Art has been an important part of the NASA space program since close to its inception. In 1962, NASA Administrator James E. Webb invited artists to illustrate NASA many missions and projects. World renowned artists from all over the world have been granted special access to historical events, and in return have documented the progression of the NASA space program from their perspectives.
Shortly before Memorial Day 2011, I heard a short blurb on the radio about a new temporary exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) dealing with space art. Early Memorial Day we packed up our boys and headed down to the National Mall to take our boys to NASM and check it out. We made it to the exhibit after passing through the space wing of the museum, where our nearly three year old shared several very loud choruses of “ROCKETS!!! Look, Mommy, ROCKETS!!!”. The art exhibit is on the second floor overlooking the moon lander.
“NASA | Art: 50 Years of Exploration” is on display at NASA till October 9, 2011, and features artists such as Annie Leibovitz, Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol, and Nam June Paik. I could have spent hours in that exhibit. Each picture tells its own beautiful story. You can tell that every brush stroke or pencil line was offered with as much enthusiasm and pride as the people that they depict.
The “NASA | Art” exhibit tour has recently been extended and will be traveling to New Mexico, Wisconsin and Iowa over the next year.
The companion guide to the exhibit can be found on Amazon: NASA|Art: 50 Years of Exploration for $6.49.
Below are some of the 70+ pieces of art that we saw that day. All of the pictures were taken by myself, and don’t generally do justice to the original work, so if you can go see the exhibit in person, you should!
In a silver-colored spacesuit, astronaut Gordon Cooper steps away from his Mercury spacecraft and into the bright sunlight on the deck of the recovery ship after 22 orbits around Earth. Mitchell Jamieson documented Cooper;s recovery and medical exam and accompanied him back c=to Cape Canaveral.
Astronauts John Young and Gus Grissom are suited up for the first flight of the Gemini program in March 1965. NASA loaned Norman Rockwell a Gemini spacesuit in order to make this painting as accurate as possible.
Peter Hurd participated in the early days of the NASA Art Program, documenting the last Mercury flight. He returned ten years later to record the launch of Skylab, a rocket modified to allow astronauts to live and work in orbit. The three separate crews of Skylab astronauts arrived via Apollo command modules.
Clayton Pond juxtaposes reality with science fiction as the Space Shuttle Enterprise approaches the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek. Whether the space shuttle was really named after the Star Trek spaceship is still disputed.
This painting depicts the historic servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronaut Kathy Thornton releases a defective solar panel into space as another astronaut performs duties in space shuttle Endeavour’s cargo bay. The Solar Array and the Wide Field/Planetary Camera were some of the major units serviced. The servicing mission, STS-61, took place from Dec. 2 to Dec. 13, 1993.
Images from the Apollo 11 landing have become indelible marks on the nation’s consciousness. Andy Warhol took perhaps the most iconic of these, Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface, and put it into the context of the swinging ’60s by adding neon colors to the flag and spacesuit.
Keith Duncan depicts the International Space Station in an allegorical context. Mythological figures Icarus and Daedalus – men who gave themselves wings – hover angelically over Earth, while astronauts and space stations float beneath a canopy of sunbeams.
The Mars Pathfinder Mission inspired a line of clothing by Stephen Sprouse, who used the imagery of the Sojourner rover to create this dress. His 2000 show for fashion week in New York City included pairs of 3-D glasses, allowing viewers to experience the images on the fabric in three dimensions.
When Space Shuttle Challenger exploded after initial lift-off on January 28, 1986, seven men and women perished, including teacher Christa McAuliffe. Greg Mort creates a somber visual elegy to the shuttle and its crew. The shuttle is covered with a lace cloth that envelops the orbiter as smoke did when the tragedy occurred. The subtle monochromatic shades create a reverential tribute to a brave group of explorers.