled with sulfuric acid and iron filings, would yield hydrogen gas. The generators were Lowe's own design and were considered a marvel of engineering. They were designed to be loaded into box crates that could easily fit on a standard buckboard. The generators took more time to build than the balloons and were not as readily available as the first balloon.
They sound fantastic, and I love the standardized buckboard-scale design. It's at once obvious and totally subjective. Do any of these things survive?


Anyway, even more than the establishment of Balloon Camp, this is my favorite part of the Balloon Corps story, partly because I cross the Chain Bridge at least once a weekday when I'm in DC:

By October 1, 1861, the first balloon, the Union, was ready for action. Though it lacked a portable gas generator, it was called into immediate service. It was gassed up in Washington and towed overnight to Lewinsville via Chain Bridge. The fully covered and trellised bridge required that the towing handlers crawl over the bridge beams and stringers to cross the upper Potomac River into Fairfax County. The balloon and crew arrived by daylight, exhausted from the nine-hour overnight ordeal, when a gale-force wind took the balloon away. It was later recovered, but not before Lowe, who was humiliated by the incident, went on a tirade about the delays in providing proper equipment.
The Balloon Corps continued with somewhat more success until Lowe resigned in 1863. The top photos are credited to Matthew Brady and date to 1862. They are from the Smithsonian's collection of awesome, unnecessarily watermarked public domain photos of military and scientific balloons. The bridge one is from wikipedia.

On This Spot []
Union Army Balloon Corps [wikipedia]

From the Other Things I Didn't Know About What Goes Inside Geodesic Dome Pavilions Department:

Christine Macy and Sarah Bonnemaison devote a chapter in their 2003 book, Architecture and nature: creating the American landscape to geodesic domes, including this description of Buckminster Fuller's original vision for the US Pavilion at Montreal's World Expo 67:

His [Fuller's] design of 1964 featured a dome nearly twice the size [of the 250-ft diameter, 3/4 dome by Fuller and Shoji Sadao that was realized] with a massive interior gallery. From this elevated vantage point, the viewer would focuse their attention inward to a hundred foot diameter Earth tranforming slowly into an icosahedron, before it opens up, unfolding like a flower as it descends to the floor. [what a sentence. -ed.] In this way, Fuller's "geodesic" globe transforms into his "Dymaxion" map of the Earth before the visitors' eyes, displaying the "one world island in one world ocean." And then it would come to life. Wired with tens of thousands of miniature light bulbs, this great map would begin to pulsate with patterns--showing world resources, electricity generation, the flow of transportation and communication systems across the Earth. This interactive display, this giant bio-feedback device, would be the playing surface of the "World Game." Assembling in teams or playing by themselves, visitors were intended to chart out optimal paths to link resources with industries and population centers, to streamline transportation flows and maximize satellite coverage The aim, according to Fuller, was to "make the world work successfully for all of humanity...without anyone gaining advantage at the expense of another."
Since he had not actually been asked to design the exhibit, just the pavilion, this idea was rejected and replaced by a selection of quilts, duck decoys, and Cary Grand billboards.

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Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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about this archive

Category: satelloons

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Our Guernica Cycle, 2017 –
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Social Medium:
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CZRPYR2: The Illustrated Appendix
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Printed Matter, NYC
Summer 2012
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Destroyed Richter Paintings, 2012-
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Selected Court Documents
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