Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Remembering Rick

This was made on Wordle.net It can be seen in their gallery there.
(this post to remain permanently on top, all newer entries follow below)
This is a sharing space for any thoughts of, on, about, or dreamed up by Rick Pirko. We welcome all to add something by clicking on any "SHARE MEMORY OR COMMENT"...(see below)
Richard touched many and so he lives on. Following below are a few of the ways he affected those lives and the world around him: tributes, memories, stories, comments, observations, expressions of grief and gratitude, sympathy and encouragement, sorrow and hope... ...And hopefully as time goes by, support for each other in carrying on those principles and lessons that meant so much to Rick...working to preach these "last" best hopes, both the "how's" and the "why's".

Best evidence...
Anyone is welcome to contribute any words or photos about or by Rick by clicking on any "SHARE MEMORY OR COMMENT" -- a text box will appear, just type in it, or copy and paste, fill out your name or alias, or your Blogger ID, or be anonymous.

If that proves too technical or troublesome, you may just email it to me, the scribe for this blog, and I will be glad to post it for you.
Email to: studio15828-pirko@yahoo.com

Please share favorite stories, comments, thoughts or anything at all, see above...In his honor and on behalf of his family, and his many communities and friends, thank you all for sharing.

***Ideas for sundials -- constructing, experiences teaching about them, personal designs and personal photos of them especially welcome...**** You can browse 100's of sundial designs around the world by clicking Here

Monday, June 6, 2011

Richard Pirko Memorial Sundial

Richard Pirko Memorial Sundial
Originally uploaded by stormbirdstudio

Measuring the sundial for submission to North American Sundial Society Registry

Monitor the Ohio page to see it added when NASS performs its update at: http://sundials.org/index.php?option=com_sundials&view=selectdials&id=OH

See the other photos from that day here:

Via Flickr:

Richard Pirko Memorial Sundial, Ward-Beecher Planetarium, Youngstown University Physics & Astronomy department, Youngstown, Ohio. Sculptor: Anthony Armeni. Sundial is fully functioning.

and see more of Tony's work at www.armenisculpture.com/sNews16/

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Great Apollo-Soyuz Monument Caper

Rick Pirko and the Great Apollo-Soyuz Monument Caper
Brett Harrison
They tell a story, in some circles, about how in 1996, in Moscow, Russia, Rick Pirko and two others decorated a Russian space monument with a map of an obscure island, doing something for international relations, and, briefly, becoming space heroes.
This is that story.

The Beginning
I was from Australia; Rick was from the USA.  So, naturally, we first met in Russia.
Rick Pirko in the bus, touring Moscow. Author is at far left. (photo by Brett Harrison)

It was April, 1996, and we were attendees at the week-long FPSPACE96, the first international space symposium of its kind.  I met Rick through his long-time friend and for this trip, roommate, Rob Landis from NASA; the two of them pretty much traveled around as a pair.  While Rob was an open book, Rick took me a couple of days to get to know - his quiet, knowing manner juxtaposed with his mischievous sense of humour was an interesting mix.  The three of us swapped anecdotes, learnt a bit about each other, and I impressed them by showing them my two passports – one Australian, one British (this is important later in the story).
During the long bus rides to various places of interest, we would chat about all things space and non-space, swap jokes, and one day Rick and I played out some old Monty Python sketches.  We were both pretty word perfect, which amazed the Russians, (and possibly some of the Americans) who thought we were making it all up on the spot.  This quickly turned into a tradition of us loudly telling jokes in the back of the bus on every journey, long or short.  The Russian students would vie for seats in the back, and reserve places for us “entertainers”. 

Surveillance shot: the Soyuz-Apollo Monument in its original, unaltered state. (photo by Brett Harrison)
 The Monument & the Wager
On day two, the bus passed by the building that housed TsUP, the Russian “Central Control” for space missions, equivalent to Houston’s Mission Control.  With a shout, one of our party pointed out the imposing concrete and steel monument to the 1975 US/Soviet Apollo-Soyuz joint space mission.  Joint space missions are the norm now, but in 1996, this had still been the only one of its kind.  Largely forgotten by Americans, it was still a big deal to the Russians, and it personified the sort of international space co-operation our group tried to promote. The monument was right outside TsUP, on its own traffic island.  The centrepiece was a large metal Earth, with various plate metal continents welded to it.  A proud native of Tasmania, I pointed out, in mock outrage, that my island state (about the same size as Indiana) had been again left off the map - an annoying occurrence in Australia, and a sensitive matter to many Tasmanians.  “I have a good mind”, I declared, “to climb up there and stick Tasmania on it!”
Now, I had been teasing ex-USAF straight arrow Rob quite a bit, and he saw an opportunity for some revenge:  “I’ll give you twenty dollars if you’ll do it!” he said, and without thinking, I said “Done!”

L to R: David Portree, Rick Pirko, Rob Landis, and Yuri (author's mascot) showing Rob some love. Rob is taking it all in good humor while Rick makes some typically dry comment. (photo by Brett Harrison)
The Plot
The next day I happened on Rob & Rick in the corridor of our accommodations.  “Y’know, Rob, I’ve been thinking about our mission regarding the monument....”
Rob was horrified.  “Mission?  I… I… thought you were joking! “
I pointed out (tongue hidden in my cheek) that Australians took wagers very seriously.  A bet with an Australian was a sacred thing.  And Australians, of course, were really all like Crocodile Dundee under the skin. You wouldn’t want to offend an Australian by going back on a bet!
Rick, to Rob’s dismay, could see where this was heading, and immediately jumped in to support me.  Rob didn’t want to be part of any scheme, but Rick pointed out that I had to go to actually do the deed; Rob had to go to make sure I didn’t cheat, and of course, Rick had to go, to be an impartial witness.  I walked away chuckling, Rob walked away looking worried, and Rick walked away smiling with a twinkle in his eye.
The next morning, on the way to breakfast, Rick intercepted us both in the corridor.  He’d obviously been outside.  “Well, I’ve just paced it out.  It’s about a 20 minute walk.  I think we can do it late Thursday night. And I’d better bring my camera – you know, for evidence.”   If I was surprised at Rick’s initiative and commitment, Rob was horrified, but by now he had accepted the mission as inevitable.

The Buildup
Thursday night was one reserved for the “foreign guests” – that is, us – to do presentations on aspects of their space work.  Rick did a memorable presentation on the astronomical knowledge of the Native Americans.  Rob was up next, with pictures from the Hubble Space telescope.  He seemed nervous (not helped by the fact that our Russian hosts had failed to provide the promised slide projector, and what he had was essentially a slideshow), and had removed his wallet & passport from his pockets & placed them on the table – right next to me.  As soon as Rob left to go to the front of the room, I picked up his passport, turned to Rick, and said “Gee, Rob has left his passport out.  I think I’d better take care of it for him.”  Rick cracked that slight grin of his, his eyes twinkled, and he said in his quiet drawl, “You dog.  You dirty dog.”
An air of apprehension hung over our usual post-meeting drinks in the tea-room that evening.  Rob was usually a non-drinker, but we managed to find a German beer he liked, and with our encouragement, he downed a couple for courage.  It seemed to help.  We left the tea-room, put on our outdoor clothing, and were heading for the main door, when Rob suddenly stopped and checked his pockets.  “My passport!  Geez, I don’t have my passport!  I can’t go out without it!  I must have left it in my room.”
He rushed off, while Rick and I followed, trying to keep straight faces.  Rick and I waited outside the room while Rob rushed in and all but tore it apart.  The noises from within – opening & closing of bags, clothes being tossed around, and papers being ruffled - became more and more frantic.  “Oh shit!  Oh shit!  Oh SHIT!”
You have to remember that this was Russia in 1996, less than 5 years after the fall of the USSR.  Officialdom could still be pretty strict about passports & papers.  Without his passport, Rob could be in trouble if stopped by the police.  He also couldn’t change money, check into a hotel, or leave the country.
He finally emerged, looking crestfallen.  “I’ve lost it! What am I going to do? “
I was momentarily stuck - I hadn’t thought ahead this far, but quick-thinking Rick came to the rescue.  “Maybe you could use Brett’s spare passport.” he suggested helpfully.  Rob was puzzled.  “I don’t think that would work!”
“Oh, I think it will,” I said, and handed him, folded closed, his own passport.  He looked at this obviously US passport uncomprehendingly, opened it up, and when he saw his own name & photo, went speechless for about 5 seconds as his jaw dropped. Then he spluttered and called me a couple of uncomplimentary names while Rick & I split our sides laughing.

Rick and Rob at the start of the mission, trying to blend in with the native Muscovites. (photo by Brett Harrison)
The Night Mission
That done, we launched into the night.  Only two other attendees knew of the plot; my partner, Sue, who was sworn to silence, and our friend David Portree, a science writer who offered to act as a distraction/decoy while we were gone. Since we three were well known “personalities” by now, our absence, the opinion went, would be soon noticed.
Rick’s reconnaissance was accurate.  Within 20 minutes we were there.  There was only one problem.  At 10PM, that traffic island in that quiet suburb was the centre of a hive of activity.  Cars everywhere!

We decided to hide in the bushes until the coast was clearer.  After a while, we realised that this itself might arouse suspicion if we were seen (Headline: “Foreign Spies/Peeping Toms Arrested in Space District”), so Rick, with his ever-present camera, pretended to take flash photos of us and the monument whenever a car or pedestrian approached.  We kept up this pretense for about 20 minutes.  At last the traffic died down to nothing.
Tasmania in hand, I ran to the monument, jumped, and… failed.  The concrete platform was too high up for me.  I could get a grip on the top edge, but I couldn’t haul myself up.  Rick quickly ran in to give me a leg-up.
"I'll be your booster stage", he said.  I pointed out that this would be an unusual rocket; I was much heavier than him. It was usually the other way round. He laughed: "Well, I'm more like a JATO (Jet Assisted Take Off) unit!"
Rick-assisted, I got on the platform, looked up, and realised that now I was underneath the globe & couldn’t actually see Australia.  Rob & Rick, hiding on the other side of the concrete block, were yelling “Hurry up!  Hurry up!”  in stressed whispers.  I reached up, and blindly slapped the adhesive-backed cardboard Tasmania I had made right onto the globe. But there was one last surprise.  Bonnnnnnnngggg!”  The giant metal sphere (reputedly an oxidizer tank from the failed Soviet N-1 moon rocket) rang like a great bell in the still night air! Horrified, we scampered away before we got arrested for violating a national monument, and ran back to the bushes.
The Result
From this safe vantage, we inspected our handiwork. I’d missed!  Unsighted, I had placed Tasmania directly beneath Western Australia – about 2000 miles off-target, and on entirely the wrong side of the continent.  I wanted to go back & fix it, but Rick & Rob were smarter than, and assured me it looked fine.   Time to escape.  Sneaking out from cover, we resumed our leisurely, nonchalant, completely non-suspicious walk back to the institute, glancing behind us every now and then, and speaking only in Russian so as to not arouse suspicion.  I don’t know how convincing we were.  Rob was fluent, I knew only a few phrases, but all Rick could manage was “Da, da” with a distinct Ohio twang.
Postcarte sent by a Russian friend over a year later. Note Tasmania still in entirely the wrong place
When we returned, we discovered 2 things: (1) there was a great room party going on, and (2) Sue had blabbed.  Everyone, especially the organisers, increasingly suspicious, wanted to know where “those three” were, and she had finally cracked.  While the conference organiser was horrified, the Russian students were impressed, so we sailed into the room party as heroes, and everyone drank toasts to our adventure and the furthering of international relations through a little cartographic correction.
The monument was still in its corrected state the next morning, and there was a raucous cheer in the bus as we passed.   Tasmania was there the next day, too.  And the next.  In fact, our friends in Moscow communicated to us later that it was there for months and months afterwards, tattered a bit by the weather, but lasting long enough to make it onto a postcard.  In fact, it was never really removed. It remained there until the monument was damaged by an automobile collision and taken away to be repaired (and, of course, this being Moscow in the 90’s, never seen again).

The Legacy 
The story of that adventure has been retold by me many times since (and then retold by others, I have now heard), and so I, and others who never met him, will always remember Rick fondly as a partner in that harmless crime.

author's Note: Rob Landis, BTW, our partner in crime, was the one who arranged for that asteroid to be named after Rick. See post elsewhere about it on this Great Big Space blog

Friday, February 11, 2011

Dial in winter cold

Richard Pirko Memorial Sundial
Originally uploaded by stormbirdstudio

The sundial weathering it's first winter, 50 new pictures set here on Flickr, snow covers its feet, bundled-up students scurrying past.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Moon dial

The sundial with the moon the other Saturday early evening before the planetarium show in Ward-Beecher.

Richard Pirko Memorial Sundial

View the entire set of sundial photos here in an album on Flickr

Watch as slide-show here ( 128 photos )

Evening visit

evening visit to the Sundial

Jones Hall in background, with moon

Richard Pirko Memorial Sundial, Ward-Beecher Planetarium, Youngstown State University, Youngstown Ohio
Maag Library in the background

the plaque at the sundial

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Call for YOUR photos to post here!

 Rick's Great Big Space Blog is putting out a call for your photos from the August Dedication and any other related photos or stories about the sundial or any sundial or Rick that I may post on the Blog, with credit, caption - much appreciation from me and Victoria, friends & family, in advance!

Memorial Sundial Dedicated At YSU

Unveiling Sundial Sculpture in Youngstown

Monday, August 16, 2010

Three Points of Light on an Armillary Sphere: A Requiem

video credit: Youngstown State University/
Office of Marketing and Communications

Three Points of Light on an Armillary Sphere:
A Requiem for Richard Pirko.

Douglas Fowler
Appleton, Wisconsin and McDonald, Ohio
June and August, 2010.

          Remember the job painting a high-school planetarium dome out in western Indiana, where all the school officials were friendly; never asked me for an ID when I showed up mid-day to meet you guys already working, and the students all so respectful. They still had Future Farmers of America and studied engine repair.  We ate breakfast at a cafe inside a bowling alley.

          I travel these same roads, tired of interstates.  There’s a free museum in Fairmont, Indiana where I told the proprietor I’d worked in planetariums.  He smiled and pointed me toward the Rebel Without a Cause Exhibit and drew a map so I could find James Dean’s small grave on the north end of town.  I remember how John Moseley out at Griffith Observatory used to publish our things in the Planetarian.  That’s where Sal Mineo’s Plato hid from everyone at the base of a Zeiss projector.  

          So I travel these roads avoiding rush-hour Chicago.  And farther.  We painted domes, built shelves, installed lighting in San Antonio, Fresno, even West Palm Beach where they put us up in the Hilton, and there was Casper, Gibsonia, Mishawaka, Muncie and Kankakee.

          And there was Kokomo. That first trip when I drove showing you the US routes, westbound 24, then south on 31, and we played Charlie Parker on the tape deck in my aging Ranger that had already gone a full light-second.

          You cut sweeping arcs of plywood in the parking lot, your circular saw compassed on a 15 foot radial arm screwed down to the asphalt.  We overlapped them into cove-shelves and you always humored me when I’d countersink the drywall screws, working three drills back where no one could see anyway.  We told the director how to build four sets of vertical cabinets right up to our cove-shelf at the four cross-quarter points around the dome.   We drove back home and you showed me the county roads with corn right up to the asphalt and we drove through Spanish towns in north Ohio that no one knows and we were lost until Fostoria. 

          We drove back to Kokomo two years later after a tornado peeled the roof off the whole spread-out school building.  But the planetarium dome survived perfectly!  Bound by our cove-shelving, sitting on those four overbuilt vertical cabinets.  We were proud.                    

So here is point #1:  Tony Armeni built this sculpture, with its subtle and accurate armillary sphere, so very well.  You would have liked that.  All things should be as well-built.

          It will survive any natural storm, and I hope it survives the kind of storm that took your boot-prints away.   

          And the best trip of all was Casper, painting another dome with old friends, a simulacrum sky over Wyoming.  We’d take breaks and join the public sessions with telescopes wheeled out on the lawn, both of us showing kids the planets in the real sky:  Saturn and Venus near conjunction in Leo; Jupiter in Scorpius, all along the ecliptic in a long summer twilight that gave enough light to see us down three days later from 12,000 feet of the Snowy Range.    

Point #2:  The imitation sky inside a planetarium is not enough.  Our students and patrons must have access to the real sky with light from real objects.  We orbit a spectral class G2 main-sequence sun.  This sundial is the most classic way for anyone to experience our motion in the warm light of our yellow star.   

          And I come to my third point:

Point #3:  If this armillary sphere sundial is to be any memorial to you Rick, it must be used.  It will always be a piece of laboratory equipment as well as art.  And in the best of worlds, is there really any difference?   

          I promise to finish the lab I’m working on.  But you know – it will require students to make careful measurements outside of class, on their own.  Some measurements will be made hours apart.  There will be no showing up to lab for half an hour, take some careless data and then run off.  We will do nothing less than have them observe nature outside of the classroom.  

          That’s a hopeful thing we shared.  Remember how we both got into trouble in that summer program for the gifted.  My crime was showing them math.  But yours was so much better – you showed them some measure of physical access to our skies on our own small world.  You told those kids about the EAA Young Eagles and at least one of them  had her pilot’s license before she turned 18.  

          So now I think of you every time I drive south on Highway 41, past the F-86 Sabre pointing skyward in Oshkosh.   And there was Milwaukee, that second to the last planetarium dome painting job.  You and Diana drove up there and I didn’t make it because my brother passed away and then I taught astronomy at UW Fox  that summer and in the fall we sawed up the big oak that came down in a storm and you were gone two weeks later.

“I started thinking about you up in Milwaukee
  It was raining when we reached Chicago
  but the tears didn’t start rolling down my cheeks
  until we rolled into Kokomo.           Kokomo . . .” 

                                                           John Mayall, 2002       

Sundial unveiling and dedication

The unveiling and dedication of the memorial sundial will be Thursday August 26, at 1:30pm. The tributes will be shared in the Ward-Beecher Planetarium, Youngstown University, Youngstown Ohio 44555 and following, weather permitting, we will move outdoors and the sculpture will be unveiled.

It should be a short ceremony.  Tony Armeni (the sculptor) will be there.  The Dean is invited, but his schedule is in flux, and may not be able to make it. The President and the Provost are also invited. Those saying a few words will include Victoria (Rick's wife), Angela Pupino, Pat Durrell, Doug Fowler and Warren Young at this point. Ron Cole (YSU media person) will be there, and with Warren's help will be writing up a press release for the event.

Victoria has passed several thoughts along to me to share with everyone here:
"Rick would be very humbled at the idea of this memorial but I am exceedingly grateful.

"Again many thanks to all of his friends who helped his family and me get through this difficult time. I would like all of Rick's friends and those he mentored to feel free to stop by at the ceremony - nothing very formal - and and to view the sundial which is amazing. Dr Young, Pat Durrell, Angela Pupino and I are going to speak for a few minutes. Jeez that is going to be tough. Hope I don't cry too much.

"Dear friends, the mere words "Thank You" is such a pathetic way to express my gratitude for all your efforts in making this memorial happen. Rick's first, truest, and greatest love was the Planetarium. What a great idea of his closest friends. I can't believe it actually happened. It is amazing that such a wonderful tribute has been created to honor him and all those who loved him back."

Planetarium is in Ward Beecher Science Hall - Building #14, Lincoln Avenue, Youngstown OH 44555
street map for planetarium

and there is a Facebook Public Event Page for the 26th where one may comment or RSVP at:

Richard Pirko Memorial Sundial Dedication

Photos of the sundial in different stages can be seen in this FLICKR album

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sundial glowing along

Warren Young and Pat Durrell have worked together to set the north alignment, and riverstones have been poured around the base. A final tweaking needs to be done for the `equation of time', an adjustment they will make around the end of August/ September 1, but at the moment it is only off a small amount. Once the final corrections are in place, people will be able to use the sundial to find the correct time to within a few minutes!

It has been suggested that the ceremonial  unveiling take place during the first week of university classes but this is not definite. The plaque is complete and will be installed just before the dedication ceremony.

Anyone can use the sundial, please stop by and read the time - and admire this beautiful piece of sculpture - what wonderful work, Tony Armeni!

The sunlight writing the Roman numerals in the oxidized patina really makes the figures glow! See the photo below...

And the shadows cast by the parts of the dial onto the pavement are graceful and fascinating - especially "the arrow of time" intersecting the shadow (always just over your shoulder, behind you like your shadow).  And lastly, Rick's garlic bulbs are busily propagating, sowing their tiny hard bulblets about.

Many more views can be seen at this set on Flickr - click here.

View as a slide show - click here .