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August 09, 2006

Fallen Astronaut

photo of Fallen Astronaut

Over at The Kircher Society website I was reminded of one of the less well-known events in the manned space program, the placement of Fallen Astronaut.

In July 1971, the crew of Apollo 15 placed on the surface of the Moon a three inch tall metal sculpture of an astronaut, accompanied by a small aluminum sign bearing the names of the 14 astronauts and cosmonauts who had died up to that point in space or in training for space. (*)

Fallen Astronaut was the work of Belgian artist Paul Van Hoeydonck, and it's been labeled as "the only work of art on the Moon". I don't think I buy that, I think the Moon is covered with art... there's the iconic American flag, there's the austere abstract sculptures of the base stages of the lunar modules, hell you could argue that making the first human footprint in the dust of the Moon is one of the greatest works of conceptual art in history.

But Fallen Astronaut may just be the smallest memorial art ever created. I certainly can't think of any other memorial that's only three inches tall. And yet somehow the tiny size strikes me as exactly right. Space is a huge place, and we humans are such a tiny part of it, it seems completely appropriate that this memorial is a tiny thing placed at a tiny spot on a minor planetoid.

You can see a blow-up of the NASA image of Fallen Astronaut here.

(*) The number of astronauts and cosmonauts who have died for the cause of space flight has now risen to 28, due to the Challenger and Columbia disasters.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at August 9, 2006 09:08 PM