In the 21st century, we’re living in another golden age of exploration. This time we’re witnessing expeditions to the weird and wonderful worlds of the solar system. Instead of astronauts, today’s space missions are mostly crewed by robots. These probes, whether rovers or orbiters or landers, act as our eyes and hands in the dangerous…and beautiful…reaches of space. Dozens of spacecraft are now, or have recently, carried out journeys to Mercury, Venus, the Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and the newly charted worlds beyond. Technologically astounding yet built by hand, these machines have landed on a comet, returned samples from the surface of an asteroid, tasted the space between the stars, and flown right through the gap between Saturn and its rings.
The best part? We can all ride along. Robotic solar system missions send home dispatches from deep space in the form of pictures and other kinds of digital data almost every day. Many mission teams publish this information on the Internet—sometimes the very same day it’s received on the ground. (See the links at the bottom of this page.)
The Sketchbooks of an Armchair Astronaut
Explorers in past centuries made beautiful, hand-drawn maps and sketches of their expeditions. Today, travelers still often carry a blank journal for collecting memories of their journeys. Even scientists in the field, with all the technological tools now available to them, still sometimes make notes and observations by hand in a paper notebook.
My artwork features notebook pages with handmade maps, sketches, original photographs, and notes chronicling observations and discoveries made while following the progress of planetary missions. I ride along vicariously with the space robots, whether by participating in citizen science projects, processing finished images from the raw data provided by the space agencies, or simply by enjoying the pictures sent down from space. While the foremost goal is to create aesthetically pleasing pieces, all of the information on my sketchbook pages is as factual as possible. I make the pages as I go, following in the tradition of field notes and nature journals kept by travelers, scientists and naturalists for centuries.
Observing nature always yields wealth. And a mountain on the Moon, the rings of Saturn, or a sunset seen from the surface of Mars are no less part of nature than an Earthly sunrise, which is nothing other than a planet turning in space to face a star.