Astrium Workshop


The In CrowdFrom Jackie E. Burns
Workshop Host

It’s all over now – IAAA’s first UK workshop, 1 – 8 September, 2001 – three years in the nurturing and then a week of dizzying fun and activity. I must have been nuts! Tiring as it was, it was also one of the most rewarding events I’ve ever organized. From picking up Paul Hoffman (and his wife Pam) and Betsy Smith from Heathrow Airport on the first day, to taking Hilda Demsky (and her husband Sy) to my preferred art supplier in London for some ‘serious’ shopping on the last day. What an amazing experience. I absolutely love these workshops. Not only do we get to go to wonderful places and see amazing things, but we also get to meet new and old friends. This year was no exception. Thank you, to everyone, for helping to make this first UK workshop such an enjoyable success. Credit must also go to Ashley Walker for his invaluable help as my counterpart at Astrium UK. Not only is he an IAAA member, but he is also the in-house graphic designer for Astrium. Without his enthusiasm and help, the main core of the workshop at Astrium would not have happened.

Following are personal reports from some of the members who attended:

Digital sketching...Paul Hoffman– “Overall, a marvelous experience – it’s hard to get a group like this together and NOT have a good time. Stonehenge was glorious! Inspiring, and awe-inspiring. I had read all the astronomical alignment research, but instead of trying to see what it might have looked like sighting from station stone to station stone, I marveled at the majesty of those silent witnesses to the ingenuity of humankind. I did two sketches, one quick and one unfinished, along with a lot of digital photos. Monica Grady’s visit with us was an eye-opener. I was particularly intrigued by the iron meteorite slice she passed around, and her description of the heating process that creates this type of meteorite being so similar to the forging of steel. The piece we hefted and examined did look and feel like steel! The excitement I will always remember was when all of us were in the large assembly room, observing, sketching and taking pictures, when an “evacuate the building” alarm went off. There I was, sitting with my laptop running, sketching over a digital image of a worker trimming wiring on a satellite. Thank goodness for “sleep” mode switches! I simply grabbed everything and carried it out in my arms without packing it up.”

David A. Hardy – “The names of all attendees were forwarded to Site Security for clearance, and the serial numbers of all digital and conventional camera equipment had to be submitted in advance. No pastels, chalks or other dusty materials were allowed in the clean rooms, where the artists wore the usual white overalls, hats and overshoes. On arrival, the members were greeted by Alistair Scott, who gave an enthusiastic video presentation on the workings of Astrium, and both answered and asked questions. (He appeared somewhat taken aback to discover that the first illustration he used, of Sputnik 1, had been painted by myself back in 1965!) They were then taken on a guided tour of the facility, including a vibration chamber, a Dave staring into the Abyss...large anechoic chamber which, its interior covered in black cones, offered great graphic potential. Under construction, the group saw the propulsion module of METOP, and many other satellites such as Envisat. Much amusement was afforded by a model of a Martian landscape from which the Beagle 2 lander was missing, replaced by teddy bears and deckchairs. Also of much interest was the range of silver and gold mylar used for temperature control, the skins of satellites, and for wrapping components. A large room with several long tables was allocated to the group to be used for sketching, looking at photographic references (supplied in abundance by Ashley), and general discussion on their return from the various locations. Lunch was supplied each day in the Staff Restaurant, courtesy of the management, which was much appreciated.”

Betsy Smith – “What initially grabbed my imagination about the workshop was the opportunity to visit Stonehenge and to actually walk and sketch among the stones. We marveled at what might have moved those ancient people to build such a site, as well as how they moved those huge stones! A day later we were at Astrium, walking among our modern-day monoliths, those technological marvels designed to travel through space and expand our understanding of the universe. I’m reminded of the idea that the universe, by continually evolving through infinite creativity, has begun to contemplate itself through us. Our last evening in Hitchin was spent enjoying a fantastic dinner whipped up by Susan and Ashley, complete with “orangefood” appetizers. I think there were at least two well-deserved standing ovations. It was so great to see old friends and to meet so many new ones. Plus I left with a signed copy of “Hardyware” in my pack! Thanks to the tireless efforts of Jackie and Ashley, this was a truly unique and inspiring workshop. London was wonderful; an exquisite high tea at a luxurious hotel, visits to art galleries and the breathtaking Natural History museum, and tickets to the play “Art” and “Swan Lake”. It was especially moving the following week to watch on TV as the royal guard played the Star Spangled Banner at the gates of the palace, where I had stood only days before. Great Britain will always be a special friend.”

Carol sketchingCarol Tonkin – “I joined the workshop on Monday 3rd September, with the first of our visits to Astrium. I heard (with envy) about the previous days, which had been spent at Stonehenge, with opportunities to sketch and paint the monuments and their surroundings. At Astrium we were welcomed by Ashley Walker who did a sterling job looking after us during our three days there; I’m sure we caused him a few headaches! But there were no worries really, once we got into the swing of things, we quickly found the places that appealed to us individually, making notes to re-visit laboratories or rooms which we wanted to sketch or photograph for future ‘creations’!
ne disappointment which I think was felt by all, was the fact that we were unable to see a satellite fully “made up” complete with all antennae, solar panels, and such. It would have been very spectacular, but we learned that only certain components of the craft were made at Astrium with the final assembly being done elsewhere. However, we soon found that there were interesting places to be seen if you looked, one of these being the amazing testing chamber where the ceiling and walls were covered in super-absorbent long black cones, which reflect neither electromagnetic nor acoustic waves. This room was used to simulate conditions in space. Others were the “clean rooms” where precisely engineered components were made in near sterile conditions. We watched workers painstakingly trace shapes around curves, raised areas and holes on side panels, where reflective material would be glued at a later date. It was interesting to see the computer staff working with 3D programs, helping to design the satellites of the future. We also saw some of the work being done towards the forthcoming Beagle 2 project, which is less than two years away from delivery to the European Space Agency’s Mars Express. Currently the Beagle 2 lander is undergoing the final stages of construction and endless testing. We wish them luck on their mission to Mars! During our time at Astrium we had a very informative lecture from Alistair Scott, whose enthusiasm for the satellite industry really knew no bounds! We also Jackie and Dr. Monica Gradyhad a great lecture from Dr Monica Grady, Head of the UK National Collection of Meteors, followed by a lively question and answer session.
“While we were at Astrium, most of us had time to produce some sketches and even finished work, thanks to a fine collection of photographs, which Ashley very kindly shared amongst us. In many cases this is merely preparatory work, which will be enhanced with information from the many photographs, which we ourselves took, along with huge amounts of data gleaned from leaflets, brochures and our own memories. The IAAA will have an opportunity to show any related work, at an exhibition be held at the Boxfield Gallery in Stevenage Leisure Center in summer of next year.
“After the trip to Astrium some of us had further adventures in London, and of course we must not forget spending a wonderful evening at Ashley and Susan’s home where we had a short art critique, and then enjoyed much food, wine and conversation. I am very thankful to the IAAA for giving me the opportunity to attend this workshop. I myself want to thank everyone who gave me lots of advice and encouragement with my own space art. I shall end by mentioning that I have now experienced the traditional “orange food” had by most IAAA workshop participants and survived to tell the tale! Another successful workshop under our belts!”

To round out this report, I would mention that this workshop may have ended, but it isn’t altogether finished as Astrium UK have booked a local gallery to host an exhibition of the work which, hopefully, will result from what we have all experienced at Astrium (oh yes, I shall be reminding all the attendees of this, from time to time). See you at the next workshop!!!

Jackie E. Burns  FIAAA