Painting of Mercury Astronauts removed before O Club Demolition

Preserving a piece of NAS Patuxent River’s history, conservators removed a 12×20-foot mural of astronauts Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, Scott Carpenter and John Glenn from the wall above the doorway of the abandoned Officers Club — or O Club — located on Cedar Point Road across the street from the Chesapeake Bay.

Painted in oil on linen canvas and dedicated in 1986, the large mural, titled “Naval Aviation in Space,” was created by artist George McWilliams during the time he was employed at Pax River from 1981-1987 as a draftsman/illustrator.

“It commemorates the early astronauts trained here at the Test Pilot School,” said Mike Smolek, Pax River’s cultural resources manager. “McWilliams eventually left Pax River to become a fulltime painter and muralist and this was one of his first major murals.”

Smolek explained that the O Club was a popular assembly space for not only base gatherings but community functions as well, when the base was still accessible to the public.

“It was a large social venue in St. Mary’s County for a long time,” he added. “Organizations held special dinners and events there and even proms were held there. Thousands of people have seen the mural over the years as they left the building. It represents Pax River’s role in national history and emphasizes the significance of what is done here. The Maryland Historical Trust considers it of intrinsic historical value to the base.”

With the building slated for demolition, saving the mural became a priority.

“We were very concerned that, first, this important piece of naval aviation art was beyond salvaging and, second, that we weren’t going to be able to find a way to save it,” Smolek said. “But the staff at Pax River’s Public Works recognized its significance and found a way to make it happen.”

The mural was removed, stabilized and placed into storage with the eventual goal of having it put on display at the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum (PRNAM).

“Ownership will be taken over by the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida, which is part of the Naval History and Heritage Command,” Smolek said. “Because it’s a heritage asset, however, the painting will not physically leave the area. It’ll be formally loaned to the [PRNAM] and exhibited.”

Prior to removal, conservators cleaned the surface to remove the majority of grime and soiling from the painting’s surface and applied a protective consolidating facing.

“It’s a spun bound tissue that’s put on with an easily reversible adhesive,” explained David Olin, chief conservator and owner of Olin Conservation Inc. “That gives some stability to the paint layers should the process of removing the canvas cause any disruption. The protective consolidating facing holds the paint so it’s not lost.”

Since a strong adhesive was originally used to bind the painting to the wall, the mural was removed mechanically — meaning no solvents were used and nothing was dissolved — by shearing off the drywall paper to which the canvas was still attached and rolling it face-in onto a tube, which was a quicker and less stressful manner of removal.

From the beginning of the space race we have been launching objects into orbit around the earth that all have limited lifespans. Everything from satellites used for communications, mapping, weather forecasting, and GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking on earth to the booster rockets used to launch spacecraft from the hold of earth’s gravity. There is an abundance of debris already orbiting the earth from both government and commercial sources. No one country is to blame as every country with a space program has contributed to the orbiting cloud of space trash now circling our planet.

Keeping space clean from orbiting junk, waste, and garbage while driving innovation to meet the emerging needs of waste management and recycling in space development

The Problem

According to a 2011 report from the National Research Council, “Derelict satellites, equipment and other debris orbiting Earth (aka space junk) have been accumulating for many decades and could damage or even possibly destroy satellites and human spacecraft if they collide.” Left unchecked, this problem will exponentially grow as space debris collides with functioning satellites and only add to the challenge. While some space trash falls out of orbit and incinerates during re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere, there have been many examples in recent years of these objects making impact with the ground or falling into the world’s oceans. Compounding this problem is the fact that many of these objects contain toxic or hazardous materials.  Waiting and hoping is simply not a sustainable way forward in dealing with the growing problem of space waste.

Driving Innovation

Space Waste Solutions is committed to facing the challenges of both existing space waste and planning for proper waste management in future space development. Failure to properly plan for waste management has caused many building projects and developments to stall here on earth. Likewise, failure to plan and innovate solutions to space waste challenges will also lead to stalled development in space tourism and future exploration. With the growth of Space Tourism and commercial spaceflight ventures, now is the time to develop strategies and infrastructure that will support future opportunities.

Many privately funded organizations and businesses have begun seeking creative solutions to the problem of orbiting space junk. Space Waste Solutions believes that the answers and innovations needed to overcome these challenges will come through commercial and private sector efforts, building on the rich history and foundation laid by government agencies such as NASA and the ESA. Highlighting advances driven by those such as Google’s XPrize and Lunar XPrizeorganizations, Made In Space’s space recycling and 3D printing efforts, along with many others is a major way Space Waste Solutions promotes the call for a response to this growing challenge.

Get in touch with us for more information on Space Waste Solutions or contact John Arwood at [email protected] or by phone at (904) 305-7534

Posted on January 19, 2018 in