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Ohio capitol unveils painting of state's 'Mt Rushmore of astronauts'

January 25, 2024

— The first American to orbit Earth, the first human to step foot on the lunar surface, one of the first people to circle the moon and one of the first American women to fly into space have more in common than just flying on some of NASA's most historic missions – they also all hailed from the same home state.

Ohio on Wednesday (Jan. 24) paid tribute to its citizens' achievements in space travel and exploration by unveiling a large-scale painting to adorn the rotunda of the capitol building in Columbus. "Ohioans in Space" by artist Bill Hinsch depicts astronauts John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, James Lovell and Judith Resnik, as well as Toledo-born Eugene Kranz, NASA's second flight director in Mission Control.

"The first thing was to determine who is going to be in this painting and after many conversations it was pretty easy. We have the 'Mount Rushmore' of astronauts in Ohio," said Charles Moses, chair of the Capitol Square Foundation, at a gala dinner preceding the painting's reveal. The foundation led the effort to commission the new installation, the first such tribute to be added to the Statehouse in almost 70 years.

Helping to unveil the 9-foot by 12-foot (2.7 by 3.6 meter) oil painting were Kranz and members of the Armstrong, Lovell and Resnik families. Trevor Brown, dean of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University, represented the children of the Mercury astronaut (Glenn died in 2016, Armstrong died in 2012 and Resnik died aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1986).

"It is exciting to know that the 'Ohioans in Space' painting, along with new displays and videos at the Statehouse, will inspire, encourage and educate thousands of students and adults on the importance of the past and future of the aerospace industry," said Lovell, in a video played during the dinner. "Thank you for this great honor."

Tom Hanks, who portrayed Lovell in the 1995 feature film "Apollo 13," also added his remarks by recorded video.

"Now I don't know if there are any other states that can equal Ohio — perhaps in the number of its astronauts, yes, but not in the number of their groundbreaking astronauts," said Hanks."All of these great Ohioans, sons and daughters of the 'Buckeye State,' have made an impact far greater than just the size of their own shoes that have walked both in the dust of the moon and up the gantries, [across] the tiles of the Johnson Space Center and beyond."

Others in attendance to celebrate the astronauts were Ohio Governor Mike DeWine; Amanda Wright Lane, the great grand niece of Orville and Wilbur Wright; NASA Deputy Associate Administrator Casey Swails; and Ohio-native astronauts Michael Good, Don Thomas and Carl Walz (active NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock also spoke via video, offering his congratulations on behalf of the entire astronaut corps).

"The governor was very insistent about the other Ohio astronauts," said Moses. "There are not a lot of plaques around the rotunda but we are apparently making a exception here, so, in about a month, there will be a plaque with all of the Ohio astronauts' names on it, whether they were from Ohio originally or they adopted Ohio — and space for more astronauts to come.".

Only New York, California and Texas has produced more astronauts than Ohio, although when broken out by city, Cleveland tops the countrywide list.

"I'm just a boy from Hicksville, Ohio, so it's a little nerve wracking for me to get up here," said Hinsch, whose art hangs in the Pentagon and the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton. "It was a supreme honor to do this painting. I've worked probably seven days a week for the last seven months, it really took that kind of effort to do it. I'm proud of the work."

Should all go as planned, the 550-pound (250-kilogram) finished piece ("The painting is 100 pounds, the frame is 450 pounds," said Moses) will be hoisted up into the rotunda on Thursday morning. It will hang opposite "Wilbur and Orville Wright and Their Accomplishments," a similarly-sized painting by Dwight Mutchler that pays tribute to the Ohio-born inventors of the first powered, controlled, heavier-than-air flying machine.

"This is an honor that will stand the test of time, like the Wright brothers," Charles Resnik, brother of the fallen space shuttle astronaut, said.

Closing out the evening's remarks, Kranz said that all of those honored were part of his family.

"A portrait of 'Ohioans in Space' is really amazing," Kranz said. "I knew all of these people, I knew them very well and and it was all very personal."


"Ohioans in Space" by Bill Hinsch depicts astronauts John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, James Lovell and Judith Resnik, as well as flight director Eugene Kranz as a tribute to the accomplishments by the state's citizens in space travel and exploration. (Ohio Statehouse)

State leaders, astronaut family members and flight director Gene Kranz help unveil Bill Hinsch's painting "Ohioans in Space" in the Statehouse rotunda, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. (Ohio Statehouse)

In celebration of Bill Hinsch's "Ohioans in Space" painting, space patch artist Tim Gagnon was commissioned to create a collectible emblem available exclusively from the Statehouse Museum Shop, along with challenge coins and lapel pins. (Ohio Statehouse)

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