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Art and Astronauts

There is art on the moon... and it's Belgian. Surprised? On August 2, 1971 Belgian artist Paul Van Hoeydonck made history as the first and only person to have their art (a three and a half inch tall aluminum sculpture of an astronaut) displayed on the moon... and no one had a clue. How did this happen? 

In the 1960s, the world was obsessed with pushing boundaries and the most enticing line to be crossed was outer-space: "the final frontier." Accomplished Antwerp artist, Paul Van Hoeydonck was no exception to this generation with their eyes set on the stars. His art exhibitions were filled with sculptures of astronauts in medieval armor, dramatic paintings of planets and designs of chrome robots. So, when a Manhattan art gallery director suggested he launch a sculpture to the moon, he got to work.

It was not an easy task.

Because of security reasons, the people at NASA were proving difficult to get a hold of. In a final attempt to contact NASA, Hoeydonck flew down to Cape Kennedy where he finally made a breakthrough- he met a man everyone called The Messenger, a former golf pro who made a hobby of mingling with astronauts, was very well known in the space community and connected Hoeydonck with the Apollo 15 crew. Eight weeks before Apollo 15's take off, the artist and astronauts met and the dream of putting art on the moon began to transform into a reality. 

The art piece's path to the moon was now clear but what this significant sculpture would be was another matter. This was something upon which Hoeydonck and the Apollo 15 crew didn't agree. Hoeydonck wanted the sculpture to evoke feelings of galactic greatness and the triumph of man whereas the Apollo 15 team had a more humble concept in mind. The astronauts wanted the sculpture to act as a memorial for all the people who had perished in the pursuit of space travel.

In addition to their philosophical clash, there were also practical obstacles. The art had to be tough enough to survive the moon's extreme temperatures which can reach anywhere from 250 degrees Fahrenheit to negative 250 Fahrenheit. In the end, it was decided the sculpture would be made of aluminum, in order to withstand the weather, and be molded into a smooth, minimalist astronaut without any indication of race, religion, gender or creed. NASA had no idea about the metal man who hid in the pocket of one of the astronaut's space suits during take off. In fact, the Apollo 15 crew asked Hoeydonck to keep his involvement a secret until a year after they had returned from their mission in order to avoid the sculpture from seeming to be anything other than a personal memorial. 

While one of the astronauts distracted Mission Control with chatter, another astronaut placed the sculpture, which they dubbed, "fallen astronaut," and a plaque, commemorating the people whom had died for the dream of space travel, on the ground of the moon.

When the crew had returned from the moon, they mentioned the small metal man they left behind but not the man who made him. Eventually, Hoeydonck claimed his artwork on the moon, but was met with criticism instead of the praise he had expected. People were jealous he had the entire moon to himself. 

Soon after, in order to improve his falling finances, he was approached by the Waddell Gallery in New York to create and sell 950 replicas to collectors at $750 a piece. However, only 50 copies were made before NASA pressured them to stop the project stating they didn't want the space program to be exploited for personal profit. This may seem a disappointing ending to such an epic venture but the fact still remains that there is a little Belgian astronaut on the moon, a testament to humankind's ability to turn dreams into reality. 

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