Artistic Astronauts

Commonly associated with STEM fields, space exploration is rarely discussed within the same realm of art. 

Yet, art has been intertwined with NASA for more than 50 years, helping tell the story of how humans are exploring space.  

Alan Bean exemplifies what it means to be an artistic astronaut.

As the fourth man to walk on the moon and the lunar module pilot for Apollo 12, Bean began his art career after returning back to Earth.

Using pieces of his spacesuit, the imprints of moon boots, and dust from the landing site, Bean created artwork that tells the story of the Apollo 12 mission.  

According to astronaut Neil Armstrong, “Alan Bean and his astro artistry recreate the drama and excitement of man’s exploration of the moon as only could be chronicled by one who has been there.”

Bean, who passed in 2018, is not the only astronaut who has entered the art world.

Astronaut Nicole Stott became the first to paint with watercolors in space during her 2009 mission.

Through her unique vantage point from space, Stott aimed to use her work to promote the importance of art and science. 

“Being able to look out the window and see something and paint my interpretation of it seemed meaningful,” Stott recalled.

“Maybe my artwork is a way to uniquely share my experience. It’s been a really wonderful way to connect with people about appreciating where we live on this single planet.”

Integrating space and art was a priority for NASA’s second administrator, Jim Webb.

In 1962, Webb established NASA’s art program because he believed there was a need to capture the history that was being made and portray it for the American people.

Bill Barr, NASA’s chief historian, states, “Art is part of what makes us human. It captures the feeling of what it means to explore, which is what discovery is all about.” 

Much of the art from Webb’s program, as well as pieces by Bean and Stott, is shown at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

NASA is still producing art, however, out of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and from artists Robert Hurt and Tim Pyle at the California Institute of Technology.

Hurt and Pyle have been working for 15 years at Caltech as an artistic duo.

Creating illustrations of how the Milky Way or exoplanets might look if we could see for ourselves, these artists have captured uber-realistic renderings of the unknown. 

On the topic of space art, visual designer Joby Harris states,

"Art fills in the blanks between the facts where space is undefined. And when data goes through another human, it becomes emotional and real." 

Igniting people’s imaginations, these pieces and artists remind people about the allure of space travel.

As stated by Bean, these artworks  “...record the beginnings of a quest never to end, our journey out among the stars.” 

*partially sourced @


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