Capturing the Moment

The launch of an Apollo mission must surely be one of the most memorable events for anyone who witnessed it.  Sending human beings to another world is a idea which captures the imagination, and hopefully will do so again in the not-too-distant future, but those of us who were not physically present on the day must rely on the images provided by photographs and television coverage produced at the time, as well as the descriptions provided by those who were actually there.Apollo on Pad

In the latest edition of Odyssey, issued earlier this month, I talk about how the science fiction and science writer Isaac Asimov described the launch of Apollo 17 – the only night-time launch in the series – in his article The Triumph of the Moon, originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1973.  In his superb style, he gave the reader an understanding of what it felt like to be there and to experience such an extraordinary incident as the launch of a Saturn V rocket.Odyssey: Apollo 15

Similarly, art can give us a sense of the feelings that went through the mind of an observer, beyond the more straightforward images seen in photographs.  The space artist and BIS Fellow David Hardy was fortunate to be present at the launch of Apollo 15 during the morning of 26th July 1971, and he recorded the event in evocative sketches which he made at the time.

The first image shows the scene before the launch.   Stars are still visible in the sky as it lightens towards dawn and all seems peaceful and calm.  In the distance, the rocket stands floodlit on Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, and we suspect that the three astronauts may be on their way, or even have already entered the spacecraft.  The lights among the silhouettes of other structures suggest the activity that is taking place all around, and we get a sense that all is about to change.

The countdown for Apollo 15 went according to plan and the launch took place exactly on time.  In the second sketch, we see the scene a few seconds after the engine has fired and the rocket clears the tower.  The contrast to the first image is dramatic.  The effects of the blast are seen all around as the explorers climb towards Low Earth Orbit, before venturing on in their voyage to the Moon.

It brings home the excitement of the time, and the fact that these were some of the very few humans who broke free of the Earth’s gravity to travel beyond.  The conquest of another world is well expressed in one of David’s most recent paintings, which is being used by the BIS on a commemorative T-shirt and tie for the fiftieth anniversary this year of the landing of Apollo 11, and which will be available soon from the Society’s e-shop.Apollo 50th T-Shirt

Here we see the familiar image of an Apollo astronaut standing on the lunar surface, based on the iconic photo of Buzz Aldrin as he looked back at Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission, the reflection in his visor making clear that his colleague is capturing this image.  His footprints on the ground remind us that the human race has made its mark here for all time, and the flag he is holding makes clear who has been responsible for this momentous event.  But this is a scene which could not have been photographed – the Earth and stars are visible in the clear lunar sky.  It represents instead a concept of humanity’s domination of the Moon and perhaps, in this sense, of space itself.

David’s work has inspired anyone interested in space exploration for many years, and he will be talking on the subject on 3rd April 2019 at BIS HQ, starting at 19.00.  This will be an occasion not to be missed, as he discusses the early years of space art, with reference to many of the great names such as Chesley Bonestell as the Society’s own R A Smith.  Well worth a visit to Vauxhall, though David’s artwork can always be viewed on his website – The AstroArt of David A Hardy.


Richard Hayes, Assistant Editor (Odyssey)

With a lifetime’s interest in science, history and human behaviour, Richard Hayes focuses his writing on how the imagination has created the world in which we live, and where it may lead us in the future.  Odyssey, the e-magazine of the British Interplanetary Society, draws on the rich treasury of science fiction to explore many fields of speculation, enabling us to glimpse what might yet be, both here on Earth and out amongst the stars.

For related Odyssey posts, please click here: Farsensing the Cosmos?Seeing Ourselves As Others See Us

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