NASA Enlists Andy Warhol, Annie Leibovitz, Norman Rockwell & 350 Other Artists to Visually Document America’s Space Program

It’s hard to imag­ine that the space-crazed gen­er­al pub­lic need­ed any help get­ting worked up about astro­nauts and NASA in the ear­ly 60s.

Per­haps the wild pop­u­lar­i­ty of space-relat­ed imagery is in part what moti­vat­ed NASA admin­is­tra­tor James Webb to cre­ate the NASA Art Pro­gram in 1962.

Although the pro­gram’s hand­picked artists weren’t edit­ed or cen­sored in any way, they were briefed on how NASA hoped to be rep­re­sent­ed, and the emo­tions their cre­ations were meant capture—the excite­ment and uncer­tain­ty of explor­ing these fron­tiers.

NASA was also care­ful to col­lect every­thing the artists pro­duced while par­tic­i­pat­ing in the pro­gram, from sketch­es to fin­ished work.

In turn, they received unprece­dent­ed access to launch sites, key per­son­nel, and major events such as Project Mer­cury and the Apol­lo 11 Mis­sion.

Over 350 artists, includ­ing Andy Warhol, Nor­man Rock­well, and Lau­rie Ander­son, have brought their unique sen­si­bil­i­ties to the project. (Find NASA-inspired art by Warhol and Rock­well above.)

(And hey, no shame if you mis­tak­en­ly assumed Warhol’s 1987 Moon­walk 1 was cre­at­ed as a pro­mo for MTV…)

Jamie Wyeth’s 1964 water­col­or Gem­i­ni Launch Pad includes a hum­ble bicy­cle, the means by which tech­ni­cians trav­eled back and forth from the launch pad to the con­crete-rein­forced block­house where they worked.

Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Annie Lei­bovitz offers two views of NASA’s first female pilot and com­man­der, Eileen Collins—with and with­out hel­met.

Postage stamp design­er, Paul Calle, one of the inau­gur­al group of par­tic­i­pat­ing artists, pro­duced a stamp com­mem­o­rat­ing the Gem­i­ni 4 space cap­sule in cel­e­bra­tion of NASA’s 9th anniver­sary. When the Apol­lo 11 astro­nauts suit­ed up pri­or to blast off on July 16, 1969, Calle was the only artist present. His quick­ly ren­dered felt tip mark­er sketch­es lend a back­stage ele­ment to the hero­ic iconog­ra­phy sur­round­ing astro­nauts Arm­strong, Aldrin and Collins. One of the items they car­ried with them on their jour­ney was the engraved print­ing plate of Calle’s 1967 com­mem­o­ra­tive stamp. They hand-can­celed a proof aboard the flight, on the assump­tion that post offices might be hard to come by on the moon.

More recent­ly, NASA’s Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­to­ry has enlist­ed a team of nine artists, design­ers, and illus­tra­tors to col­lab­o­rate on 14 posters, a visu­al throw­back to the ones the WPA cre­at­ed between 1938 and 1941 to spark pub­lic inter­est in the Nation­al Parks. You can see the results at the Exo­plan­et Trav­el Bureau.

View an album of 25 his­toric works from NASA’s Art Pro­gram here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lau­rie Ander­son Cre­ates a Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty Instal­la­tion That Takes View­ers on an Uncon­ven­tion­al Tour of the Moon

Star Trek‘s Nichelle Nichols Cre­ates a Short Film for NASA to Recruit New Astro­nauts (1977)

NASA Dig­i­tizes 20,000 Hours of Audio from the His­toric Apol­lo 11 Mis­sion: Stream Them Free Online

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Sep­tem­ber 9 for anoth­er sea­son of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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