Space from Space 2006

Some things cannot be described unless seen by one's own eyes, since photographs might deceit one's perception.

An astronaut helped calibrating what he has seen from the International Space Station with what we imagine, and consequently I was able to create an image that represent what a human perceives in outer space.

 —   [ 1/15 ]

Looking at photographs showing the stars we realize that these images depict an imperceivable reality.

Longer exposure times yield the appearance of stars which otherwise are not visible to the eye, and the use of telescopes, the image scanning of invisible wavelenghts and the filtering influence of the Earth's atmosphere further add to the fact that these images do not represent visible truth, but rather are a product of an elaborated design process.

When I set off to find out what space looks from space, I started with designing an experiment involving an astronaut, and ended up dealing with the human calibration of photographs, and the question of truth and illusion in imaging and cognition.



PART 1:

Dear Jim Voss, How does space look from Space?

The astronaut Jim Voss, who spent six months aboard the International Space Station, was asked to des?cribe his view of outer space from the space station.


     ----------------------------------------------------------------------

    

        From : Christian Waldvogel (hochnebel@waldvogel.com)

        Date : May 11, 2006 11:36:18 GMT+02:00

        Subject : "how does space look from space?"

        To : jim.voss@nasa.edu

    

    dear james voss

    thank you very much for aggreeing to participate in my art project

    "how does space look from space?"!

    

    i am a swiss artist and educated architect who's work circles around

    utopian ideas, fictious worlds, the planets in the solar system and earth

    as a planet in the universe. in my newest project, i investigate how

    exactly space looks if seen from space by naked eye. for this purpose i

    have designed a poster that shows different images from the same section

    of space, with the star visibilty limit changing: the first image contains

    almost no stars, the last one very many.

    

    now i would like to ask someone who has flown into space -- you -- to

    clearly mark the image that comes closest to what you have seen, and then

    sign the poster, both using the supplied red felt pen and both executed in

    the way you wish.

    

    the deal would be that i'd send two posters, both signed and numbered by

    me and so being an 'official' art piece, and you would keep one and send

    the other one back. so if you still agree in participating please let me

    know where to send the posters.

    

    [ ... ]

    

    again, thank you very much for your willingness to participate, with my

    best regards,

    

    -christian waldvogel

    

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------


I sent him a poster with several images of the same section of the sky, but with a varying number of stars and asked him to mark the image that seemed to best depict what he had seen himself.

 —   [ 1/4 ]

Christian,

This is the closest image to the view of space from space. However, it is not what it really looks like. The actual view is much. much brighter with thousands of bright stars on the blackest field possible. Each star is like an intense point of light with some larger in diameter than others.

Jim Voss, Astronaut



PART 2:

The view of Space from Space from Earth

(As if the Stars were countless)

In the professional manner of one who is accustomed to conducting highly complex missions and is proficient at keeping logs and reporting findings, Jim Voss debriefed our art mission via email, informing me that he had mailed the poster the previous day.

In the same email, he added that if I went to the highest mountain on the clearest and darkest night, I would see half as many stars shining half as bright as the ones that I would see, and that he had seen, from space.


    ----------------------------------------------------------------------

    

     From : jim.voss@nasa.edu

     Date: May 25, 2006 04:25:04 GMT+02:00

     Subject: Re: received postage "how does space look from space"?

     To: hochnebel@waldvogel.com

    

    Dear Christian

    

    I mailed your poster today with the remaining money enclosed. None

    of the views were close to a real view of space from space. The

    stars are much, much brighter and there are more of them visible.

    

    If you go to the highest mountain, on the clearest darkest night, you

    will see about 1/2 the stars with about 1/2 the brightness of what

    you see from space.

    I did note that and marked the best view.

    

    Good luck with the project.

    

    Jim Voss

    

    

    On May 12, 2006, at 11:12, Christian Waldvogel wrote:

    > dear jim voss

    >

    > thank you very much for aggreeing to participate in my art project "how does

    > space look from space?"!

    >

    

    [...]


A web of tunnels and shafts carved into the ridge of rock linking the Mönch and Jungfrau, crowned by the Sphinx Observatory and accessible only by helicopter or the railway built into the Eiger and Mönch massif, the High Altitude Research Station Jungfraujoch is a fitting earthly substitute for the ISS, where Jim Voss did his stargazing.

Like the ISS, the Research Station at the Jungfraujoch is an outpost in a hostile environment, an expansive interior space visited only by scientists—and by the thousands of tourists who are apparently willing to pay the substantial admission fees charged for a sojourn of just a few hours.

Due to its remote location at a high altitude,11 — At 3,454m, the Jungfraujoch Railway Station is the highest railway station in Europe.

2 — While the first cosmological measurements were performed in the 19th century, the Sphinx Observatory did not commence service until 1937.
it has a long tradition as an ideal place for astronomy.2 I took up Voss’ suggestion and became a temporary research fellow in the arts.

Equipped with an astronomy tripod to cancel the stars’ apparent movement, a light meter to measure their brightness, a digital camera to calibrate the exposure so that it would render what I saw with the naked eye, and a 6×6 Hasselblad camera to record this calibrated star image at high resolution, I spent a few dark and clear nights on the terrace at 3,580m above sea level.

When, finally, the majority of city lights had been turned off and the Moon had settled behind the horizon, I installed my equipment and began to calibrate my own eyesight.

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Memorizing the location of the faintest star I could discern, I searched for that star on one of the six consecutive digital exposures of the same portion of the sky. These had only just been photographed and because each of them was exposed longer than the one before, the number of stars steadily increased.

 —   [ 1/6 ]

The exposure that yielded the image which best represented what I myself saw, would be somewhere between that of the brightest image, which did not show the star at all, and that of the darkest image, on which it was discernible.

Twice as many, twice as bright.

As the calibrated photograph was scanned and converted into a vector graphic, each star9 was treated as an independent entity. All were duplicated, and the duplicates randomly scattered across the image.

Then I built a light box which in a darkened room can be adjusted to shine so brightly that the time needed to photograph it is exactly half what I needed at the Jungfraujoch.

And Earth now has a window through which we can gaze into outer space.

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