One of hundreds of launches takes off at the BALLS rocket festival in Black Rock Desert, Nev. Many of the rockets launched here can't be flown anywhere else because of safety and legal restrictions. (Robert Ormerod)

For those opting for a motel stay during the festival and not camping in the desert, finding the way back can be difficult. Tire tracks, headlights and traffic cones lead the way. (Robert Ormerod)

When he was a child, photographer Robert Ormerod loved space and science fiction. But because such interests weren’t thought of as “cool” by his peers, it made him self-conscious, and he veered away from them. However, his interest stayed lodged in the back of his brain, and he says that he “never stopped being awed and gaining comfort from the night sky.” And so, after some time working as a photographer, he began to rediscover that early love for the stars and space.

“I started to think about the tiny percentage of the human race who have been to space, yet so many are fascinated and dream of it," Ormerod told In Sight. "There’s a huge disconnect there, so I decided I wanted to find and photograph some of the people who have such a passion for something which is considered so out of reach for the ordinary person.” And thus began his exploration of amateur space enthusiasts, taking him from Oman to Utah to his homeland of Scotland.

Ormerod began his exploration by photographing a small rocket festival in Scotland called International Rocket Week. The festival is put on by a dedicated group of amateurs. Ormerod says the experience hooked him, but it took him a few more years to tackle the project on a bigger scale. Once he decided to dedicate himself to the project, he prepared himself by reading as widely as he could and scouring the Internet for events where he could find his subject matter. As he found and documented people and places, Ormerod found that he was also having a great time.

“Looking back, I loved every minute of it," he told In Sight. "Meeting such talented, interesting and passionate people was great. Seeing some astoundingly beautiful and otherworldly landscapes was a highlight. Standing under some night skies which will forever be etched in my mind was another — they were so crammed full of stars that it really showed you your place.”

Ormerod plans to continue work on his project. Looking back on what he has already done, Ormerod says that he just wants to show that space and science are a lot more accessible than many of us think. He also says:

“With this project, I really wanted to explore the in-built human curiosity to understand our place in the universe. I wanted to show how we as humans relate to the vastness of outer space in many different ways, some based on science and some based on imagination. ... I hope the photographs themselves take the viewer on a dreamlike journey, which blurs the line between science and fiction.”


Egged on by his friends, Grant Thompson from Utah struggles to lift a rocket before posing for a photograph at the BALLS festival. (Robert Ormerod)

Joe Bergeron, 63, a space artist and author from Endwell, N.Y., sports a space-themed shirt on a hilltop outside Springfield, Vt., for the Stellafane Convention, the oldest "star party" in the United States and one of the oldest in the world. (Robert Ormerod)

On the last night of the BALLS festival, rocketry enthusiasts celebrate by burning old rocket motors. The fire is so bright that it not only lights up the night with this pink hue but also can damage camera sensors and eyesight. (Robert Ormerod)

Telescope building and stargazing under South African skies. (Robert Ormerod)

Peter Scott, electronic engineer and programmer, stands for a portrait in Copenhagen, Denmark, with an antenna he designed which will help locate rockets after they return to Earth. Peter is a member of the Copenhagen Suborbitals, the world's only manned amateur crowdfunded space program. (Robert Ormerod)

A shop attendant smokes outside the Alien Research Center on the Extraterrestrial Highway in Hiko, Nev. (Robert Ormerod)

Stefan Dobrovolny, an Analog Astronaut, photographed in a specially designed suit during a Mars simulation in Oman. Dobrovolny is a medical doctor but spends some of his free time taking part in Mars simulations. (Robert Ormerod)

A member of a simulation team strides out into the Utah desert. During the summer months, many teams live and work at the Mars Desert Research Station. The terrain's ferrous-red hue and the harshness of the climate are supposed to mimic that of Mars. Crews carry out experiments ranging from astrobiology and meteorite analysis to 3-D printing and social psychology. (Robert Ormerod)

Spectators follow a rocket launch at the BALLS festival. (Robert Ormerod)

Rocket enthusiasts attempt to spot a just-launched rocket at International Rocket Week in Scotland. (Robert Ormerod)

Aurora hunters under the northern lights near Husavik, Iceland. (Robert Ormerod)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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