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The Art of Science

May 30, 2011

On a clear Florida day in 1964, engineers were preparing for a new adventure in space: Project Gemini -- a craft that would carry two astronauts into space instead of one. Artist James Wyeth recorded the scene: the blockhouse mounding up like a concrete blister, the fire-engine-red gantry looming behind it against a hazy blue sky. And in the foreground, looking as though a child had abandoned it during an afternoon baseball game, a bicycle leans against the blockhouse -- a bit of low-tech serving the high-tech space program.

Wyeth's watercolor, "Gemini Launch Pad," is one of more than 70 works on display in an exhibit that's opening at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

The exhibit is titled NASA-Art: 50 Years of Exploration. All of its works were commissioned by NASA as part of its art program, which began in 1962.

The space agency was already recording its work in photographs, movies, and videos. But the agency also wanted to capture the space program in ways that film and videotape cannot. So it began commissioning artists to draw, paint, and sculpt their own impressions of the program.

Over the decades, the list of artists has included Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol, and Annie Leibovitz. They've recorded launches and landings, the minutiae of the space business, and alien landscapes.

The art program continues today -- capturing the beauty, power, and mystery of space exploration in ways that no camera ever will.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


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