That cylindrical object you see pictured above is a roughly school-bus sized structure which was deployed into space in 1984. It orbited the Earth for five and a half years with nothing expected of it other than to float there, getting battered about by whatever the great black yonder saw fit to throw at it. You see, every inch of its outside surface was covered with Science. 57 separate experiments, mounted in 86 trays, involving the participation of “more than 200 principal investigators from 33 private companies, 21 universities, seven NASA centers, nine Department of Defense laboratories and eight foreign countries.” Its purpose was to study the effects of space on a multitude of materials. Its name is the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) and I am deeply in love with it.
As longtime readers are no doubt painfully aware, when it comes to certain items I have the tendency to objectify, to glaze over purpose and function and context and just splash about in the shallows of aesthetics. The recent post on microscope slides is a good example. Well, I should warn you straight off that I’m about to indulge that tendency yet again, because every bit of practical and thoughtful background information I plan to relay was contained in that first paragraph.
Believe it or not LDEF, somewhat humble punching-bag though it may be, is gorgeous. More specifically the neatly arranged trays which cover every inch of its surface are, as a group and individually, some damned handsome items. Visually they represent the confluence of so many things I’m partial to that the LDEF might in some ways represent the perfect object for my ogling pleasure.
For me it brings to mind the abstraction of certain painters, a gridded and measured minimalism in graphic design, failed utopian architecture, and the shapes and surface textures of every science fictional interior ever put on film. Add to that the subtle color palette peppered here and there with super saturated counterpoints, the unintentional, almost accidental, nature of its beauty, and (having been well battered during its 32,422 Earth orbits) the indelible stamp of decay… and, well, what can I say?
The images which follow are each of individual sections of the LDEF’s exterior. I have cropped them where I thought necessary but they are otherwise exactly as they were photographed in 1990. Have a look.
Now, imagine all that visual goodness, and a whole lot more just like it, packed onto a 30 foot by 14 foot cylindrical surface, hurtling silently 275 nautical miles above the Earth, and our heads…
Yup, that’s the stuff. I hope you enjoyed these even a smidgeon as much as I do.
If you’d like to know more about the mission, the craft, the experiments, or the results of those experiments you can view NASA’s page here.