NEW YORK? As the age of commercial spaceflight gains speed, a New York expressionist is hoping to become the first American artist in space by staking his claim for a seat on a suborbital passenger spaceship built by Virgin Galactic. ?
Artist Laurance Rassin, the artistic director of a 21st century expressionist art movement called The New Blue Riders, is showcasing his work in a solo exhibit called "Simply Blue," on display through June 4 in the lobby of the Conde Nast building in New York City's Times Square.
The exhibit, which includes paintings, bronzes and pieces of furniture, focuses on Rassin's quest to become the first American artist in space. Canadian circus performer Guy Laliberte, billionaire founder of the Cirque du Soleil, brought performance art to space during his 2009 orbital flight to the International Space Station.
"I grew up outside of Greenbelt, Md., looking at NASA photos my whole life," Rassin told SPACE.com in a telephone interview. "I find space fascinating. As a small boy, I wanted to go to space. This opportunity for the common man, the everyday person to be able to go to space ? it's an awakening of the social consciousness for what is possible in the future."
Rassin is training for a flight on the eight-person suborbital SpaceShipTwo spaceliners being built for Virgin Galactic, a commercial spaceflight company founded by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson. The first SpaceShipTwo ? the VSS Enterprise ? and its WhiteKnightTwo mothership Eve are undergoing flight tests at California's Mojave Air and Space Port.
Proceeds from the "Simply Blue" art exhibit will be split to support Rassin's flight aboard Virgin Galactic, with a significant portion also donated to the Chabad's Children of Chernobyl, a non-profit organization whose mission is to evacuate children from the Chernobyl region of Ukraine.
Private space trek training
In order to realize his dream, Rassin will take part in a two-day training program at the National AeroSpace Training and Research (NASTAR) Center in Southampton, Penn., in September. The rigorous training will prepare Rassin for the extreme conditions he would face on a suborbital flight.
"It's a pretty intense course," Brienna Henwood, Director of Space and Research Programs at the NASTAR Center, told SPACE.com. "We bring you through the entire flight profile and physically expose you to G-force. We use NASA astronaut training techniques to teach you how to breathe and train your muscles."
Over the course of the two days, participants are taught techniques to manage the physiological and psychological stresses of suborbital space travel. This includes learning how to cope with the amount of pressure on the body at various points in the flight. For example, for a couple seconds during re-entry, the force exerted on a passenger makes it feel like an elephant is sitting on his or her chest, Henwood said.
The NASTAR Center, which is currently the only Federal Aviation Administration safety-approved training facility, prepares passengers for Virgin Galactic's specific flight profile, which takes clients up 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) before releasing them in the SpaceShipTwo suborbital craft. SpaceShipTwo then ignites its rocket boosters and the vehicle jets toward space before descending back to about 70,000 feet (21,336 meters), Henwood explained.
The total flight time is about 2.5 hours, during which passengers experience approximately four minutes of weightlessness. The cost of the two-day training program is $6,000, and currently, seats on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo are commanding $200,000 each. ?
But for Rassin, the experience is more symbolic.
"Laurance wants to do art in space. He's an artist and this is his passion," Henwood said. "He wants to create some original artwork in this microgravity environment. The commercial industry is opening up the doors so that anybody can have the chance to go to space."
Public space travel taking off
Henwood predicts that by next year commercial flights to space will be taking off with increasing regularity, and if that is the case Rassin has some lofty goals for the future.
?As early as next year, Rassin envisions sending paintings in a capsule to orbit the Earth to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the original Blue Rider group's first art show.
The original Blue Rider group originated as an expressionist art movement in Germany from 1911 to 1914. The resurrected New Blue Rider movement, of which Rassin is the artistic director, counts several descendents of the original group among its members. Rassin hopes to honor the original Blue Riders in a futuristic art show that incorporates space travel.
"We could orbit paintings in space, videotape it, and bring it back here to tour as a show on Earth," Rassin said.
For Rassin, part of the artistry of the spaceflight experience lies in the simplicity of the commercial industry's impact on the future of space travel.
"I'm not a CEO of some big company, or some big-time Texas oil guy," Rassin said. "I'm just an average guy scratching my paintings on the cave wall, trying to be a great American artist."
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