On 20 July 1969 the United States took one giant leap ahead in its Space Race with the Soviet Union when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. As Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins prepared for the launch of their mission on the morning of 16 July, they were joined by artist Paul Calle. Calle was assigned to capture the group as part of the NASA Art Program, which has commissioned American artists to record the work of the agency since 1962.
James Webb, the first director of the Art Program, expressed his hope that ‘an artistic record of this nation’s program of space exploration will … make a significant contribution to the history of American art’. NASA initially worked with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. to select artists to go behind-the-scenes to depict its astronauts and scientists. Over the years it has commissioned work by artists as diverse as Robert Rauschenberg (who witnessed the launch of Apollo 11 in Cape Canaveral and was inspired to produce a series of 34 lithographs entitled Stoned Moon – see below), Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder, Nam June Paik and Annie Leibovitz.
You can see more examples of artworks produced for the NASA Art Program in NASA’s online gallery.
Image: (Above) Paul Calle, Suiting Up, 1969; (Below) Robert Rauschenberg, Sky Garden (Stoned Moon), 1969. Courtesy San Francisco Museum of Modern Art © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and Gemini G.E.L.