Portfolio: Edgar Martins goes behind the scenes of the European Space Agency

Born in 1977, Edgar Martins was not a child of the space race. Yet, when he was young, he was "as enthralled by the Apollo missions as those who lived through it. Like many kids in the 1960s, I wanted to become an astronaut."

Not, as he admits, an easy task for a European (born in Portugal) growing up in China (in Macau). But that did not stop his recurring dream, in which, he recounts, "I am propelled into space and when I get into Earth's orbit, I look down at the planet for the first time, and am overwhelmed. Then all of a sudden, a mysterious calm takes over."

It is a dream that echoes the experiences of the Apollo astronauts, who spoke of their transcendental experiences – and one that evokes the "Earthrise" photograph of 1968 that spurred the Green movement.

"In short," says the 37-year-old, "I've always been aware of how space has had an immeasurable resonance with our social and individual consciousness."

In 2012, the photographer read that the European Space Agency (ESA) was considering opening itself up to the public – and asked whether it might allow him behind the scenes, documenting environments most of us would never otherwise see.

The ESA agreed, and Martins spent two years shooting the facilities of the organisation and its partner agencies, travelling from Germany to Russia to French Guiana to access – and deconstruct – the mysteries of space travel.

 

One shot that looks straight out of Tron is actually a mobile gantry used in the launch of the ESA's Vega rockets, photographed from below. The 50m-tall structure, which weighs more than 1,000 tonnes, allows for the vertical mating of the rocket and the upper part housing the spacecraft. Once the rocket is prepared, the gantry is rolled back on rails, clearing the way for take-off.

Two other, aseptic shots are more reminiscent of Kubrick's 2001. The S5 facility is a "payload preparation complex" – a 400sq m area where spacecraft are fuelled and given final checks. "This room, in the Guiana Space Centre, is used mostly for fuelling, which is a highly toxic process," says Martins. "So the only way I could engage with it was to visit at a time at which it wasn't being used." Nevertheless, because the room is kept sterile, "I had to wear the appropriate clothing – from head to toe – sterilise my equipment and wear antistatic devices on my shoes."

The IABG Centre in Germany, meanwhile, houses this Acoustic Test Facility, where the ability of spacecraft to cope with the acoustic fatigue created by lift-off and the atmospheric flight of a rocket is investigated at levels up to 170dB.

And in Star City, Moscow, Martins photographed a Sokol spacesuit by a Soyuz training module (bottom right). "The Sokol suit was introduced in 1973 and is still in use today," he reveals. "It keeps the astronaut alive in the event of an accidental depressurisation of the spacecraft.

"The Soyuz descent module can ferry a crew of up to three – but has a diameter of only 2.2m. It is the most-utilised manned spacecraft."

It is usefulness that fuels Martins' enduring interest in the subject. "Working on this project reasserted my belief that space-exploration programmes are of the utmost importance to the development of science, engineering, education, medicine, inspiring novel spin-off technologies that will have further applications [for us all] in future."

'The Rehearsal of Space and the Poetic Impossibility to Manage the Infinite' is published by La Fabrica/The Moth House. An accompanying exhibition is showing at Wapping Project Bankside, London SE1, to 29 May

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence