"I think everybody has dreams which seem to be out of reach. But the world is a surprising place,
and I believe that people who strive for their dreams turn them into reality more often than not, if they
are willing to work very hard, to take one step at a time in the right direction, and if they are willing to
take risks when opportunity presents itself."
On 5 May 2002, astronaut Mark Shuttleworth rode
a Soyuz TM-34 capsule to a perfect - if somewhat bumpy - landing on a
Kazakh steppe. Carried with him were a number of mementos of his eight days in space, including
a micro drive that used to be connected to his laptop.
Contained on this drive was the image you see above. 'Reach For The Stars' was rendered
by Mark using the Persistence of Vision Raytracer whilst he
was orbiting the earth at 17,000 miles per hour. The image itself was designed by
Gilles Tran and Jaime
Vives Piqueres specifically for this flight.
You can read about the story of its creation - how it came to happen, and what inspired it - at
Here is Mark's take on the actual rendering:
"I took TWO laptops into orbit. They were IBM A22p laptops, P-III 1Ghz machines with 256MB RAM.
The 'standard certified' machines up there were Pentium-166 IBM Thinkpads, which were known to
handle the radiation and heat convectionless environment quite well ... but we couldn't find any
of those laptops anywhere, they are too old and out of production. So I took the decision to take
a risk and take up brand new ones. The Russians gave me permission based on the fact that there
were no obviously new plastics or materials that might cause a problem, and the battery technology
was known to them ... Certifying a new laptop through ESA or NASA would have cost a fortune, but the
Russians took the view that it wasn't mission critical for them, there were no major risks, and if
it worked then they would have two new laptops on orbit that were much faster than anything else up
there. I was very worried that they would be prone to radiation damage because the chip features are
so much smaller on recent laptops than they are on P-166's, so there was a risk of memory and
processor errors from ionising radiation in orbit. Also, they have higher heat generation issues
and there are lots of stories of heat being a problem for commercial-off-the-shelf hardware that is
taken to space ... in space, hot air doesn't rise. So that was why I wanted a compute-intensive
process to hammer the laptop's memory and hardware, to see if there were any problems. So when I got
to orbit, the first thing I did was patch the laptop software to latest versions of everything,
using a CD I had burned the day before launch in Kazakhstan, and data files on CompactFlash cards and
IBM microdrives. Then I fired up POV and started running the render on the first notebook. The theory
was that if there were errors, they would show up first on the laptop that was running the computation
and memory-intensive task first. So POV provided me with a sort of electronic canary, testing to see
if the radiation/heat was going to be a problem for my main work laptop. I ran and ran the POV render
several times ... first without the pic, then with it, and never noticed any crashes or failures that
would suggest a problem."
Mark generated two versions of the render in orbit. The second one featured a photograph of himself taken
in the ISS, image-mapped onto the screen of one of the monitors floating in the rendering (see rotated
"Let me conclude by saying thank you for taking such an inspired approach to the challenge.
You really captured the spirit of the adventure ... the fact that it was about reaching for dreams,
the south african-ness of the effort, and the beauty of space. To have done all of that, and
created a beautiful work of ART, is an achievement."
Mark Shuttleworth, Feb 2003.
We, the Persistence of Vision developers, are both pleased and humbled that Mark chose to
take our software into space with him. But more than that, we thank Mark for his committment
to boosting interest in science and mathematics at school level, and his belief in, use, and
support of free software such as POV-Ray.
Footnote: Two years after the above events transpired Mark went on to found Canonical, the creator of the prominent open-source Ubuntu Linux operating system.
Certificate of Authenticity