13 August 2007

Art on the Moon

Paul Van Hoeydonck: Art on the Moon;
David Scott and the Apollo 15 Controversy

A Belgian printmaker and painter born in 1925, Paul Van Hoeydonck studied both archeology and art history in Antwerp. His first exhibition took place there in 1952.

During the following years van Hoeydonck both lived and worked in Belgium and in the United States. His art is now included in the collections of leading museums in Europe and America.

Van Hoeydonck also created "Fallen Astronaut", an aluminium statue about 3 1/2 inches long that is the only piece of art on the Moon.

Van Hoeydonck met controversial astronaut David Scott at a dinner party. Scott was to be commander of the coming Apollo 15 Moon voyage and asked Van Hoeydonck to create a small statuette to personally commemorate those astronauts and cosmonauts having lost their lives in the furtherance of space exploration.

He 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.

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.

Either way, Van Hoeydonck's art is the only art currently on the moon.

After the return of Apollo 15 to Earth, it was discovered that, without authority, the crew had taken 398 commemorative first day covers to the moon of which a hundred were then sold to a German stamp dealer. A first day cover (FDC) is an envelope where the postage stamps have been canceled on their first day of issue.

The profits of the sale were used to establish trust funds for the Apollo 15 crew's children. Although their action was not in any way illegal, and despite the fact that NASA had turned a blind eye to similar activities on earlier flights, the administration decided to make an example of Scott and his usurping crew and none of them flew in space again.

Some years after his career at NASA concluded, Scott wrote a book with Alexei Leonov, the first man to walk in space, about being on opposite sides of the space race during the Cold War.

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