August 15, 2007
art on the moon.
Fallen Astronaut is an 8.5cm (slightly over 3") aluminium sculpture of an astronaut in a spacesuit. It is the only piece of art on the Moon.
It was created by Belgian artist Paul Van Hoeydonck, who met astronaut David Scott at a dinner party. Van Hoeydonck was asked to create a small statuette to personally commemorate those astronauts and cosmonauts having lost their lives in the furtherance of space exploration. Van Hoeydonck was given a set of design restrictions: in addition to the physical requirements that the sculpture be both lightweight and sturdy, and that it be capable of withstanding the temperature extremes of the Moon, the statuette could not be identifiably male or female, nor of any identifiable ethnic group. Furthermore, in accordance with Scott's wish to avoid the commercialization of space, Van Hoeydonck's name would not be made public.
In 1971, Fallen Astronaut was placed on the Moon by the crew of Apollo 15, along with a plaque bearing the names of eight American astronauts and six Soviet cosmonauts who died during spaceflights or training exercises:
* Theodore Freeman (October 31, 1964, aircraft accident)
* Charles Bassett (February 28, 1966, aircraft accident)
* Elliott See (February 28, 1966, aircraft accident)
* Gus Grissom (January 27, 1967, Apollo 1 fire)
* Roger Chaffee (January 27, 1967, Apollo 1 fire)
* Edward White (January 27, 1967, Apollo 1 fire)
* Vladimir Komarov (April 24, 1967, re-entry parachute failure)
* Edward Givens (June 6, 1967 automobile accident)
* Clifton Williams (October 5, 1967, aircraft accident)
* Yuri Gagarin (March 27, 1968, aircraft accident)
* Pavel Belyayev (January 10, 1970, disease)
* Georgi Dobrovolski (June 30, 1971, re-entry pressurization failure)
* Viktor Patsayev (June 30, 1971, re-entry pressurization failure)
* Vladislav Volkov (June 30, 1971, re-entry pressurization failure)
After the crew mentioned the statuette during their post-flight press conference, the National Air and Space Museum requested that a replica be made for public display. The crew agreed, under the condition that it was to be displayed "with good taste and without publicity"; in April 1972, Van Hoeydonck presented the Museum with a replica of Fallen Astronaut, which is now on display with a replica of the plaque.
In May 1972, Scott learned that Van Hoeydonck planned to make more replicas and sell them. Feeling that this would be a violation of the spirit of their agreement, Scott tried to persuade Van Hoeydonck to refrain, but was unsuccessful; 950 signed replicas went on sale for $750 apiece at the Waddell Gallery of New York.
Van Hoeydonck recalls a different set of events leading to the creation of the artifact. According to an interview with the artist in Belgian newspaper De Morgen, the statue was supposed to be a representation of all mankind, not simply fallen astronauts or cosmonauts. Ultimately, Van Hoeydonck did not know the statute would be used as a memorial for the fallen spacegoers.