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.

Announcing The Tomorrow Project’s Journeys through Time and Space anthology

October 8, 2015 in Hieroglyph

“Your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it.”
-Doctor Emmett L. Brown, Back to the Future Part III

Cover of the Tomorrow Project's Journeys through Time and Space anthology, featuring an artist's rendering of a black hole.I was nearing my thirteenth birthday when I heard that line — a call to action from a character that embodied scientific curiosity, exploration, and DIY. Unfortunately for me, the year was 1989, so rather than take to the Internet to find a community of thinkers and makers to help workshop my ideas, I contented myself by reading about other people’s imagined futures. Thankfully, for those of us who pined for access to a hackerspace or the fellowship of like-minded enthusiasts, these dreams are realized for a new generation courtesy of The Tomorrow Project.

For the past five years, The Tomorrow Project has empowered today’s youth to visualize and collaborate on the future they want to live in through both storytelling and prototyping. Using grounded science as a starting point, Tomorrow Project participants are encouraged to tease out ideas, designs, implications, and worst-case scenarios to envision the world that they’ll soon inherit. Hundreds of these exercises from fifteen countries and thirty-six U.S. states were submitted as short stories to the project’s The Future – Powered By Fiction contest and have been published in quarterly anthologies throughout the past year.

As a partner in this effort, we are excited to announce the publication of the fourth and final collection of tales from the competition, Journeys through Time and Space.

In this volume, eleven young people from Nepal, Singapore, and the U.S. share their dispatches from the future, expressing the primal human desire for exploration powered by the technologies of tomorrow. Their stories are fresh, exciting, and brimming with possibility. We invite you to read them all here and share the Tomorrow Project with the students and educators in your life. The anthology is free to read, download, and share.

Visit the Tomorrow Project website to read and share Journeys through Time and Space and the other three “Future – Powered by Fiction” anthologies, along with a bunch of other volumes of science fiction and fact.

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.

Spotlight on the Community: April Davis

September 3, 2015 in Hieroglyph

April Davis is a new member of the Hieroglyph community. She is studying geophysics and astronomy at Cal Poly Pomona and can be found doing field work in the Arctic, Hawaii, and at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah.

I caught up with April over email to talk about her latest adventures and how science fiction inspired her passion for science.

April DavisBob Beard, Project Hieroglyph: What are you working on right now?

April Davis: My team is currently analyzing impact ejecta, secondary craters, and slope distribution of Martian terrain in support of the future Mars InSight lander mission. Basically, I’m projecting and layering various data types (visual, digital elevation, thermal emission) to make maps that will allow us to determine the safest place to land. I’m at JPL as part of the Caltech Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, but will continue working here as a part-time intern through at least the fall quarter. So, I should get to do the same type of stuff for NASA’s Mars 2020 mission!!! 😀 (I am obviously very excited.)

My last internship (last summer I was in the High Arctic testing the IceBreaker-3 drill) was actually a competitor to the project I’m working on now. It’s been really interesting to have the experience of working on a couple of different missions – especially seeing how different NASA centers operate. It’s also renewed my interest in engineering.

I miss designing and building stuff. A few years ago, I designed an optical head-mounted display that could be used to help geologists wearing spacesuits – because so much of what we do is impossible to do in a spacesuit. The design was accepted for a talk at the International Astronautical Conference in Beijing that year, but I couldn’t fund myself to attend. I never actually built my prototype, and regret that pretty often. I need someone to help me with coding, but eventually I will get around to it.

BB: What does the future look like to you, and what are you most excited about?

AD: I’m really excited about the possibility of human spaceflight, space tourism, and Moon bases. As a self-described tree-hugger, it took me a long time to come to terms with my desire to explore other planets due to the waste of valuable resources here on Earth; the likelihood that we would just exploit other planets for materials; and the possibility that we could stunt evolving life on another planet. These are all real concerns, and the last is something that we should take very seriously. There are planetary protection laws in place to mitigate the damage we do, but those laws might not be enough in the face of the aggressive lobbying that would almost certainly happen if a profit could be turned.

I’m all for colonization of Mars as well. I’ve done a couple of rotations out at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, simulating a Mars habitat environment. I’ve also done research at Mars analog sites in the High Arctic and Death Valley.

BB: So you’re ready to go?

AD: Definitely! Many organizations, including JPL, have plans to get people to Mars by the 2030s. Some of those plans include staying for a couple weeks, and some include staying until death. Private organizations like SpaceX are also planning missions. Elon Musk has said that he would like to retire on Mars, and he seems like the kind of man who works hard to make things happen. However, SpaceX hasn’t yet managed a successful spacecraft landing on a planet other than Earth (and that was in the water). So they have a long road ahead of them. I’m hopeful that they will make some headway sooner rather than later, because I would love to sign up for the SpaceX Mars retirement plan.

In the meantime, I would be happy just to have samples brought back to Earth. Mars 2020 is supposed to collect samples that will be brought back as part of a different mission – it was too expensive to incorporate sample return into Mars 2020. The thought of waiting all those years for samples breaks my heart.

BB: What are your biggest challenges, and how do you deal with them?

AD: Planetary science research is extremely competitive. During my first few internships, I encountered so many people who were discouraging students from pursuing planetary science unless they wanted to devote their lives to it and were okay with not making much money. I am okay with both of those things, but it still worried me. Fortunately, I was lucky to have a mentor who not only encouraged me, but pretty much convinced me not to turn my back on Mars research. It meant a lot to me. I have really bad impostor syndrome, but she made me feel like I belong.

I hope I can have that type of impact on the life of a student one day. I would especially like to mentor young women. There are a number of reasons why women drop out of STEM, but I believe that too often it’s because of the way they are treated by people in the field.

BB: What is your favorite science fiction story or vision for the future?

AD: Tough question. When I was young, I was lucky enough to have an uncle that was really into sci-fi. I would often stay with him and my aunt, and he would let me watch ANYTHING I wanted. So I probably knew all the words to the Evil Dead script by the time I was five years old. We also watched an episode of The X-Files every week; I think that really taught me to be skeptical. Scully was my favorite. I didn’t have any role models when I was young; I really admired her. In later years, Colonel Carter from Stargate SG-1 would have a huge impact on my life. Her character made me realize that women could be good at math – as a kid I wasn’t good at math and was discouraged from trying because “girls just aren’t good at math.” I already had the desire to explore (or maybe just to run), but I hadn’t thought about exploring other planets yet.

Also, one of my exes is doing Mars research because he read Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy and it gave him the desire to colonize Mars. He took me to the Mars Society Convention back in 2012, and that’s how I got hooked up with the Mars Desert Research Station. In a way, part of what I’m doing today is also because of him (and KSR by proxy). Without sci-fi, I have no idea what I would be doing with my life, but I very seriously doubt it would be working for NASA.

After writing all of this, I really have to go with Stargate SG-1 as my favorite – even though it doesn’t really take place in the future. The protagonists are very into the science, but they’re also compassionate and ethical. If we ever make contact with sentient beings from outside of our solar system, I’d hope the leadership of Earth could be so elegant.


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.

Just How Realistic Is Buzz Aldrin’s Plan to Colonize Mars?

August 31, 2015 in Hieroglyph


Buzz AldrinThe second man to walk on the Moon, Buzz Aldrin – along with the Florida Institute of Technology – has joined the growing ranks of space colonization advocates that foresee the settlement of Mars in the near future. Other groups, such as SpaceX, NASA, and the much-harangued Mars One, all have plans in motion to land astronauts on the Red Planet. Most of these plans rely on research and space missions that have not yet been conducted; Aldrin’s plan, for instance, would use space stations, asteroids, and the moons of Mars as way stations for the eventual one-way colonists.

These plans are alike in that they are ambitious, inspirational, and daring. And they may be, ultimately, unrealistic. It’s been more than forty years since humanity’s last manned trip to another celestial body, the Apollo 17 Moon mission in 1972. Implementing a manned mission to Mars will take decades of research and planning, immense political will, and generous funding. The colonization of another planet is a project the likes of which have, arguably, never been seen before. Do we (i.e., the human race) have the drive to achieve such ambitions?

It is undeniable that serious, intelligent people are talking about the very real possibility of colonizing another planet. And with movies like The Martian debuting soon, it’s clear that Mars is in the public consciousness as well. Maybe now is the perfect time to start planning our next great leap into space.

Photo courtesy of Dennis Knake, used under a Creative Commons license.


Zach Berkson is an engineer, researcher, and writer, who graduated from ASU’s chemical engineering program in 2013 and is now a PhD student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research focuses on engineering nanostructured materials for new applications in energy technology, including solid-state lighting, pollutant emission reduction, and solar-energy utilization. He is interested in finding ways to further technological development while maintaining a commitment to the environment and social equity in the face of a rapidly changing world.

What a real-life space settlement might look like

June 11, 2014 in Hieroglyph

Over at Sploid, Jesus Diaz posted a model for a space settlement, created by Bryan Versteeg of Spacehabs, based on actual scientific principles. To learn more about the space settlement and the thinking behind it, check out the Sploid post.

Behold the settlement in action:

Joey Eschrich is the editor and program manager at the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University. He earned his bachelor's degree in Film and Media Studies in 2008 and his master's degree in Gender Studies in 2011, both from ASU.