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Artist's 'Apollo 18' moon mission launching onto Times Square billboards

Video artist Marco Brambilla's "Apollo XVIII" will count down to a Saturn V launch every night in March in Times Square. (TSAC)
February 27, 2015 — The countdown is on to the launch of Apollo 18 and you're invited to witness it from New York City's Times Square.

Beginning at 11:57 p.m. EST on Sunday (March 1), more than a dozen of Time Square's iconic electronic billboards will broadcast the final minutes ticking down to the launch of a towering Saturn V rocket on a historic mission to land astronauts on the moon.

Can't be there on Sunday? No problem. The three-minute countdown will be repeat every night throughout the month of March.

"Apollo XVIII," created by artist Marco Brambilla, weaves archival footage from real NASA missions with computer-generated imagery to form a countdown to a fictional flight to the moon. It will be shown on Times Square's electronic billboards from 11:57 p.m. to midnight each night in March as part of "Midnight Moment," a presentation by the Times Square Advertising Coalition and Times Square Arts.

Apollo XVIII combines archival footage with virtual renderings to present a "new collective viewing experience." (TSAC/TSA)
"The space age represented a landscape of optimism, capturing the imagination of the public," Brambilla said in a statement announcing the month-long installation. "With Apollo XVIII I hope to recapture the golden age of manned space travel as a spectacle, presenting Times Square as the virtual launch site."

Apollo XVIII uses the countdown to an imagined Saturn V lift-off to present a "new collective viewing experience that will place the public at the foot of a new frontier."

Juxtaposing the space race with the rise of digital media, Apollo XVIII reinterprets humankind's relationship to space exploration in the electronic age.

At the close of Apollo and the dawn of journeys to Mars, as expedition technologies transition from hybrid manned-electronic to virtual models, the NASA program acts as a metaphor for the shift from physical to surrogate modes of exploration, officials behind Apollo XVIII described.

Test footage shared with collectSPACE shows a Saturn V rocket climbing skyward along the 25-story-tall American Eagle Outfitters billboard that towers over Broadway.

"Brambilla's mythical mission combines the memory and romance of past space travel with the frightening velocity of the rocket," Sherry Dobbin, Times Square Arts director, stated. "Only in Times Square can one recreate the scale and magnitude of such an experience."

The video also included imagery of a helmeted astronaut and an Apollo lunar module over the moon.

"'Apollo XVIII' [is] the most ambitious project yet from Marco Brambilla: a fabricated mission of iconic moments from past and present, extrapolating a virtual experience of the future," Michael Fuchs Galerie, partner to Midnight Moment in March, stated. "Apollo XVIII asks the question: is this a real mission, is it fact or fiction?"

In addition to American Eagle's billboards, Apollo XVIII will be shown on 14 other large electronic signs, including on the NASDAQ Tower, the Disney Store, Bank of America and on the Thomson Reuters sign adjacent to One Times Square, the home of the famous New Year's Eve Ball.

Apollo XVIII test footage shows a Saturn V climbing skyward on the 25-story tall American Eagle Outfitters billboards. (TSAC/TSA)
"Brambilla's piece reminds us of Times Square's place at the cutting-edge of technological innovation and cultural exploration," stated Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance. "Apollo XVIII will immerse Times Square in the future of space travel and bring the neighborhood to new heights through its innovative imagery."

Though Apollo XVIII is the first space exploration-themed installment since the Midnight Moment program premiered in May 2012, it is not the first time that NASA imagery has appeared in Times Square. Just a week before Apollo 11 made the first manned moon landing on July 20, 1969, an 18-story-tall Saturn V rocket (about half its actual size) was projected on the east side of One Times Square (then known as the Allied Chemical Tower).

More recently, crowds gathered in Times Square on Aug. 5, 2012, to watch the landing of NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars. And in 2014, Toshiba marked the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission with special video countdowns in Times Square timed to the exact moments that the Eagle touched down at Tranquility Base and when astronaut Neil Armstrong took his first step onto the moon.

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Marco Brambilla's Apollo XVIII
Video credit: TSAC/TSA

Billboards showing Apollo XVIII

The following Times Square digital screens are participating in the Midnight Moment:
  • ABC Super Sign
  • American Eagle Times Square
  • Bank of America
  • Branded Cities 7 Times Square
  • Branded Cities 1 Times Square
  • Branded Cities NASDAQ Tower Times Square
  • Branded Cities Thomson Reuters
  • Outfront Media 1515 Broadway/ Viacom North & South
  • City Outdoor
  • Clear Channel
  • Spectacolor HD127/CNN
  • Clear Channel Spectacolor HD128
  • Disney Store Spectacular
  • Superior Digital Displays Three Times Square #5