astronomy

Art in Space

When discussing space art, one can mean at least two different things. The term can refer to art made on Earth that is then sent into outer space, or art produced while in space. Going with the former definition, our exhibits come down to Earth’s closest neighbor in the Solar System and the rest of the cosmos.

Moon Art

One of the more notable art installations on the Moon is Fallen Astronaut. During Apollo 15, the small aluminum figurine was left on the lunar surface as a memorial to the astronauts and cosmonauts who had died. Their names, lifespans, and causes of death (mostly training related accidents) were all etched onto a plaque that went along with the statuette. Fallen Astronaut was, and remains, a tribute to the solidarity of those seeking to explore outer space and their shared sacrifices.

Unbeknownst to mission control, the crew of Apollo 15 commissioned sculptor Paul Van Hoeydonck to craft this light metal figurine. With considerations over cargo weight and fuel closely monitored due to the extreme costs and logistical constraints of spaceflight, Fallen Astronaut had to be secreted aboard, its presence only being disclosed after commander Dave Scott placed both it and the accompanying plaque.

In addition to the original, Van Hoeydonck created a series of copies, at least fifty, two of which he signed then loaned to the Redou Museum for Aerospace and the Flemish Parliament building. Other replicas also exist elsewhere, as in the National Air and Space Museum’s collection.

While Fallen Astronaut might be the only sculpture designed with the intent to be left of the surface of the Moon, that does not make it the only objet d’art there. Apollo 16’s Charles Duke left behind a photo of himself and his family, and beginning with Apollo 11 each mission that touched down on the Moon planted a flag there. Beyond these more utilitarian art objects, it is also rumored that Apollo 12 beat Apollo 15 to the punch. According to the Moon Museum’s creator, Forrest Myers, Apollo 12’s lunar module had a tiny ceramic wafer attached to one of its legs, which were among the components left behind when the astronauts aboard that mission returned home. NASA has not confirmed this, but apparently the Moon Museum contains miniature artworks by Andy Warhol and five of his contemporaries.

Orbital Art

Until we begin to leave art on Mars, the only other pieces that fit this category are those that pass through Earth’s atmosphere. As with the art left on the Moon, most of them piggyback off of national and international space agencies to break free of the planet’s gravitational hold. Increasingly though, as in other areas of space travel, public-private partnerships are being relied upon. MIT Media Lab’s Sojourner 2020 is one such project, an art instillation made possible with the help of the International Space Station. Rather than going to the ISS, Sojourner 2020 will temporarily orbit Earth for around thirty days. Its contents are a series of miniature artworks that were chosen as the winners of 2019 contest held by MIT Media Lab. The artists contributing to this venture hail from Chile, China, Peru, the United States, Canada, Thailand, Japan, and the Lake Traverse Reservation.

Diversity was a key interest of the contest organizers, who felt that spotlighting art from creators with a range of backgrounds was vital to the project. Space, they and others argue, should not be the domain of astrophysicists, engineers, government officials, and private enterprises alone. By sending indigenous, transgender, and other perspectives beyond our atmosphere, the project aims to bring inclusivity to the fore in future extraterrestrial endeavors.  

Being that the value art is largely if not wholly subjective, its return on investment can be quite tricky to quantify. The previously given examples of Moon art were mainly sentimental objects, whereas Sojourner 2020’s stated goal is more forward-looking, that of challenging accepted notions of who ought to be in space. Just because something is a certain way at present does not mean it should be that way. Art can shake us from preconceptions like this, forcing us to reimagine our surroundings and ask ourselves what sort of world we wish to live in now and in the future.

Works Cited

Eveleth, Rose. “There Is a Sculpture on the Moon Commemorating Fallen Astronauts”. smithsonianmag.com, Smithsonian Magazine, Jan 7 2013, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/there-is-a-sculpture-on-the-moon-commemorating-fallen-astronauts-358909/, Accessed July 30 2020

Liu, Xin. “Sojourner 2020 | An international art payload to ISS”. media.mit.edu, MIT Media Lab, March 3 2020, http://www.media.mit.edu/posts/sojourner-2020/, Accessed July 30 2020

“Sculpture, Fallen Astronaut”. airandspace.si.edu, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/sculpture-fallen-astronaut, Accessed July 30 2020

“The strange things humans have left behind on the Moon”. rmg.org.uk, Royal Museums Greenwich, http://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/explore/things-left-on-moon, Accessed July 30 2020

Van Houten Maldonado, Devon. “The artworks floating above the Earth”. bbc.com, BBC Culture, Dec 14 2018, http://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20181214-the-artworks-floating-above-the-earth, Accessed July 30 2020

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