February 1, 2019
— A Belgian artist who saw his creation left on the moon as a tribute to fallen astronauts has now realized his original vision for the statuette.
Paul van Hoeydonck, working with the Breckner Gallery in Düsseldorf, Germany, has recreated his 1969 concept for a celebration of humanity rising into space — a small aluminum figure floating inside a piece of tinted blue acrylic. With a limited run of 1,971 signed and numbered pieces, the artwork marks the 50th anniversary of his idea, which, modified to meet NASA's requirements, became a memorial to the explorers who had given their lives in the pursuit of space exploration.
"I didn't think it would ever happen. Of course I was interested in all this, but being an artist, who would have thought it possible of having one of my statuettes put on the moon?" said van Hoeydonck in a 2015 interview with the British Interplanetary Society's Spaceflight magazine.
What began in March 1969 as an off-the-cuff remark by a New York art gallery manager eventually led to a June 1971 meeting between van Hoeydonck and the crew of NASA's Apollo 15 mission. David Scott, Jim Irwin and Al Worden agreed to fly the artist's creation to the surface of the moon, so long as it met their and NASA's conditions.
"NASA imposed a lot of regulations for the statuette. It had to be small and lightweight, it couldn't have sharp edges nor could it be magnetic," van Hoeydonck told interviewer Danny van Hoecke, adding that it also had to be able to stand up to direct sunlight and the extreme temperatures of space. "David Scott wanted it to symbolize all humanity, without distinction of sex or race."
Van Hoeydonck went about creating an abstract figurine out of aluminum, which he then set inside light blue plastic tube so that it could stand upright on the moon.
"This symbolized humanity rising just the way I had pictured it in my head," said the artist.
But there was a problem. Shortly before the July 26, 1971 launch of Apollo 15, Scott alerted van Hoeydonck that the acrylic cylinder could not fly — the plastic was decided by NASA to be a fire risk. Instead, van Hoeydonck rushed Scott a loose figurine to take on board the mission.
"We left a small memorial on the moon about 20 feet north of [the lunar rover] in a small, subtle crater," revealed Scott during a press conference after returning to Earth. "There's a simple plaque with 14 names and those are the names, in alphabetical order, of all of the astronauts and cosmonauts who have died in the pursuit of exploration of space."
"Near it, is a small figure representing a fallen astronaut," added Scott.
A replica of the "Fallen Astronaut" was donated for display to the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. Plans following the mission to also sell replicas to the public were set aside after Scott and NASA expressed concerns over the commercialization of the memorial.
Now, almost 50 years later, van Hoeydonck is offering his original "Man on the Moon" concept in recognition of the history behind the "Fallen Astronaut." The limited edition "Man in Space," which floats in a 5.9-inch-tall (15-centimeter) blue acrylic block, is available for 590 euros (about $675 US).
The Breckner Gallery is also offering 35 oversize aluminum figures that stand 16 inches tall (40 cm) for 12,800 euros each (about $14,650 US) and six astronaut-sized figures, each standing nearly 6 feet tall (180 cm), for an undisclosed price.
Van Hoeydonck, now 94, joined Apollo 15 command module pilot Al Worden to reveal the new "Man in Space" limited editions during events held in Berlin and Düsseldorf in late January.
Philip Corneille contributed to the reporting of this article.
Paul van Hoeydonck's "Man in Space" edition recreates the Belgian artist's concept for a statuette that was left on the moon. (Breckner) The Apollo 15 astronauts left this plaque and Paul van Hoeydonck's "Fallen Astronaut" statuette as a memorial on the moon. (NASA) Paul van Hoeydonck with his original prototype for the "Man on the Moon" statuette. (Breckner Gallery/Danny van Hoecke)