Old, Weird Tech: NASA on Flickr Commons Edition

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gossamerpenguin_crop.jpg

NASA has been at the forefront of social media use by government agencies, but it hadn't made a move onto Flickr Commons, where many institutions share public domain historical photos.

That changed today when NASA released a selection of its best photos around the theme of "beginnings." The Internet Archive already has a tremendous number of images from the space agency at NASAImages.org, but I think it's worth thinking of this group as a curated, searchable art show.

The images are split into three sections: Launch and Takeoff, Building NASA, and Center Namesakes. For pure visual appeal, Launch and Takeoff can't be beat, but Building NASA is surprisingly entertaining as an homage to Big Engineering. Namesakes is, predictably, a lot of older white guys posing for photos. But the early images of NASA leaders, like this one of Robert Godard at his launch shack, are stunning.

godard shack.jpg


We pulled a few more good photos from the library. At the top of the page, you see the Gossamer Penguin, a very experimental solar powered aircraft. It's probably the weirdest NASA photo I've ever seen. And I've seen the buttocks-molds of astronauts aligned outside a building.

Langley aero_crop.jpg
Above, you see the "aerodrome," designed by Samuel Langley. The early airplane was launched from the riverboat. It didn't work very well. This is what tended to happen:

Samuel_Pierpont_Langley_-_Potomac_experiment_1903.jpegNote: Not the trajectory you want in a plane on takeoff.

And finally, below, a photograph of some of the people who turned out to watch the Apollo 11 launch. Norman Mailer circulated in that crowd. (Which reminds me: check out the University of Texas' Ransom Center's collection of stuff that Mailer amassed writing about the space program. Handwritten notes, first drafts, press materials. It's all wonderful.)

apollo 11 spectators.jpg


Images: NASA on Flickr Commons.
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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