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Transcript: Space4U podcast, Michael Soluri

Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team

Hi there. This is Rich Cooper with the Space Foundation. And this is the Space4U podcast, dedicated to the men and women who make today space adventure possible. Whether they’ve captured our history or been a part of that history or starting to make their own history in today’s space program.

 

We want to bring those stories to you because the space program is something that is for all of our benefits. Today, I’m joined by Michael Soluri. Who is an accomplished and accomplished as an understatement portrait and documentary photographer. Uh, his work literally has spanned the globe. And I will even say the universe in many, in many perspectives.

 

Uh, you have seen his work in any number of museums, but yeah. One of the great outlets for photography is national geographic, where his work has been some of the most popular items that national geographic has showcased again, major newspapers, New York times, Washington post, as well as the Smithsonian magazine, the Huffington post, and literally publications around the globe.

 

We’re fortunate to have someone of his talent talking to us. Because Michael’s work really has captured both people action and what is happening in space in some very creative ways. But Michael, before we get into your space photography, tell us a little bit about your start as a photographer. Sure. Good morning.

 

My start as a photographer was unintended. Um, I had gone to college to be a planetary geologist. That’s really what I wanted to do. And, um, Visually it would work. Uh, the mass certainly wasn’t exactly cut out for me. And, uh, I think I discovered that photography was more fun to get into and explore, um, people in place.

 

So went on to the degree of economics and then went to Rochester Institute of technology. And I earned a master of fine arts degree in photography. And that was really my introduction to photography, not as a more technical medium, but looking at it as a fine art in some of my studies involved. The history of photography and looking at its impact, visually, whether it was history here in the U S uh, in Europe, uh, and certainly around the world.

 

So my journeys have gone from, you know, I moved to Brazil. That’s already began as photographer, a lot of magazines, and that provided me the enormous door to travel the world. And it was off on amazing assignments. Throughout Brazil, Europe, India, places like that. That was the beginning. That was really the beginning of it though.

 

The space space has always been a in the back of my mind, particularly since I grew up during the, you know, the race to space. And, um, I think in the back of my head, it was always that I wasn’t seeing enough. There’s something missing, uh, and the photography that I would see, you know, whether it was in the newspapers or life magazine, television had its own particular approach, but that was, that was the.

 

Seminal beginning. It’s an interesting phrase that you use though, about something that was missing in the photography on that. And so as we go to get into your career, and you talked about growing up during the space age, when you look at the early photos of the space program and the astronauts astronauts in the, in the silver suits and the early pictures of the earth.

 

And again, when you take a look at those. Astronauts in the spacecraft and what they were doing. What do you see from a photographic perspective and what, what do you think was missing? Yeah, considering the era, which was essentially the sixties. Um, remember we’re in an era of, of three television networks and his papers were extraordinarily abundant and the major magazines for life or time Newsweek, just as a world report.

 

Nat geo. So I think, you know, any access, the way the media was being was, was focused back then is that you had groups that essentially had come of age during the fifties, some came out of world war II, some came out of the Korean war. So I came out of, um, you know, in the way they approach to photojournalism.

 

And I suppose when I look back, it was the best that could be done at the time, but there were a few images that always stood out to me in retrospect. And these are. Images, I discovered, um, much, much later on and instead of the history of photography and, uh, with those images that stood out there, Ralph Morse was one of the life photographers and, and Ralph was a really a product of the forties and fifties.

 

And the original mercury recruit really took to him, trusted him. That was very, very important. And he was able to get, you know, I think fairly unscripted photographs considering the kind of environment that he was in. And that sort of gave us our preview. And a lot of his work certainly appeared in life as well as geographic, places like that.

 

But I think what stood out to me there was a, I think probably would set it off for me to want to explore more. There was a photograph, I don’t know who took it. Um, but my photograph of Alan Shepard there’s two, uh, before his son, a little flight in May of 61, one was taken, uh, in his suit up room and it showed, uh, his, his silver boots.

 

His gloves. I think there was some tools that he was going to use it. It was just his helmet and his helmet instead of on the table. I thought that’s so extraordinarily beautiful because it showed a part of the whole, and it showed the very elements of what was being to go for this very first ever junk into space of overdose space.

 

There was a photograph taken when he was already putting into the mercury capsule and he’s very solemn and I thought. That’s wonderful. I mean, he’s not mugging for the camera and the photographer that took it, respected that. And it caught a moment that was to me, very, very human. And he knew that, you know, this was, this was the time to light the candle, as he said.

 

And, uh, But you can tell by the expression, this was something important. And it also meant that, you know, who knows what was going to happen. So that’s mercury and certainly part of Gemini. But what about the Apollo era pictures due to the things that you thought may have been missing in that early era?

 

Do the Apollo era pictures capture some of that? What are some things that stand out for you? Absolutely. I mean, I don’t want to discount. I mean, a lot of the things I think that Ralph and other photographers pull off with. We’re pretty remarkable. I mean, there was there there’s a long shot on when John Glenn went up in February ‘62 and Ralph is up on a very long one shot at it.

 

Okay. Canaveral. And that captured a lunch, probably one of the best launch fishers of the time, because of the way he angled it. And he had time to set it up and got the approvals from various people. But they’re also results of those missions. John Glenn made the very first film photographs of sunrise.

 

Over earth. And that had never been done. When you’re a guy went up, there were no photographs. He did not go up with the camera and Glen one to take a camera and film. And they worked at this little ASCO camera for him. And he made those photographs in Gemini. A Wally’s shirt had a lot to do with going from 35 millimeter to, um, two and a quarter by two and a quarter.

 

And they use the hospital wide camera made in Sweden. And that company worked very closely with NASA and engineering. The cameras. And that camera was used constantly and finished on my program. And Apollo was remarkable. It it’s a fairly large camera. It always astounds me at the quality of the photographs made either tight within the Gemini capsule or out in space at White’s picture of, um, I think it was

 

Yeah, it was extraordinary. Extraordinary images. Clear. Beautiful. And, you know, nothing was staged or mugged. It was all, he was taking the pictures at the moment. He was deciding when to make the photographs. There was nothing saying, you know, when, when ed turns left and he looks at you having smile, make a picture, know that that wasn’t the case.

 

It was all done in real time. And that was the case for a lot of the photography. And certainly through Apollo, having spoken to Neil, uh, I think he was quite an accomplished photographer in his own, right. Yeah, they’re really good. I’m Alan Bean and pea comment on 12, I think made extraordinarily beautiful black and white photographs.

 

They were a lot more comfortable. There was less anxiety because you know, the first one Apollo 11 worked. So they were exploring the surveyor. And then I think throughout the whole arc of the, of the era, I think each crew did its own unique way of capturing the moment. You said something there that I thought was really unique as to when we think of Neil Armstrong, we think astronaut, we think first person on the moon, uh, most people would never think of Neil Armstrong, the photographer.

 

Talk about that because there aren’t a lot of people that would recognize Neil as a photographer. I mean, I think the photo that he took a buzz Aldrin that everybody recognized from Apollo 11 is probably. The second, most iconic photo of the 20th century, if you, I mean, for me personally, I think the, the flag raising over Iwo Jima is the first one for the 20th century, but, and that shot a buzz is number two, but Neil Armstrong is a photographer.

 

Tell us what that was or what that conversation was like. Well, with Neil, we were talking about. The photography. And he was saying one of the things that, uh, concerns him during the lead up in the years leading up to, to the, to the mission was that when I came to the surface photography, he realized, he said, you know, I they’re, they were asking a lot for us to do.

 

We only have two hands holding the camera in an environment where there’s likely to be a lot of dust, you know, how do we do this? And he came up with the idea of putting a, um, Protruding pin onto the front of the chest of the astronauts. And the camera could slide into that. And so when you see the photographs, that camera is essentially a resting or booted, shoot a suit, walk into that thing as a matter of just sliding it off.

 

And that was his, that was his doing, uh, working with the engineers to have that happen. They were limited. I think they only had one. One film back that they brought down to the surface and one camera and that, and they traded that back and forth between each other, between ultra that was buzzing back, back and forth.

 

I think Neil, I mean, most of the photographs that are, you know, one of the buds Sterling’s iconic, they’re always of a spacecraft. Um, I think he was really seeking a sense of that place, given the fact that he had very limited time to do a lot. Yeah, not a lot of time to, uh, you know, change the rollout and adjust lenses on the moon, I would say, uh, keep dust out of it.

 

So you all, you mentioned two other names there and, uh, and I want to give respect to them. Um, one of which was a phenomenal artist, Alan Bean, can you share a little bit about Alan Bean, uh, as a photographer and from a visual perspective, he was always fun to talk with. I first spoke with him was back in, uh, 2003, 2004.

 

I was working on, uh, one of my first books and I there’s a photograph that was made of the eclipse of the earth, the, the trajectory of the whenever returning from the Apollo 12 landing there heading back to earth, there are the 20,000, 30,000 miles out. And I want to know the history of these photographs because they were extraordinary that nobody’s ever photograph or seen.

 

And eclipses the earth from space, right. And you’re just going to go right in front of the sun and mission, as Alan told me, he said, well, they wanted me to break out the camera. We had everything stowed and met a guest that exposures and shot this as they were coming in, there was a window where you could actually look out.

 

In time to photograph the earth as they were coming in are basically the eclipse, the sun, and still the solar flares around the earth. So we had a friendship coming from that. When I last spoke to him, it was in 2014. I think I said, you know what I want. I said, I always, I think that, I think you guys made the best pictures, uh, on a surface.

 

And he said, it wasn’t me. It was Pete. He was a good photographer. Oh, I’m not going to argue with you, Alan. I said, okay. You know, No, they were both there, but they had, they had visual fun. They, they, they caught a lot of unscripted moments and that was the thing that always stood out to me. And I respected, and I know a couple of shuttle astronauts that went to that to know Alan, you know, looking for, I mean, he was a senior guy in a way, right.

 

He had wisdom. He was in space and, you know, had a whole other crew from a whole different era Canyon and some, you know, befriended him. And I only, and I love the fact that he found ways of expressing that mission. Um, in paint, w let’s talk about your photography career and some of the access that you’ve had photography is in many ways about providing the public access to something that they may never see firsthand.

 

Now you’ve had the fortune of working with a lot of different people in the space program to, to capture its stories. How did that access happen? Because it’s not every day that someone gets to engage a Neil Armstrong or an Alan Bean or the shoulder crews. How did your access start? Uh, with a lot of patients, it was much of my work that I’ve done is very driven by exploring the will the, the nuance of, uh, obscure locations, objects, cultures.

 

And trying to find something that is unscripted, trying to find moments of people in place. I had to cut my teeth somewhere in terms of learning the process. So I went to the Cape a lot badged, and, you know, there were the protocols. This is where we photograph from. This is where you can set up your remote cameras.

 

This is where the crew comes out. There were always these things where you had the rope and they couldn’t go any farther than that. So these were the, if you will, the photo, these are the Kodak moments you have to set up. And in the process, I got to meet a lot of the, um, The wire photo photographers and folks that have done that for years.

 

And they really did it very, very well. They made the best of this situation, but for me, I always realized, you know, I knew there was more and it was a lot of, no, no, you can’t. No, you can’t. No, you can’t. I couldn’t figure out the logic of why the note was the, no, it’s just how I’m wired. I got to meet people from executives.

 

I thought, well, let me try and understand some of the aerospace industry. So it United space. USA. I said, yeah, that was a combination of Boeing and Lockheed that were essentially the labor who’s behind the shuttle. I got to speak with them and they start seeing the virtue of my, having some access to the shuttle.

 

And what have you, that was back late 90s, early 2000s, but I think it took going and it lifted 9/11 here in New York. Uh, we’re only a mile North of, of the trade center. Having gone through that, um, and getting our son out of, uh, a nursery, which is about eight blocks from, uh, from the twin towers.

 

So I had these moments where I started realizing what do I really want to do? And I got more persistent and trying to figure out ways to, to, to earn the access. And really it began around 2005, the new horizons mission that was slated to go to Pluto by that time, the end of that was trying to have an effect on media.

 

A lot of magazines want to signing the way they used to. And, uh, it was really challenging to get a project underwritten. So I figured, well, it’s all being put at Goddard space flight center, which for me is a four hour drive from New York. And so I funded that myself and I worked for the public affairs people at Goddard.

 

And if they applied physics lab and I started putting together a story. Uh, photographing the spacecraft going through its, uh, assembly. And that was really the first time I came literally up close to a spacecraft. I, uh, into the bunny suit and I had to wear the electrical discharge band, all these things like that, understand the protocols of working around the spacecraft, but I found it could be done.

 

And then I met Alan Stern, who was the PI on the project. And that was really the beginning. Alan was an extraordinary leader and he had the vision to realize. What I wanted to do. And he said, what do you want to do? I said, Ellen, I want to document this from the very beginning. And I said, it would be great to be able to follow this over the next 10 years.

 

And he said, well, let’s you and I worked that out. And he understood that arc, you know, and we’re all, you know, this isn’t 2005. Nobody knew what 2014, 2015 was going to bring. My kid was in Ms. Five years old at the time. And I think he would be 15. I mean, that was just, how do you, how do you gauge that? And from that having access and having him give me access to the sciences and the people putting the mission together was I beginning of portraying people on a mission and that arc continued all the way through.

 

For the next 10 years, um, and documented that when you are, would you talk about the training for emission and again, 10 years is a long time for any particular project like that. Sure. But, and certainly an extraordinary amount of patience, uh, associated with that. Especially a program like new horizons and going to Pluto now, but that’s not the only access that you’ve been given.

 

You’ve actually been embedded with a shuttle crew. And to capture them as they train for a flight. What was that experience like? And what did you learn from it? The very humbling experience with the good fortune of, um, Corey Paul was the editor at discover magazine, which at the time. Was he always, probably the best leading popular science magazine we had in the country.

 

He and the publisher agreed to send me down to Houston because I said, if we’re going to get into this story and do it right, this is early 2007. I said, you know, everybody that I hang out with the case say, you know, you’ve got to get the crew on board. And so I said, he needed somebody down to Houston and they said, fine, we’ll send you down to Houston.

 

Was my first, really first time meeting a shuttle crew. And although I’ve met Gibson and a few others, um, sometime earlier, but Scott Altman, John Grunsfeld and Mike Massimino were the legacy crews because they flew on the previous whole missions. And John and scooter had flown on the one before that. So they had two missions behind them on Hubble and.

 

They wanted to hear me out. I brought my work. I showed them why two reasons why I wanted to do a, um, a crew portrait, which had never been done there. Hadn’t been a coupe portrait done by outside photographer since before challenger. And I knew I was stepping on very hollowed grounds here. And I said, no, let’s do this.

 

I think there’s history here. And I said, you’re, you’re, you’re essentially the first and the last crew. That’s going to go to the huddle and they agreed. And they said, well, we’ll get back to lo and behold. And it was so great help by Mike Massimino and, and John and scooter, um, agreed to the portrait session.

 

And that really began the whole process of having the access to the, um, the training, which was up in Goddard. Uh, with the crew was training. And then, um, then at Yukon and then the whole director at Goddard found funding and they were able to provide a funding grant for me. And I was able to actually follow the mission.

 

And at that point, the crews essentially had my back. I had my accreditation, I had the badging, it was every day was a journey. So essentially again, being an embedded in, and I will say unofficial member of that crew, you get to see them. Train for that mission. And certainly when you’re going to go to the huddle, you’re, there’s an awful lot of training as far as moving wires, instrumentation panels, et cetera.

 

But did you train them also in photography? What was that like? I did. It was, um, it was kinda neat. I had, I think I was talking to Mike Massimino and I said, you know, I said like, tell me about the quality of light when you’re in space and eat me out of Brooks. Want me to ask my question at dislocating said, if you train me on the crew, how to make better pictures in space?

 

I said, yeah. So I can’t technically you’re getting all that. I said, it’s visually, you need to do. Yeah. I can help you with that. And remember the public affairs officer looked at me and she said, you can even have them take better pictures. I said, of course. So what kind of camera do they use though? Is you’re going to, is you’re explaining that.

 

Uh, most people are thinking, uh, any photographer, you know, you’re holding something up to your face to focus and then, you know, hit the button. What kind of photography or what kind of camera are they using? So they use, um, the whole Nikon line. It was the Nikon D and they were emerging. They changed from film to digital in the early 2000s.

 

Up to that point, it was always film cameras as it was for during the pollen Gemini, the, those champions are simply. They couldn’t look down and focus was all aim pretty much aim it and press the button. And that’s how, that’s how that works on these. It was 35-millimeter. There were cameras use for in the cabinet.

 

And there were a cabinet, there were cameras in, were insulated and kind of, um, a material that they can take out in space. Those were prefocused and set on infinity and everything was preset. All they had to do was just sort of aim the camera and. And fire it. I was more interested in helping them take the obvious that’s around them because they’re, the training is exhausting.

 

I will say firsthand. It is exhausting in the moments that we had together. We would have a seminar group, you know, the, we, I had two mantras. One was you got to slow down and smell the roses and the big sort of smell with that. And I said, and no flash don’t use the flash because you know, their instruction was just, you know, they want to make photography for dummies.

 

That’s how they wanted to do it. And my feeling was no, you can make smart decisions and take pictures that are meaningful for you. And I said, you know, Wally, Wally, I mean, well, Cunningham had told me when he went up on Apollo seven was always Shira. I said, your pictures are extraordinary. Why, how did you, what was your thinking behind?

 

He said, he said for all of us, it was like, we’re making snapshots to show our family. And there was not this idea that everything had to be month or staged. It was founding moments. And that’s what I shared with the crew and how they could take the obvious in the cabin, whether they’re out an Eva and, and find these remarkable moments and show us as though you’re showing sharing with your parents, you’re sharing with your brother and sister, your husband, your wife, you’re you’re, you’re doing, you’re making it personal.

 

And that made a big difference rather than having it all anonymous because you know, we’ve gone through and they agree. I mean, I said all the pictures before team seems to me, couldn’t take it on the ground. There was no evidence. That the pictures of the cabin of the shuttle, which small to begin with were in space.

 

They put the flash on, and then once you were to look closely and saw the hair going up, they look contrived. I said, you know, let’s just stay with available light. So over the whole two and a half year art of being with them, whenever I would come in or they’d see me, they would, they would look at me and go no flash.

 

So when the F you trained them in photography and they went up. Okay. Apply your critical eye. How did they do? They did very well. There’s a certain calmness. They were so well-trained that everything they made everything look effortless. And I was able to experience that both because I was, I was a Goddard in whole patrol when they docked the, um, the, the huddle.

 

For example, I flew down to Johnson and Houston, and then I was in, in the hubble mission control that was set up and I was able to go between. Hubble mission control in Houston and the back rooms and into the extra flight center where I think Tony was, was a flight director and seeing them in feet that wasn’t being sent to the public.

 

I realized, you know, they were, they were calm. I could see them picking up the camera when they could. And I think every, I think they captured, they did pretty well. I have to say. And they played, they really did. And John Grunsfeld. Who is a photographer in his own, right. Was on his fifth mission on the shuttle and his third time out to the huddle.

 

And we had all worked out a scooter, asked me, was the commander for, uh, a paging and putting this slight book. And so I designed this 5×7, which would fit into the flight book, you know, with bullet points and things we discussed and what they could do. And one of the things I said to John was, you know, said the huddle has a reflective surface.

 

Why don’t you see if you can explore making photographs? You know of yourself or what it would be like looking at reflection, say of the shuttle or earth. I mean, you know, you’re out on the arm to play with that. And he and drew that was his partner gave us a pretty interesting thing. And I think one of the last pictures that John made, he was actually able to, um, well he sent me some stuff he was playing with.

 

They gave me email access to them while they were in order. And he sent me this email and he says, what do you think of this one? It was. Shot from an angle. I’d never seen showing the tailspin of the shuttle over earth. And now when you get that shot is being under the arm and D and the F section of the shuttle.

 

So I gave him some suggestions and only when they got back down to earth and I saw the, um, the word he had made a series of pictures showing his space suit. And it wasn’t like you saw him, saw his eyes and whatnot, but you saw an astronaut. He saw a human being. And what was marvelous? What not? Was it photographed?

 

It was about not John Greensville. It was about humans in space. He reflected off of a telescope that gathered light by the ancient universe inside of a spaceship, orbiting earth. All that was in a picture that shot ultimately became exhibited at air and space museum and place between two photographs of mine.

 

I photographed the tools the crew was using, and I photograph them as pieces of sculpture and the curators, um, exhibited through those tools and as mural size photographs. Yup. What about three feet high, three or four feet high by two or three feet. And in between the two pictures of the tools with this photograph that John had made.

 

What have been some of the biggest surprises that you’ve encountered on your photographic journey? I don’t think the story is really being told. I think that for me, I immediately gravitated to the labor force and that, and I got to know a lot of people and welcomed me. And these are, as you know, the smells Brian would say there, you know, there were salt of the earth.

 

I got to really know folks that were, um, working on the mobile platform. The guys in the white room, that’s pretty much, you know, they’re when they put the crew into the cabin that they hang out with them and eventually got to actually go up there doing a countdown demonstration test. And everybody was on, including people in the shuttle flight control, Mike linebacker, who was flight director.

 

Everybody was fine with that. And I was just off in this tiny little corner looking at the choreography. And so of it was, it was looking at that labor force. So there was up there working in the cargo Bay, getting ready for flight. The training of the Hubble crew, the hundreds of people involved in every aspect, it was just like a beautiful choreography.

 

And that’s what I was trying to capture. I think that’s what it surprised me. It fulfilled a dream that I had going back to the sixties, that there was something that there really was, um, humanity. And I think that without getting hokey, I realized, you know, everything here is made in America. This is, this is not a program that is getting its parts out of cereal boxes.

 

Part, you know, importing stuff from different parts of the world. It’s all here. It’s all here in the U S female from together. I realized it felt like the Apollo program. Well, it felt like I heard it. You made a point early on in our conversation about talking about the early photographers and the trust that they gained.

 

And what you’ve described is you were able to acquire the same thing that, you know, your forebears did in getting that trust. Uh, not everybody gets the opportunity to certainly observe a crew up close, uh, in, uh, their training. Let alone be a part of, uh, some of the tests that, that you saw before flights occurred.

 

So that’s credit to you. And, uh, and your work and to your point earlier about some of the patients that was needed to do that now your work has been published in a book by sight. I’m in Schuster and it, and it’s recognized, you’ve already mentioned it at the air and space museum and been exhibited in a lot of other galleries.

 

So I have to ask as a visual artist, what two images like those capture. What, what are images like those captured by the recent fly, by a Pluto or even the recently revealed black hole do for your craft and your medium of photography? Well, the slide by a photo and is interesting because bill and I were in the conference room, a huge conference room set up with all the.

 

Uh, Pluto mission scientists on that July 14, 2015, and the night before he came. And he, and I think build it as to extraordinary work, extraordinary work. He looked at me, he goes, what am I walking into? I said, really bad lighting. I used a few explicative, but, and I said, you know, I said, I’m doing this technically because I don’t want to work with flash, but I said, you may.

 

Me too, because the color temperature, you know, tactical stuff like that. And my, the focus there was looking at everybody’s expression when the first picture from Soto was revealed and I had to, it was all game face. There was no emotion I had to get. Absolutely. I figured out where I was going to be and how I was going to capture it.

 

So looking at the humanity of that, to me, pairs with those photographs that the robotic spacecraft was capturing and, you know, it was, it’s a five, almost six hours. One way for the signal to come back to earth. And as the images came in, that to me was extraordinary. Looking at pictures, sent by agents of the whining.

 

I didn’t see the moon Titan around Saturn or the Cassini pictures. I mean, it’s, it’s robotic. And so the technology behind that is extraordinary and works. On a, on a provost off night, bigger than say a, you know, a small piano and there, it was just doing this beautiful choreography and realizing the group of people that Alan had assembled not only in scientists, but if you applied physics lab, everybody extraordinary pro in handling every aspect of that and made it all look effortless.

 

And I knew it wasn’t effortless since you’ve been, since you’ve been a part of though, of the early portion of that new horizons mission. How many people were there 10 years later, a lot of the same actually, um, very few people, you know, due to professional experiences dropped down. I mean, I think a lot of the original team was there and to look at them, I don’t know, a half years later, which is what I did in the portraiture.

 

And some of that. Is was published, um, and actually national geographic posted online back in, uh, before the fly by this year, you got a good sense of that, who these people in the tools and background, but, you know, Richard, you asked one of the questions about the access and, you know, the trust and patience is one thing.

 

It’s also that it’s an engineering driven business and key to this was that engineers, regardless of where they were understood that I understood their culture. And that going in, I understood that I don’t touch things and it became totally to me saying, may I photograph this from this angle? Sure. You know, and it was always asking and then they knew I was there and it was just understanding whether it was being with the space shuttle or being within 24 inches of the new horizons space probe for the Parker, solar probe, the one to the sun.

 

Lunar orbiter, all these things, learning to be around these things and that understanding the body language of engineers and realizing, you know, where I go, explain ahead and what I want and why. And then it’s like, Oh, okay. Because they have a preset. I mean, I’m not the only photographer that’s done that, but I’m not, but I’m also the one that actually wants it gets things a little more unique to be able to reveal to the public, the art and wonder behind given the robotic space.

 

Like, so I want to come back to the black hole piece, but I want to pull a thread on a piece that you’ve mentioned there about certainly a spacecraft that. Like new horizons as well. And, and the shell crew you’ve been up close to both of the, is essentially crews. They are crews. What have you, you learn from being embedded with both, you know, the human crew that goes to space.

 

And then the, I would even say the spacecraft crews and even robotic crews that go ahead and explore space. How are they alike and how are they different? I think there’s a lot of similarities because everyone has an expectation and understands what the goal is, and everybody knows exactly what they’re doing and why.

 

And it’s teamwork. I mean, that’s probably the one thing that I may have left out is the extraordinary amount of teamwork is not about any one individual doing one thing and being an outlier. No, it’s all pretty much teamwork. I was down at the Cape, for example, visiting, um, the assembly of the Orion. And it was, it was the, it was the same thing, looking at the choreography of working hand with tool and building a spacecraft.

 

So when it goes back to, to both kinds of it’s human or robotic is the teamwork. The, if there’s a difference, emotionally, everybody. Waits for the moment, whether it’s the landing of, of, of, of opportunity on Mars or the successful launch of a mission to first reveal of photograph this festival launch of a crew in space, there’s that relief that it all works and came together because there was a certain certainty to it, to a degree there’s a certain uncertainty on the human side.

 

It is human it’s it’s humans, and they’re going into, um, a spaceship and there is a certain. The risk was aren’t more visible to me. And I certainly saw it on the crew in the last two weeks as I got closer and closer, and I was at the mountain in the, in the suit up room that was rarely given opportunity and I could see it in their faces and interesting enough, the look that I saw on Alan Shepherd and that photograph taken in 61 with essentially the same kind of blaze and look that I saw on this crew.

 

And they could do that because. I saw them as photographers, they’re doing their thing. And you know, the crew, it’s sort of like all of a sudden, you know, perk up. But when I came around, it was like I was invisible and they, they could be themselves and be vulnerable because it is a lot. And you can look at the movie that CNN put, for example, on Apollo 11, you look at those shots that they were taking 16-millimeter film now in the same suit of room that they are still using to this day.

 

And you can look at Neil and Mike and, uh, and Buzz the same look. They knew this was it. This was the getting on board. If they’re going to go on the rocket and as that certain sense of like destiny and you just going to do your mission and whatever happens happens, it does make sense. And before I get to my last question, though, I’ve got to come back to the image of the black hole.

 

That we saw come out, uh, that was issued this past April. And what an image like that does for your medium of photography. So I, the, the photograph was extraordinary in a long time in the making and a real Testament to the science teams that actually worked together for many different observatories around the planet to get that one image.

 

And I’m sure there’s more to come to what that does. That image says to me, it provides a sense of on wonder. For anybody willing to sort of look at that and understand what it is looking at and why it is also an image of the country that it contributes to an attitude. The history of the meeting with photography photography is not even 200 years old.

 

Remember it was, it, it came, it was discovered 1830, four, 1839 in that era, essentially in France and England. And, and you look at the arc of that. I think the answer the university has to be at 2039. Right? So you look at the arc of being able to document 19th century landscapes, sailing ships, and the Wright brothers plane.

 

Then Goddard’s rocket, uh, aircraft, the Wars jet aircraft, the first V2 rockets, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. This to me, everything that, that picture of the black hole, it’s like looking at the very first picture that was made. I think in 49, they, um, shot up. Of a variation of the V2 rocket or the Redstone from the Cape?

 

No, I’m sorry. From New Mexico and went up and it was the first photograph taken, uh, looking back at the earth, several orbital. And I thought how extraordinary there’s there’s earth, Ms. Green, black and white shot. And now, you know, nearly, let’s say almost 70 years later, you have the black hole shot. And I think it’s just going to be the continuation of things of images.

 

We’re going to see that add to the power of the medium. Uh, photography as a means of revealing opportunities, events that we can’t even begin to anticipate. That leads me to my last question is about what we can’t anticipate. We’ve got project Artemis, uh, that wants to return us to the moon here in the next several years.

 

And for that matter, after the moon comes Mars. But I guess since you’ve already trained one crew in photography, what are some of the ideas that you would instruct the crew going back to the moon, as well as Mars? What instructions would you give them to capture those experiences? The moon going back? Um, our moon gives us, we have a sense of, uh, of what the playbook was like during Apollo, during those brief.

 

Six missions over three, three years, essentially for different generations, not going up. You got folks that essentially were probably born in the 1980s, right? They came of age, uh, with star Wars and star Trek, Marvel movies, the whole CGI, and for them. My counsel would be to realize that what you’re going to go through is nothing like the movies.

 

And you’re going to see something for the first time, as much as you’ve able to photographs, you’re going to see something through your advisor that you get needs, you haven’t anticipated. And so what I would have to look at is to probably the same advice I gave us, the Hubble crew is stop and just look.

 

Yeah, look at your shadow on the, on the surface, look at where your hands are. Look, look at what your spacecraft is in relative to a Hill or to a crater or something. Look at the quality of light you’re going to be there for, you know, a number of days, you’re going to see a lot of change. As the sun gets higher and higher and higher, the stars are going to be the same as we see on earth.

 

And as they get to go into nighttime mode, you know, photograph some of the Twilight, but we, a lot of earth reflection. And it’ll be enough, um, exposure, sincerity to make probably remarkable images when the, when they go into, into the dark side, into the dark mode. So a lot of that to me would be also realizing that they’re humans and whether you’re photographing your blueprints or the tire track of your Rover or the marker of your tool, humanize this.

 

I mean, you know, humans have been only available to express themselves in the last maybe a hundred thousand years. Look at the caves like Lesco and Kate drawings. I said, make your Cape drawing. That’s probably, I would say, you know, write something, write your family’s name of like, like certain did, uh, when he was on, on 17.

 

Forget, don’t forget. You’re human, you know, you’re yeah, you’re a pro you’re an astronaut, but you’re also a human being. And whether you’re out on the surface or you’re in the, the module you’re into the, the habitat, will you be living, you know, look for the unfounded moments. The mugshots aren’t going to work because then all it’s like, I really like Instagram shot every other Facebook shot and you know, where’s the connection.

 

There’s not going to be a connection. Just can, Oh, look, they’re mugging the smiling. They’re the throwing the baseball up and watching it float. I mean, that’s, that’s probably what I would counsel Mars. Would be learning to whatever came off the years of experience of working, exploring, and photographing on the moon.

 

And once I think Mars happens is going to be a, another template to look at. And I think on Mars should want to get there. I was going to do the same thing. Being the first you sort of do it, nails it, you know, and you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re going to your photography. They look at your landscape, but look, look around you, look at what your are, you know, humanize it, Michael, this has been an amazing conversation.

 

Certainly expressing the visual arts and taking them forward is something that the space community has done in extraordinary ways. And you’ve been one of the people that have helped make that happen, whether it be a. Shadowing the crews here on the ground. And I say cruise, meaning not just the astronauts, but the scientists and engineers who make all of those probe satellites and robotic instruments possible.

 

There’s a lot more for us to do, but with people like you showing us the way, and to your point about. Look for the unfound moments and stop and just look, I think those are some pretty profound points to make Michael a one-on-one. I want to thank you for your time and for sharing your gifts with us. Uh, the counsel that you provided to crews that have gone to space and that have.

 

Reached even further in space with a range of different instruments have really captured the imagination and the possibility of what we can do here. Uh, more of Michael’s work is available at michaelsoluri.com and you can find him, uh, as his work again, published by Simon and Schuster in a new work, but then there are a number of other works that you will find that he has, uh, On display at the air and space museum and in museum museums around the country and the world.

 

Michael Soluri, thank you for your time with Space4U, uh, to our listeners. Thank you for your time and attention, please keep watch on spacefoundation.org. We have more Space4U podcasts coming. And as always, we try to celebrate the people who make space, access and space opportunity possible.

 

Michael Soluri who’s joined us today has certainly done that. And remember, because at the Space Foundation, we always have space for you.


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Space4U Podcast: Michael Soluri, Documentary Photographer