Imagining An Alternate History Space Program

March 3, 2016 in Hieroglyph

tumblr_nec2h2L3ff1u0vd4co1_1280“Imagine a world where the Space Race has not ended. Where space agencies were funded a lot better than military. Where private space companies emerged and accelerated development of space industry. Where people never stopped dreaming big and aiming high.”

-The Space That Never Was

Mac Rebisz is a Polish concept designer and illustrator working in the gaming and film industries for studios all over the world. In 2014 he embarked on a personal project, The Space That Never Was, combining his training as an architectural engineer with his lifelong enthusiasm for space. His work, like the Kronos Project, which envisions a manned trip to outer planets, is a unique alternate history with research-based visions for spacecraft that are both speculative and scientifically grounded. I chatted with Mac about this work, his universe, and the importance of getting the science right.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Bob Beard, Project Hieroglyph: Tell me about your process for creating these images.

Mac Rebisz: First, I always try to capture the scientific data of the project – to get the details technically correct. I visit the NASA archives to get technical documents, and I use for basic information about space hardware. Reading through these sites, I’ll make some initial inferences, and from there I usually correct myself after studying books on the topic – but I do research everywhere I can.

BB: How long do you spend on this part of the work?

MR: For one picture, I spend a week doing research and then a day or two just doing the image. Some of my images are hand painted in Photoshop and some are made in 3D. After doing  my research, I’ll make a detailed 3D model, then render it in Photoshop and overpaint the details, establish the mood and background…all of the artistic considerations.

BB: How much of what you do is a careful reproduction of the designs in the NASA archives, and how much is speculative?


MR: It depends on my mood – but when I find an interesting idea from reality, I think of how I’d like to depict it, then I do the study and research. When I had the idea for the Kronos spacecraft, I started reading NASA studies and documents about large, interplanetary expeditions and it just evolved from there.

BB: The Kronos Project is interesting too – because you’ve taken it a step further. This isn’t just another cool looking spaceship on the Internet: it’s designed to house a crew and a laboratory in an alternate history. Do your drawings also fulfill the technical requirements of these imaginary missions?

I first started thinking about Kronos in 2014 as a large interplanetary ship for exploration, conducting science research around Jupiter and Saturn. My first design wasn’t as big as it is now, because it started from the feasibility studies done by NASA back in the 60s and 70s, when they were actively planning missions like this. That’s why it looks like an Apollo spacecraft attached to a habitat module.  But since then I’ve plotted what I wanted my spacecraft to do, and have sketched and planned and added for what’s actually possible.20151231_kronos_3months_comp_by_macrebisz-d9m39z9

BB: It’s an interesting mash-up of speculation and real science. In your day job working on video games and movies, I imagine you get to take some artistic liberties. How important is it for you to pursue concepts like these and still get the science right?

MR: For this project it’s very important – maybe more so for me than for the audience – because I want to know how things work, and I’m gratified to know that these creations, as I imagine them, could work.

BB: Do you plan to eventually unite these images into a narrative?

MR: Yes, I’d like to make an art book from all the pictures with some background and a narrative throughout. Maybe with technical papers and some incredible cross-sections – to show how the modules would work and how people would live in them.

I’m also in pre-production for a short movie set in the Space That Never Was universe, about a Polish astronaut who goes on a mission to Phobos.

BB: How would you describe your vision for space – both The Space That Never Was as well how you’d like to see humans actually interact with space in the future?

MR: Space has always been very political, but I hope that it will be more humanistic and focused on international collaboration. The Space That Never Was is primarily scientific, of course – but I think it’s also optimistic. I want people to see that space exploration is cool and worthwhile. As an artist though, I just hope that people like my art.

Bob Beard is a fan of fandom. From Browncoats to Bronies, SCA members, Trekkers, Steampunks and more, Bob is passionate about understanding the performance and identity practices within various fandoms as well as creation of experiences for members of these groups to publicly advocate for themselves and their ideas. Bob is a Marine Corps veteran and double alumnus of Arizona State University, with a master's degree in Communication Studies and a bachelor's degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a humanities emphasis.

Tower design: O3

April 10, 2013 in Hieroglyph

Students at Arizona State University tackled the concept of a Tall Tower as a design challenge. Here is their take (developed independently of the engineering research Neal Stephenson, Keith Hjelmstad and others have been pursuing) . The text below is from the poster they produced.

The Issue.



For over a century, we have exploited nature and its various resources to our needs. The early 20th century saw the advancement in technology and its exponential growth. This is the progress that we have made at the cost of losing our relationship with nature and only recently have we realized its damage. The two most detrimental consequences of this loss have been ozone layer depletion and global warming. Our partial consideration of the existing systems around us and the conflicted perception of “man over nature” have started showing its impacts in the form of natural disasters, extinction of species and overall effect on our lives.

The Impact.

Since early 20th century, Earth’s mean surface temperature has increased by about 0.8 °C (1.4 °F), with about two-thirds of the increase occurring since 1980. The discovery of the annual depletion of ozone above the Antarctic was first announced in a paper by Joe Farman, Brian Gardiner and Jonathan Shanklin which appeared in Nature in May 1985. The climate system can respond to changes in external forcings. External forcings can “push” the climate in the direction of warming or cooling. The increased concentration of greenhouse gases has caused changes in the atmospheric concentration which has been a cause of rise in temperatures around the world. The impact of global warming can be seen on human systems, natural systems and terrestrial ecosystems. Sea level rise, changes in migratory patterns of various species, widespread decreases in snow and ice extent and ocean acidification are some of the consequences of global climate change. Like global warming, depletion of the ozone layer has raised complex problems of cause and effect that have led to international disagreements over coordinated efforts to reverse the problem. For example, elevated UV levels have been shown to compromise the aquatic food chain, alter plant-insect interactions, change the growth patterns of fungi, and slightly reduce the productivity of agricultural plants.

The Reason.

With the current condition of the climate, severe consequences have been realized. Not only human health but effect on other species has been observed. The population and needs of a civilization are growing everyday and so is the pollution and consequences of exploiting nature. The primary concern of ozone layer depletion has raised many concerns and issues over the last several decades and it needs to be dealt with in a much aggressive manner than before. With that also exists the issues of global warming and even when ozone layer is repaired, this problem remains. Therefore, a system needs to be put in place that monitors, resolves and prevents such climatic scenarios from recurrence.

The Scenarios.

Scenario 1 – Nature (Year 01-1800 AD) This is a condition where humans have minimal impact on nature and nature continues to function and support life based on cyclic processes. Earth goes through climate changes at a natural pace, giving time for life to evolve, sustain and coexist with the environment. Humans coexist with nature and nature is the dominant force.

Scenario 2 – Humans (Year 1800 AD – 2020 AD) In this scenario, the condition is reversed. Humans start advancing technologically and realize the potential of natural resources, only to exploit them based on certain needs. This starts a cycle of exploitation, depletion and in certain cases exhaustion of resources. Nature now serves as a resource to humans and dominance is the key to progress. This results in various social and environmental issues. This is where the “tower” assumes its role of fixing the major environmental issue (ozone layer depletion) and works towards regeneration of the deteriorating environment.

Scenario 3 – Nature + Humans (beyond 2020 AD) Now that the issue of ozone depletion has been dealt with, the process of environmental cleanup (greenhouse gases) is undertaken to protect the natural systems from increasing pollution and create a healthier environment where nature and humans can begin to create a balance and begin to coexist. The “tower” becomes a machine and a refuge.

The Concept.

  • O3

As the global climate changes and starts affecting the human and natural processes, a strategy needs to be deployed for these systems to function smoothly and maintain a habitable environment for all. Arising from the need to regenerate the ozone layer, the “tower(s)” is conceived as a ‘city within a machine’ and further as a ‘machine within a city’. The tower(s) is deployed at two locations based around the South Pole, where the 21 million ozone hole exists. The tower is primarily formed of three zones. The first is the habitat zone where the researchers, workers and their families live. This zone also serves as space for multidisciplinary research initiatives towards ecological solutions. The second zone is the production zone where the most important element required to regenerate the ozone layer, Oxygen, is produced. This zone uses both mechanical and natural processes to produce oxygen at a scale where the needs for the ozone regeneration and oxygen supply to the rest of the tower are fulfilled. This zone produces supplies and stores oxygen in both liquid and gaseous state. The fundamental functions of ozone regeneration and air purification occur in this zone as well. The third zone is the emissions zone where the produced oxygen is finally released back in the atmosphere through emission stations and stratospheric airships which carry the oxygen in liquid form to the required destination and then released in the atmosphere spending a few hours hovering over the depleted zones.

The designers: Utkarsh Kumar, Violet Whitney, Vineet Bhosle

Nina Miller has been a designer at Arizona State University since 2005. Nina has taught foundation level courses in the ASU Visual Communications program and she has been an actor and performer in Phoenix since 1995. Her research in Interaction Design focuses on theatrical improvisation and how it might inspire the collaborative design process. Nina is a board member, instructor and improvisor at The Torch Theatre, a non-profit improv collective in central Phoenix.