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Center Snapshot - Jonathan Behun.
Jonathan Behun is center snapshot
Image above: Jonathan Behun has staked out his niche in the Constellation program by designing graphics concerning Ares I-X. Credit: Sean Smith.

Jonathan Behun is a NASA Langley legacy.

His father, Vaughn, is an engineer who still works with various programs at Langley. His mother, Sherry, worked with the Virginia Space Grant Consortium. Sister Lisa worked here as a supervisor and planner for Exploration Flight Projects Directorate. Sister Michelle works at Wallops Island.

So it only made sense that, when it was time for Jonathan to declare his college major at Virginia Commonwealth University, he opted to be … an illustrator?

"I always struggled with math," he says, shrugging his shoulders. "I tended to lean more to the creative side."

Yet now, three years after finishing at VCU, he finds himself at NASA Langley, working with engineers on the Ares I-X project as a program integration specialist.

That means he's a NASA graphic designer.

One without pretense. "I do illustrations," he says flatly. "If someone wants to judge me as an artist, OK. But I do illustrations."

It's an old argument: that art is in the eye of the beholder, even that art can only be created through freehand effort by an artist. When Behun beholds the posters of the Ares I-X, or the fact sheet he created for the upcoming Ares I-X System Critical Design Review conference at NASA Langley, he judges them to be graphics: combinations of the products of various computer programs that when totaled, equal an informational picture. They tell a story about Ares I-X.

"They didn't bring me in here to spend hundreds of hours drawing free hand," Behun says.

The products are drawing raves, however they are judged artistically.

"When I got here, I went looking for things to do for the team," he says. "But now more and more people are coming to me" for graphic advice or with graphic ideas.

Isn't art someone's interpretation of something around him or her?

Behun's job is to use his creativity to visually enhance the work of engineers working on delivering NASA's next manned craft into space.

"It's amazing," he says. "There's like 500 people working on this project at more than five locations. It's fast-paced. Let's face it, the Ares I-X launches in just over a year."

His most popular poster says so: "Ares I-X, the First Flight of a New Era, Launching April 2009."

It's done like a movie poster, and it's on walls in many of the offices adjacent to his own.

He does indulge an artistic bent away from the Hangar.

Behun came to NASA Langley from a job with Peace Frogs Inc., an apparel company in Gloucester, and he continues to keep his hand in, illustrating T-shirts for a firm in California.

He also plays golf and fishes from a boat and from the dock behind his house. And he cooks what he catches and more, particularly favoring food prepared with Cajun spices.

"My specialty is chicken stir fry," Behun says.

At VCU, had he not chosen to be an illustrator, he says, he would have opted for a program in culinary arts.

He chose well.

"People see this as an important story," he says of Constellation and NASA's space exploration program. "People want to see the story, you can tell."

It's why, increasingly, he's being asked to tell the story of Ares I-X Development Flight Test visually, with posters and fact sheets. Some would say, with art.

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Denise Adams
The Researcher News