Spaceflight Insider

Pixels and privatization: An artist’s view of NewSpace

An artist's depiction of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. Image Credit: James Vaughan / SpaceFlight Insider

An artist’s depiction of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. Image Credit: James Vaughan / SpaceFlight Insider

They produce the imagery that inspires the masses to turn their gazes skyward, but what do artists actually think with regards to where space exploration is and where it is going? To find out, SpaceFlight Insider spoke with James Vaughan, a digital artist in the age of the privatization of space.

“To be honest, the terms ‘commercial’ or ‘privatization’ have not always had a positive ring to them,” Vaughan told SpaceFlight Insider. “Having said that, I think entrepreneurs and corporations becoming major players in space exploration is the best thing since the lunar landings.”

Vaughan said that with space and its backdrop of patriotic pride and national identity during the early days of the Space Age, the idea of the privatization of space flight created some mixed responses and confusion. What did the privatization of space mean?

A SpaceX Crew Dragon arrives at the International Space Station. Image Credit: James Vaughan / SpaceFlight Insider

A SpaceX Crew Dragon arrives at the International Space Station. Image Credit: James Vaughan / SpaceFlight Insider

“We’re we going to see giant space billboards or have to lease the heavens from the grasp of ruthless robber-barons like those who monopolized America’s early railroads and ocean shipping?” Vaughan said.

Moreover, Vaughan touched on subjects that have been touched on by industry experts—only to be shouted down and accused of being “anti private space” for their concerns.

“After witnessing the struggles of huge government programs, it was hard to imagine much smaller private entities coping with the vast technical demands of spaceflight,” Vaughan said, noting views that were shared by many.

For Vaughan, whose work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Playboy, Science Magazine and other publications, the entrance of private enterprise into space exploration has meant an increase in the number of his clients. As well as the famous entities like SpaceX, there are a myriad of small start-ups and research firms springing up. Many of these new-players know the value of good public relations and need sophisticated and creative artwork. It has allowed him to become more “involved” in the aerospace industry.

With NASA's help, private space firms have taken great strides in the past decade. Image Credit: James Vaughan / SpaceFlight Insider

With NASA’s help, private space firms have taken great strides in the past decade. Image Credit: James Vaughan / SpaceFlight Insider

“With smaller commercial entities, I find myself working directly with the engineers. I am creating art of designs that have just come off the drawing boards. On occasion I must sit back and wait while the scientists argue out technical details,” Vaughan said. “I get a keen sense that I am really helping to give substance and life to blueprints and spreadsheets.”

While working in an exciting field that has seen a swell of innovation might seem hectic and stressful, for Vaughan, being able to participate in the NewSpace age has enabled him, in some ways, to live out his dreams. 

“I get to make important and far-reaching dreams take on believable and inspiring sense of reality,” Vaughan said, noting that one’s imagination is almost as important as a degree in aeronautics. “In order to build and advance, we have to be able to imagine. What I do helps to make these possibilities seem attainable.”

As was the case with SpaceX’s development and demonstrated capability to have the first stages of its Falcon 9 rocket carry out landings near the launch site, Vaughan has worked to keep up with technological advancements.

“In the past, there were distinct and separate tools of visual communication: Photos, paintings, motion pictures. Today the techniques and technology are blended and interchangeable,” Vaughan said.

Additionally, he provided some of his views about how privatization has benefited other industries.

“Private companies and entrepreneurs are a normal and natural evolution in space exploration. Historically most new technologies have come from private, or mutual private and government endeavors,” Vaughan said, noting that having numerous companies helps him in his work as well. “Competition among multiple players means many more opportunities for me as an artist as different and creative illustration campaigns provides me with a way to stand out.”

 

 

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Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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