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Manuel Alvarez and The Mexican Astronaut

The problem with septuagenarians, octogenarians, and nonagenarians is that they don’t really ‘do’ social media. I guess the reason is, at that point in one’s life, your brand is pretty much established and perhaps there are better things to do with one’s time.


But that’s also the first hurdle I faced on the piece I wrote about Alvarez. I did some research, but it’s such a common name in Southern California that looking for a M. Alvarez in Downey California yielded hundreds of results on social media, and none of them looked like the right person. I hoped that maybe, just maybe, the article would fire up a synapse or two in a stranger. It worked out well for the Sentovic piece, right?

Anyway, a couple of days after I published the article, I got an email from Mike. The story had stirred a synapse or two and he’d remembered an article he’d read written by Apollo engineer Anthony Vidana called “I Remember Bldg. 290.” In the article, the author recalls a career at North American Aviation, presenting a fascinating memoir that includes a story about him and others trying to push NASA towards hiring a Mexican American astronaut. As part of the campaign, he’d used some of his clout at Rockwell to get a company artist to create a painting.

As Anthony recalls, “I envisioned an astronaut and an Aztec with similar head gear and an Aztec pyramid, observatory, moon and statue in the background. The artist, Alvarez, added the Space Shuttle and the Mexican Olympics as an added touch.”


The article includes a thumbnail of the painting – subsequently gifted to the President of Mexico – and it’s gorgeous but low resolution, and the signature is pretty much cropped out, but it’s there and it’s by Alvarez for sure. I can make out an M and maybe an L. Mike emails me. “At the risk of stereotyping, could it be Miguel or Manuel?” It could, but perhaps we’re reaching. Look at it long enough and we’ll start to see what we want to see.

So I reached out to Anthony Vidana, who has a social media presence. Sadly no success.

In the meantime Mike kept digging and found another clue, a Directory of Spanish Surnamed and Native Americans in Science and Engineering, published in 1978 by San Diego City Schools. One of the entries is a Manuel Alvarez working at North American Rockwell.

1. Jake I. Al4irjd (b. New Mexico) /North American Rockwell
2. Humberto F. Alcantar (b. California), North American Rockwell, NASA Space Division
3. Manuel E. Alvarez (b. California), North American Rockwell

And there’s more – and I’d completely missed this while trying to track down Mr. Vidana – Anthony has a YouTube channel, where he shared a delightful video in 2020. The clip retells the story of The Mexican Astronaut, and mentions the artist again, this time using his full name.

Manuel E. Alvarez.

Above: A screengrab from Anthony’s video. Enlarged, the signature is pretty clear. Below: An early study for the painting, the astronaut is clearly modelled on a yet-to-be-born Ryan Reynolds.

Below: Last but not least, and also grabbed from the video.

MOTIVATION OCCUPATION – Space Division and Autonetics employees comprise the board of directors for the Youth Incentive Through Motivation organization combating the school “drop out” problem. Planning activities are, seated, Fred Rodriguez, Robert Arabelo, Autonetics; Manny Alvarez, Space; standing, Hank Martinez, Phil Padilla, Jake Alarid, Joe Gomez, Ted Garcia, Space.

If by any chance you’re Manuel Alvarez and you’re reading this, or perhaps he’s your dad, or an uncle, or your grandpa; please reach out to me. I’d love to talk to you, and I know there are a lot of people who’d love to know more about you and your career.

If you have a minute, take a look at Anthony’s channel and y’know, ‘smash the like button’. Hopefully he’ll be encouraged to release more videos.

Mike, thanks again, you’re a legend!

Image credit: North American Rockwell

Image source: Anthony Vidana

The Robert Watts Interview

I recently sat down with concept artist Robert Watts, for coffee and a chat about his career and by that, I mean Robert graciously agreed to be interviewed by email and took time out of his schedule to answer my questions. It’s entirely  possible one of us was drinking coffee whilst typing.

Robert was Lead Illustrator at Ryan Aeronautical during a very interesting time in the company’s history. His former clients include NASA, American Airlines, General Dynamics and the United States Navy. Robert was a Navy Combat Artist during Vietnam, has served as President of the Society of Illustrators of San Diego, and to this day is a highly sought-after architectural illustrator. He is a signature member of the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association and teaches at the school founded by son Jeffery.

He is also an utterly charming man.

Did art run in the family?

My mother and paternal grandfather did some art, but I really did little serious drawing or painting before college. I started out in graphic design at Pratt Institute and later decided to pursue illustration at The Art Center School in L.A.

Two very  prodigious schools. Was concept art always the goal or were you leaning towards a fine art career?

I had always been obsessed with aviation, but I didn’t realize there were aerospace opportunities till Joe Henniger (Art Center – Illustration Head) asked if I would be interested in a job at Ryan Aeronautical  (later Teledyne Ryan)  in San Diego… I said yes!

Wow, so straight to Ryan from college?

First big job, though I did some freelance work in L.A. before starting.

Your Apollo artwork is extremely detailed. Did you have access to the flight hardware?

They were obviously all done while at Ryan, and they of course had models and engineering drawings of everything. Ryan Electronics built the Doppler radar landing unit, which was the final vital piece in any landing. My job was to simply attempt a believable depiction of these events. We did work on Skylab during the same period.

How much autonomy were you given?

I had tremendous control over all my work at Ryan. They would simply explain what their intent was and what we should emphasize After leaving Ryan I worked in advertising and had some art direction there. I also did about 3000 architectural renderings after that and my ability to read plans was very useful.  I have always been able to conceive an image in my mind before starting… and that was crucial. I’ve been all over the map in illustration!

Did any of your Apollo era artwork make it home with you?

No… but they were decent pieces so I’m confident someone has them. Piers [Bizony] was kind enough to send me some hi-rez copies! *

Comic book artists love to namecheck Frank Frazetta as an influence. Who inspired you?

I was one of the first to see Franks’ work and continue to be spellbound by anything he did. In aerospace: Robert McCall, Jack Leynnwood. John Steel, R.G. Smith and Chesley Bonestell. In general illustration: Rockwell, Mead Schaeffer, Bernie Fuchs, Dean Cornwell, Bob Peak, John Harris (scifi) David Grove and Drew Struzan… many others too numerous to mention!

You jump effortlessly between media, if you had to paint or draw in one medium for the rest of your career what would it be?

Gouache… it was a medium of emphasis at Art Center and aerospace. I teach it and use it a lot… often on a heavily gesso’d surface for a more textured and painterly feel. I often do the underpainting with casein as well.

Do you still love to paint, or is it just a job now?

It is my life passion… never tire! I teach all manner of illustration topics at my son Jeff’s school: Watts Atelier of the Arts in Encinitas California. I also still do all conceptual work for the world-wide San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. I also sell all types of paintings  at my gallery website.

Would you ever consider a commemorative work relating to the Apollo Program, or has that ship sailed for you?

I always consider everything, it is a subject that is iconic for America, so who knows?

Your signature is present on nearly all of the work from your time at Ryan. Was this contractually stipulated or Ryan’s policy?

The subject never arose.

I love that you’re involved with the atelier. Is there anything you’d like people to know about it?

There are streaming classes of mine and others at the school available at very reasonable fees.

Robert again, thank you for your time.

*. Robert’s 1970 painting of Apollo 13 was used as the cover of The Art of NASA by Piers Bizony.

Image source(s):

Mike Acs

NASA Image and Video Library

SDASM Archives

A Fine Hunch Indeed

Recently Mike Acs shared a piece of concept art – by an unknown artist – on Flickr, and with it he mentioned a hunch that perhaps the artist was Robert McCall. It’s his opinion and an interesting one. If he’s right, he’s revealed the hand behind an extraordinary set of concept art drawings. You be the judge.

The Background

In 1970 NASA wanted to build what they were then calling a “space shuttle” , a reusable space vehicle that would dramatically reduce the cost of access to space. Lowering the cost would leave money on the table for other things NASA wanted to build, like a space station. If it worked, it would have changed the landscape of space exploration for decades to come.

North American Rockwell wanted a piece of both, and commissioned  an artist to produce artwork to help sell their vision. The set is uncharacteristic of anything that was coming out of agency art departments at that time. They’re loose, dynamic, barely finished and I think rather beautiful. You’ll find in them in a number of books, papers and magazines published in the seventies. As luck would have it, I found some slides on eBay about two years ago that are part of that set. They came from the estate of a former NAR employee (the seller couldn’t tell me who) and amazingly they’re in color. I had them scanned professionally, and put them on Flickr.

I believe these are from the same set, scanned from photographs.

So is it remotely possible that these are by McCall? I think so, and here’s why:

One of my favourite instructors in college, would tell us often that a good artist was only as good as his or her references. He was right of course, and I spent a quarter century in animation making a good living off his advice. Perspective drawing is relatively easy once you learn the rules and that’s fine for drawing simple shapes like boxes or cylinders, but if you’re trying to draw complex compound curves you can either spend months trying to massage that albatross, or you can bust out a light box. 

The problem with looking at heavily referenced work for someone like me, is trying to tell where the reference ends and the artist starts. To make any kind of educated guess, you need to look at the motifs the artist uses. It’s not how the vehicle is drawn, that’s from a photo, but the other things like how clouds or an igniting rocket are rendered. It’s as much a part of the artist’s DNA as their signature. 

Speaking of signatures…

Take a look at the drawing below, it’s a concept sketch from Disney’s The Black Hole. I it found at an online auction house. It’s not signed by McCall so I can’t say conclusively it’s by his hand, but he art directed the picture.

It’s a loose exploratory sketch, but there’s something familiar about it, especially when you compare the loose figure drawings to the ones in the North American Rockwell set. Keep in mind they were done almost a decade apart.

Digging In

The artwork in the left column below are all by McCall. On the right, the art is all by the same NAR artist.

Top row: Notice the similarity in how the artist renders cloud.

Second row: Similar high-energy linework.

Third row: McCall’s Apollo 8 Coming Home and Artist X. Look at the rocket exhaust in both.

Bottom Row: The artist’s use of high contrast rendering in both images.

Is he right? I think so, but I can’t pick up the phone to Robert McCall and ask so let’s say for now he is and it was a fine hunch indeed.

Image credit: North American Rockwell / Robert McCall

Image source(s):

Mike Acs

Numbers Station

Artist Profile: M. Alvarez

Who is (or was) M.E. Alvarez?

Alvarez was an illustrator at North American Rockwell.

Beyond that, we know nothing about the artist. Not even a first name. There’s probably a box, on a shelf, in a basement somewhere at Boeing with old NAR personnel files that holds a clue. Short of burglary, I can’t see a way to answer the question. HR departments are surprisingly reluctant to give out that kind of information.

I thought perhaps the artist chose to sobriquet or nom-de-guerre to create a firewall between his or her commercial work and a fine art career. It’s not unheard of, I know plenty of artists in animation who take the day job for the benefits and do fine art or illustration in their spare time. Sleuthing just muddies the water. Alvarez is a very common name in the art world, both in the Americas and in Europe. The first hit on Google is almost always the American painter Mabel Alvarez, and I can say with some authority it’s not her. Looking through auction sites at Mabel Alvarez work, I did find a painting attributed to her signed, “M. Alvarez ’98.” Mable died in 1985.

So, like the piece on John Gorsuch, all I can really do is lay out something like a timeline told through art, and hope you enjoy it.

Above: Apollo 15 launching a subsatellite in lunar orbit. Painted in 1970/71. Below: Contractor’s depiction of a satellite, circa 1970.

Mister Shuttle

When North American Rockwell became the prime contractor for the Shuttle Program in 1972, it’s art department created the lion’s share of shuttle related art during the seventies. In effect, that made Alvarez Mr. Shuttle.

Above: Painted in 1972 – a first glimpse of the orbiter. Below: 1973, Rockwell engineers consider stowing the SRMS in a hump over the cargo bay and fuselage.

By 1974, the orbiter starts to take a familiar form.

Below Left: Beautiful painting of a shuttle launch. Below Right: The same image found in The National Archives. It’s in poor shape, but un-cropped and in colour.

Above: Iconic Alvarez. Below: From the same year: two versions of the same painting, showing an orbiter with the ESA Spacelab installed.

Below: Final arrangement, painted sometime between 1975 and 1976 Bottom: N905NA still in American Airlines cheats.

Below: Third version of this painting I’ve found – and there may be more – Rockwell engineers start playing around with mascara.

I’ve not found any Shuttle Program art by Alvarez after 1977, presumably browned-off after five years of endless revisions, the artist may have hung up his/her shuttle painting boots.

Into The Eighties

Above: 1977/78. Rockwell International’s Star-raker, a heavy-lift ramjet/rocket HTHL SSTO capable of atmospheric cruise and powered landing. Below: 1980’s Rockwell proposals for AMSC. Middle Row: Lunar base with an oxygen production facility. Bottom Row: A nuclear vehicle arrives in Mars orbit and a surface base.


Above: Space station concept found in a 1985 book by Don Dwiggins. Below: “Rockwell Tradition in High Performance Vehicles” depicting Space Shuttle, B-1B, Apollo/Saturn, XB-70, X-15, X-10, and The National Aero-Space Plane. Published in 1988, it’s the latest work I can find from the artist’s time at North American Rockwell. If it is indeed his or her last, then I think it stands as an amazing piece to end a career with.

Image credit: North American Rockwell

Image source(s):


Internet Archive

Mike Acs

National Archives

Numbers Station

SDASM Archives


Meet John Sentovic

An interview with John Sentovic’s granddaughter, Jessica Brodie

A couple of months ago I wrote a piece about General Dynamics / Convair artist John Sentovic, based on what I could glean about him from his art and a scrap of an article printed in 1960. As luck would have it, his granddaughter Jessica came across the article, and graciously agreed to talk to me about her grandpa.

Jessica, we’ll talk about your Grandpa John in a minute but why don’t we start with you? Tell us a little about yourself, and how you’re related.

He is my grandfather on my mother’s side. He married my grandmother when my mom was about 16, but he never was considered a step father. They all loved him and considered him dad, so to his grandchildren he was grandpa but we all called him Papas.

What do you remember about him? Do you have a favorite memory?

He was a dapper man and always dressed to the nines: aviator sunglasses and gold jewelry. He had this Gold Lincoln Continental – it was huge – we all called it The Rhino Chaser, it had these spacious leather seats that we would slide across when he made turns. He loved that car and knew he was  so cool driving it.  My sister and I spent a lot of time with him and my grandma and he always let us do crazy hairstyles on him and do makeup or whatever we wanted. He never complained, he was a real trooper.  Whenever he saw my sister and I he would always say, “Oh no! Here comes trouble! It’s the apple sisters Seedy and Corey.” These are some of my core memories of him: he was always fun to be around, he taught us to play poker and he let us use his expensive art supplies. He never wanted animals but somehow a stray cat adopted him and he loved and spoiled that cat and he was always caught holding my grandma’s tiny Pomeranian named Petite.  He loved sports and music.  He loved Frank Sinatra and big band music. He was always grooving to the music. If he wasn’t listening to music you could find him watching sports on his favorite recliner.

Was family important to him? 

Family was the most important thing to him, he was especially close with his mother Pearl, he cared for her and was there for her until the day she died. He was her baby and she called him Bebo.  He was always there for all of us.  As I said earlier he was stepfather to my Mom and her 3 other siblings but he treated us all as if we were his own. 

The short piece I wrote was based on a magazine article from the sixties, and that’s pretty much all I had to go on. Is there anything you’d like to add?

He was an amazing man, everyone loved him and gravitated to him. He was smart but humble, funny, sassy, a man to be respected, kind, caring, great fashion sense and style. He died before he could meet my children. I named my first born son after him and coincidentally my youngest was born on his birthday. My grandma always jokes that I am trying to be his favorite even after he is gone.

Do you have a funny story about him?

One time he was babysitting my sister and I, and we were playing hide-and-seek, and we were laughing so hard and having fun. Apparently we were so loud someone called the police on us for screaming. We thought it was so funny. We laughed so hard. I still smile to this day when I think of that.

During World War II your grandfather served in the Navy, and by choosing burial in a national cemetery, I expect his time in the service meant a lot to him. Are there any family stories about his service you’d like to share?

Like many of that generation he didn’t talk about the war, he never talked much about his job either. He always said it was top secret stuff. He was a humble guy.

Is any of the work he did for Convair with the family?

My grandma has a few of his personal pieces hanging up. They moved from San Diego to Las Vegas in 1992 and then after he passed in 99 she moved back to San Diego. I am not sure if she kept what he had stored in the garage since she had to downsize to a much smaller house, I will have to ask her.  The aerospace museum in San Diego is said to have a number of his pieces , but when I went to inquire they said they must have them archived offsite.

Do you think he had a favorite piece of artwork?

He used to do these special types of portraits , I don’t know the name of the technique but it was on this black paper and he used an X-Acto knife to etch out the portrait. He had a few favorites that are hanging in my grandma’s house. There were a few he favored. One was  of my cousin Matt when he was about 4 years old and the details are amazing. All his little curls and his face, it’s amazing.

Image credit(s):


Brodie Family

Image source(s): 

SDASM Archives

Mike Acs

and of course, the delightful Jessica Brodie

EMPIRE Hunting: Part 4

In Orbit

Above: In the flyby scenario, Mars is studied by teleoperated probes. Below Artwork from Ehricke’s time at Convair showing the EMPIRE convoy in orbit. The MEV descends to the surface, landers based on NASA’s Surveyor are dispatched to Deimos and Phobos, a balloon deploys in the Martian atmosphere while a satellite begins to survey the planet.


Transportation [1]

Planets and Planetary Missions

Above: Surface operations. These images are from the SDASM Archive. Below: From the KAE papers, the MEV returns to orbit.

From: Transportation [1]


Above: With everything and everyone safely stowed, the fleet get a “Go!” from Mission Control. Below: Free of Mars’ gravitational pull – and on course for Earth – the third stage is discarded.

From: Transportation [3]

Arriving Home

Back in Earth orbit, the crew would transfer to the EEM for re-entry. I think these are from Ehricke’s time at Convair and the paintings by John Sentovic.

From: Artists’ concepts (Spacecraft) [1 of 6 folders]

1 / 2 / 3 / 4

Image credit: Krafft Ehricke Papers

Image source: NASM

EMPIRE Hunting: Part 3

Let’s go back to Solar Transportation for a minute, because it helps to explain some of the images in the Ehricke Papers. Ehricke’s team detailed a Mars lander that looked a lot like early Apollo concepts, but the some of the folders contain images of a landing using what looks like Gemini hardware. The timeline doesn’t fit for EMPIRE, but I think this image captioned in Solar Transportation is a clue.

Mars Capture Mission in 1982. Orbit crew inspects the nuclear twin engine NERVA II system of the Earth Departure Module. Each engine delivers 250, 000 lbs. of thrust.

From Solar Transportation:

In 1982, a 69 day Mars capture mission launches. The crew conducts intensive reconnaissance both from orbit, and using probes – including landers and returners – but no manned surface excursions are planned. A mission launched between 1984 is one-way, involving a 529 day stay on Mars. A follow-on mission in 1985 (via Venus) retrieves the crew.

Reading back through the General Dynamics and Douglas UMPIRE reports, I think there’s enough connective tissue to make the argument that the paintings below are at least vicinal to EMPIRE / UMPIRE if not directly related, like kissing cousins. It doesn’t really matter though, because I’m not a real historian, and this isn’t a thesis.

Above: Gemini, on Mars or wherever. Below: Yup, that’s a Mars Lander.


Artists’ concepts (Spacecraft) [1 of 6 folders]

Artists’ concepts (spacecraft) [4 of 6 folders]

1 / 2 / 3 / 4

Image credit: Krafft Ehricke Papers

Image source: NASM

EMPIRE Hunting: Part 2

Leaving Earth

Above: The escape maneuver is performed by firing the first of four nuclear propulsion stages. The stages are jettisoned as each maneuver is complete. The crew ship rotates slowly to provide artificial gravity for the crew. Bottom Right: Drew Carey.

From: Artists’ concepts (Spacecraft) [1 of 6 folders]

En route to Mars

Left: Enjoying Frogger™ while someone else does the laundry. Right: The LLS is modularized, each module can be sealed off if damaged. Mid-deck and someone is taking a shower because in space someone is ALWAYS taking a shower.

From: Planets and Planetary Missions

Arrival at Mars

From: Artists’ concepts (Spacecraft) [1 of 6 folders]

It’s not clear (to me) whether this image represents the convoy arriving at or departing from Mars. Either way, it’s an amazing visual. If it’s arrival, the second stages are fired, slowing the convoy so the can be captured by Mars’ gravity.

From: Transportation [3]

Mars Orbit

Above: In Mars orbit, the hangar of the Cargo Module is depressurized and the crew remove and deploy surface probes. Below: One last treat, the Convair EMPIRE report went into great detail about the automated Mars probes. One concept was a Mars lander based on NASA’s Surveyor.

From: Artists’ concepts (Spacecraft) [1 of 6 folders]

1 / 2 / 3 / 4

Image credit: Krafft Ehricke Papers

Image source: NASM

EMPIRE Hunting: Part 1

There’s a section in the Solar Transportation that’s fascinating, as Ehricke describes a Mars capture mission. Everything is calculated; launch windows, vehicles, propulsion systems and a detailed plan for putting it all together in orbit are considered. Apart from graphs and a plan view of the core vehicle module, there’s no artwork in that section of the paper. One other irresistible aspect of Solar Transport is the reference section, where Ehricke lists – well – his references:

From 1962

Ehricke, K. A., Space Flight, Vol II, Dynamics, Chapter 9, Interplanetary Flight, Sec. 9-7: Fast Three-Dimensional Interplanetary Transfer Orbits; Sec. 9-8: Fast Reconnaissance Missions in the Inner Solar System; Sec. 9-9: Interplanetary Flights Involving Several Planets; Sect. 9-14: Capture Operations

From 1963

Ehricke, K. A., Perihelion Brake Maneuver, in a Study of Early Manned Interplanetary Missions, Final Summary Report, no. AOK-001, pp. 7-36/37, General Dynamics/Astronautics, Advanced Studies Office, January 1963

Ehricke, K. A., Study of Interplanetary Missions to Mercury Through Saturn with Emphasis on Manned Missions to Venus and Mars/82 involving Capture, General Dynamics/Astronautics Rep. GD/A 63-0916, September 1963. Paper presented at Symposium on Engineering Problems of Manned Interplanetary Exploration by AIAA, Palo Alto, Calif., September 1963

From 1964

Ehricke, K. A., A Study of Manned Interplanetary Missions, Part 2 of Proceedings of the Symposium on Manned Interplanetary Missions, 1963/64 Status; NASA TM-53049, June 12 1964 (abbreviated version of the internal document)

Ehricke, K. A., A Study of Manned Interplanetary Missions, Study Performance Contract NAS8-5026, January 1964: also A Study of Manned Interplanetary Missions, Contract NAS8-5026, Final Report, volume III, Mission Oriented Studies, July, 1964

Having described the velocity profiles and launch windows required for the MCM, the paper talks about vehicle requirements:

Interplanetary vehicles, whose mission duration requires from 400 to 6000 days, must have an extensive on-board checkout and repair facility located in the Life Support Section (LSS). By placing the LLS in orbit at the beginning of the orbital assembly process, this section serves at the orbit launch facility. In its initial form the LSS has two modifications, compared to its mission configuration which is shown in Figure 21a. Orbit launch preparation modules (OLPM) are attached; and an LSS maneuvering propulsion module occupies the space in which the mission version carries the Earth Entry Module (EEM). The Earth assembly version configuration of the LSS configuration are shown in Figure 21b.

Fig 21a. Radial Life Support Section: Earth Assembly Configuration, acting as Orbit Launch Facility. Orbit Launch Preparation Modules (OLPM) will for mission, be replaced by Taxis. LSS Maneuvering Propulsion Module will be replaced by Earth Entry Module (EEM) (Reference 1964-12).

Fig 21b. Radial Life Support Section: Mission Configuration. Earth Entry Module (EEM) is located at forward end of Interplanetary Space Vehicle. Interface with propulsion section is rearward of the “shop”. External modules are jettisonable. (Reference 1964-12).

The thing is – in reading the paper – Ehricke is clearly referring to EMPIRE hardware, best described by David S.F. Portree in Humans to Mars which you can read for free at NASA History Division. Chapter 3: EMPIRE and After breaks down EMPIRE into delightful bite sized chunks and one of those chunks is about the General Dynamics contribution. I won’t try and paraphrase it, so just go and read Chapter 3. I’ll happily wait………

And now that you’re back, take a look at these images from A Study of Manned Interplanetary Missions and the report that contains it:

Venus Mission Vehicles

Fig. 2-1 Convoy consisting of Crew Vehicle and Service Vehicle (Cut-A-Way)

Fig. 2-2 Four basic configurations for interplanetary vehicles.

Mars Mission Vehicles

There are a couple of boxes in the Ehricke Papers that are really interesting because they appear to relate to the EMPIRE and UMPIRE studies, but they are presented without context. They’re undated and uncaptioned. What follows is my attempt to connect some of the dots. If you’ve read the same references I did, you might reach the same conclusions. Your mileage may vary.

According to the report – and depending on the configuration – the launch vehicles would either be RIFT, NERVA, NOVA or Saturn boosters.

These paintings are from the Krafft Arnold Ehricke Papers and this is where our story starts:

Equipment Launch into LEO

Above: Familiar artwork from (I believe) Ehricke’s time at Convair and most likely painted by John Sentovic. Below: Also from box one, this series appears to show the launch of the LSS by an unmanned rocket and arrival of the initial crew.

Vehicle Assembly

The EMPIRE vehicles would have been modular, assembled in LEO orbit before being sent along their way.

Above: The Propulsion Module combines with the Life Support Section to become – what’s referred to in Solar Transportation as – a Heliocentric Interorbital Space Vehicle or HISV. Below: Propulsion Modules arrive in orbit, vehicle assembly begins and the Orbital Tanker Vehicle begins fueling the fleet. Checkout complete, the mission crew arrive in a ferry vehicle.

From: Artists’ concepts (Spacecraft) [1 of 6 folders]

1 / 2 / 3 / 4

Image credit: Krafft Ehricke Papers

Image source: NASM

Artist Profile: Ted Brown

I like Teds. My grandfather was a Ted. Everyone called him Ted because he hated Timothy and nobody was going to call him Tim to his face. He was a lovely man and that’s how I got my middle name. Teds are cool. 

Today we are taking another Ted: Ted Brown.

There are few artists in the aerospace industry whose career was as varied or accomplished as Ted Brown. Ted began as a graphic designer with Douglas in 1962, and over the next four decades carved out an enviable career: he illustrated everything from the Buck Rogers imaginings of Philip Bono, Gemini and Apollo to the Shuttle Program. His art permeates the story of space exploration. It is in industry periodicals, newspapers and books and has been since the early sixties. You know his work. He is as ubiquitous as he is anonymous and that’s something I love about him, because I imagine that is exactly how he wanted it. So, this is the story of Ted Brown.

Theodore Bartholomew Brown was born in 1931 in Los Angeles, California. He attended Manual Arts High School, Pasadena City College, and the  ArtCenter of Design in Los Angeles. In 1951 Ted joined the United States Air Force, serving for two years including a posting in Japan. At home, he led the youth ministry and sang in the chorus of his local church, where he met Martha Shepherd Palmer. They married in 1957.

In 1962, Ted began working as a graphic artist for Douglas. At that time the art department had a very strong house style, so his work is often hard to pick out but it’s there.

Top Row: Project Deimos, a Mars expedition proposed by Bono in the mid-1960’s using his ROMBUS SSTO as the propulsion system to Mars and back. Bottom Row: Ithacus, the ROMBUS reimagined as a 1200 soldier intercontinental troop transport.

Manned Orbital Research Laboratory (MORL), painted for Boeing in 1966 or possibly earlier.

Beautiful work by Ted of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, painted sometime in 1968. I would regard this as his masterpiece.

Rockwell International Space Systems Group released these paintings of the Space Shuttle in the late seventies as part of their charm offensive on the taxpayer. Follow the source links for more information on each image.

This incredible cutaway painted by Ted will be familiar to anyone who’s read the Piers Bizony book: The Art of NASA. There was some serious detective work done to confirm the artist, which you can read about here.

Top Row: Space Station Designs (1982) Bottom Left: Dual Keel Station Bottom Right: Austere Modular Space Station

In 1980, Ted led a team that created this mural entitled Space Products. Unveiled to the public at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, it was later moved to the Launch Control Center. In addition to his aerospace work, Ted was also a portrait and abstract painter. An unassuming and humble man, he never had any real interest in promoting or selling his art, most of which he gifted to friends and family.

Ted retired in 2002, and passed away peacefully in 2017 at the age of 86, survived by second wife Afsanch and the children of both his marriages: Pamela Victoria, Angela Carole, Jonathan Michael, Andrew Christopher, and Arman Jason.

People who knew him described him a man who defined class, gentility, kindness and humor.

There’s scant information about Ted available online, but you can read a little bit more about him here.

Image source(s):

Mike Acs

SDASM Archives

Numbers Station

National Archives

Artist Profile: John Sentovic

John M. Sentovic

Born:  1924 – Lead, South Dakota

That’s pretty much everything the internet has to offer on John Sentovic. He lived. And maybe he died. And that’s something of a tragedy to me, because he is/was a rather amazing artist who painted some incredible things for a company that was in the business of making incredible things.

And that’s John Sentovic, Sentovic  the unknowable. Or he was, until a week or so ago when I got an email from Mike, who’d come across a piece that SPACE AGE ran about him in 1960.

So John was indeed born in 1924, in Leed South Dakota. In 1925 his family moved San Diego where he graduated as an art major from San Diego High in 1943. A month after graduating he joined the Navy and served as a gunner’s mate aboard a tanker in the Pacific. In 1945 he was transferred to the Naval Ammunition Depot at Hawthorne Nevada, where he was – amongst other things – the staff artist and sports writer for the base newspaper. After his discharge in 1946, Sentovic was playing semi-pro ball in San Diego while waiting for G.I. approval of his plans to attend art school. A scout for the Boston Braves asked him to play ball for a Brave farm team.

“I was torn between two loves – art and baseball,” John said. “Finally, after a long talk with myself, I chose the field of art.”

After attending La Jolla, John worked at an advertising agency, then spent time as a staff artist for the San Diego Union-Tribune before joining Convair in 1953. In 1954, Krafft Ehricke, who had just joined Convair to work on the Atlas, became interested in John’s art which is when their partnership began.

In 1958, just a year after Sputnik 1, Ehricke designed a four-man space station known as Outpost. The illustrations above show the arrival of the Atlas vehicle in orbit, conversion into a station and installation of a nuclear powerplant. The design inspired the Hawk Atlas Space Station kit released in 1960.

The iconic Ehricke lunar lander beautifully painted by John in the late fifties.

Solar-powered vehicle in lunar orbit by Sentovic, painted around 1959. If John had a masterpiece, I think this is it.

Illustrations depicting HELIOS, a nuclear ferry design.

Convair’s Apollo M-1 proposal is a fascinating “what-if”, expertly rendered by John in 1962.

John created these renderings of the Saturn RIFT in the early sixties.

Begun in 1962, EMPIRE was the first study of a Mars mission conducted under NASA’s auspices. Three contractors were selected: Aeronutronic, General Dynamics, and Lockheed. Ehricke led General Dynamic’s EMPIRE team, the result was an exhaustive study of Mars orbiter and landing missions.

John put his airbrush aside for some of his paintings of EMPIRE surface operations , creating amongst others this unusually lush vision of the Martian surface.

John never lost his love for sports; he liked to swim, played a round of golf once a week and played shortstop on the Convair softball team and thats’s almost where the trail runs cold. I don’t know for sure when John retired, but he passed away in 1999 and was laid to rest at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego. The San Diego Air & Space Museum has shared over one hundred of John’s pieces of their Flickr account, but for convenience sake I’ve created a gallery here if you’d like to dig a little deeper.

Image credit: Convair

Image source(s):

Mike Acs

SDASM Archives

Artist Profile: Roy Gjertson

Born in Minnesota in 1925, Roy served as a crewman on Army Air Corps Liberators during World War II. Returning to civilian life, Roy and his wife Elnar Fay settled in San Pedro. After taking art lessons, Roy worked for several aviation companies in the Los Angeles area in the fifties and sixties. Accepting  a position at Convair, Roy and his family moved to San Diego in 1967.

Roy’s candy-colored art of past, present and future projects enlivened General Dynamics reports, brochures and proposals for over two decades. Roy’s paintings are loose, almost cartoony but beautifully composed.

The artist at work in the studio.

Roy’s incredible paintings of fly-back boosters Convair developed for the Shuttle Program were part of the inspiration for this blog. 

Demonstrative of his range, Roy’s more technical illustrations are sombre and atmospheric. The pop art colours give way to a muted palette and his lighting shifts towards a chiaroscuro look.

Roy retired in 1992. A large number of Roy’s works were donated to the San Diego Air & Space Museum when General Dynamics shuttered the San Diego division in 1993, including these two particularly ominous paintings of the Rockwell B-1 Lancer. 

Roy passed away in 2018, survived by children Erica and Dennis and Dennis’ wife Kathy. Elnar Fay died in 2006. They’re interred together at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.

Image source: SDASM Archives