What do the Golden Gate Bridge, the Chrysler Building, the film Citizen Kane, and America’s Space Program all have in common? They were touched by the hand of a wry-humored and slightly cantankerous artist named Chesley Bonestell (1888-1986).
His paintings of the Golden Gate Bridge convinced doubting San Franciscans that the bridge could be built. His designs for the Chrysler Building made it an art-deco masterpiece. As a special effects matte painter, he created the legendary Xanadu Castle for Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.
Even greater was Chesley’s impact through his space art. First published in Life Magazine in 1944, his visions of planets and galaxies, made before the advent of powerful telescopes and satellites, sowed all the seeds necessary for one of the most revolutionary chapters of our country: the United States Space Program. His iconic “Saturn As Seen From Titan” became known as “the painting that launched a thousand careers.” His space art graced the covers of countless science fiction magazines of the 1940’s and 50’s. Teaming up with rocket experts Willy Ley and Wernher von Braun, he co-authored a long series of influential books beginning with the best-seller, The Conquest of Space. His evocative imagery fired the imaginations of a country looking to conquer the next frontier, and so the quest began!
Summoned by Hollywood producer George Pal, Chesley lent his talents to classics like Destination Moon and The War Of The Worlds. Television requested Chesley’s help with the series Men Into Space. Even today, you can see his influence on filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and many others.
Chesley Bonestell: A Brush With The Future compellingly reveals a nearly-forgotten artist whose mysterious, almost magical, ability to envision distant worlds inspired generations to reach for the stars. Often compared to a twentieth-century da Vinci, this first-ever film about Bonestell explores the life and works of an artist whose influence and timeless imagery are regarded by many as unparalleled. This documentary was produced by award-winning filmmaker Douglass M. Stewart, Jr. and Co-Produced by Ron Miller and Melvin Schuetz, authors of the Hugo Award-winning book, The Art of Chesley Bonestell.
See previous HS items about the film here and here.
Chesley Bonestell was an architect and painter who worked on the Golden Gate Bridge and the Chrysler Building. He worked on famous movies like Citizen Kane as a matte artist, and his mesmerizing paintings of planets and star systems helped inspire America’s space program. Why is it that no one knows who he is today?
Producer Douglass Stewart, was interviewed last year on The Space Show about Bonestell and the film:
During this one segment 72 minute program, not only did our guest take us through the life and art of Chesley Bonestell, but the same for documentary film making, distribution and film festival issues plus lots more.
Bonestell’s visions are still coming to life. Here is an illustration he created for an article by Werner von Braun and Cornelius Ryan in Colliers Magazine, April 30, 1954:
And here is a full-scale 1st-gen prototype of the Starship, a fully reusable space transport currently in development by SpaceX:
And a SpaceX illustrator’s vision of Starships at a Mars settlement:
“50/50 Lunar Legends” a new documentary about the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and hidden figures of US space program – from Apollo to these days. We interviewed 50 people at the Florida Space Coast. Those who have contributed or who are actively contributing to space exploration.
Neil Armstrong believed their chances were only 50/50 that the moon landing would be a success. Hence the name of the documentary. It focuses on the actual people who worked behind the scenes at NASA and its contractors to pioneer the science and technology of space exploration and how private companies, such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and alike now continue to push us further into the future.
The project was non-commercial and accomplished on a shoestring budget.
A Call to Action: The space race created excitement across the nation and within the young engineers and others who got jobs at NASA and moved to the Space Coast of Florida.
50/50 Chances: There is a huge sense of the “unknown” and “doubt” associated with space exploration. This inherently risky business pays off with great rewards for humanity that may also be followed by great tragedy.
A New Incentive: A deep sense of inspiration and dissatisfaction remained as the future of space exploration sat stagnant. Now, new players emerge in the Space business and the power shifts from public to private. The time has come for strategic collaboration as the new golden age for Space arrives.
Orbiting some 20,000 miles [35,786 km (22,236 mi) to be exact] above the Earth – much further than the International Space Station (245 miles) yet much closer than the Moon (c238,900 miles) – while perpetually fixed over the Eastern Hemisphere, Himawari-8 provides a unique perspective on the planet and its weather patterns. With the film’s haunting soundtrack and swirling imagery, it’s easy to get lost in the hypnotic clouds and forget that below them is half of humanity, rendered almost entirely invisible by the distance.
The mission team called it a “stretch goal” – just before closest approach, precisely point the cameras on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft to snap the sharpest possible pics of the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule, its New Year’s flyby target and the farthest object ever explored.
Now that New Horizons has sent those stored flyby images back to Earth, the team can enthusiastically confirm that its ambitious goal was met.
These new images of Ultima Thule – obtained by the telephoto Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) just 6½ minutes before New Horizons’ closest approach to the object (officially named 2014 MU69) at 12:33 a.m. EST on Jan. 1 – offer a resolution of about 110 feet (33 meters) per pixel. Their combination of high spatial resolution and a favorable viewing angle gives the team an unprecedented opportunity to investigate the surface, as well as the origin and evolution, of Ultima Thule – thought to be the most primitive object ever encountered by a spacecraft.
“Bullseye!” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). “Getting these images required us to know precisely where both tiny Ultima and New Horizons were — moment by moment – as they passed one another at over 32,000 miles per hour in the dim light of the Kuiper Belt, a billion miles beyond Pluto. This was a much tougher observation than anything we had attempted in our 2015 Pluto flyby.
And here is a clip of the fly-by:
New Horizons scientists created this movie from 14 different images taken by the New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) shortly before the spacecraft flew past the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule (officially named 2014 MU69) on Jan. 1, 2019. The central frame of this sequence was taken on Jan. 1 at 5:26:54 UT (12:26 a.m. EST), when New Horizons was 4,117 miles (6,640 kilometers) from Ultima Thule, some 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) from Earth. Ultima Thule nearly completely fills the LORRI image and is perfectly captured in the frames, an astounding technical feat given the uncertain location of Ultima Thule and the New Horizons spacecraft flying past it at over 32,000 miles per hour.
(Note: To loop the video, right button click on it and select “Loop” from the list of options shown.)
Here are the two parts of the documentary, New Horizons – Summiting the Solar System, about the New Horizons fly-by of Ultima Thule:
Summiting the Solar System is a story of exploration at its most ambitious and extreme. On January 1, 2019, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flies by a small Kuiper Belt Object known scientifically as 2014 MU69, but nicknamed “Ultima Thule.” Ultima is four billion miles from Earth, and will be the most ancient and most distant world ever explored close up. It is expected to offer discoveries about the origin and evolution of our solar system. Chosen by the team and the public, the nickname honors the mythical land beyond the edges of the known world. But “Summiting” is much more than the story of a sophisticated, plutonium-fueled robotic spacecraft exploring far from the Sun. The New Horizons mission is powered as much by the passions of a small team of humans—men and women, scientists and engineers—for whom pushing the frontiers of the known, climbing the very peaks of the possible, has been the dream of many decades.
“Summiting” goes behind the scenes of the most ambitious occultation campaigns ever mounted, as scientists deployed telescopes to Senegal and Colombia in 2018, and Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand in 2017, to glimpse Ultima as it passed in front of a star, and gathered data on the object’s size and orbit that has been essential to planning the flyby. Mission scientists recall the astonishing scientific success of flying through the Pluto system in 2015, and use comparative planetology to show how Earth and Pluto are both amazingly different and—with glaciers, tall mountains, volcanoes and blue skies—awesomely similar. Appealing to space junkies and adrenaline junkies alike, “Summiting” brings viewers along for the ride of a lifetime as New Horizons pushes past Pluto and braves an even more hazardous unknown.