I’ve spent many hours recently on NASA’s website exploring their Apollo Mission materials preparing for the exhibit of NASA photographs from the Apollo Missions on display in the library’s Gallery 708, Friday, June 21-Monday, July 22, 2019. This exhibit celebrates the 50th anniversary of humans landing on the moon on July 20, 1969. Special thanks to the Salina Arts and Humanities Horizons Fund for providing part of the necessary resources to print and share these iconic, historical photographs with Salinans at the library this summer.
As I explored and researched the beautiful photographs, I was struck by the breadth and magnitude of work and manpower required to execute the Apollo Missions during the 1960s. I was in awe comparing the technology then and now. Notice the amount of paper being used for missions in the above slideshow? Note that John C. Houbolt is using a blackboard to explain scientific concepts for lunar landings because dry erasable markers hadn’t been invented yet. That’s right, we were sending people into space before laptops, cell phones and even whiteboard* technology had been perfected. The technology pictured in Apollo Mission documentary photography in so many ways is quaint by today’s modern standards. Similarly, I remember my first visit to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., where I was in awe of the primitive looking spacecraft that had supported human life. Some of the spacecraft materials appeared to be as thin and flimsy as tinfoil (see Apollo 11 image below ).
*Whiteboards were introduced into use in the 1960s, but they had problems, markers left a residue staining the surface. Thus whiteboards didn’t become commonplace until decades later. Dry erasable markers weren’t patented until 1975.
Joking aside, the Apollo Missions are a testament to our human spirit, to go beyond our limits. The 1960s were fraught with difficulty too as the Vietnam War raged on, looking towards space provided the ultimate escape. The Apollo Missions were certainly motivated as a result of the Space Race, the international competition between the United States and Russia. Late President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech, the American citizens and congressional support were the foundation that provided the resources and perseverance needed for NASA to succeed in putting the first man on the moon.
You may be wondering why we are exhibiting photographs of space in the library’s “art gallery.” This exhibit is not just about science, it’s also about the importance of creativity and the convergence of the arts in space. Art and artists provide vital skills and tools in science fields. Illustrative and technical drawings and photography are the most publicly visible creative tools scientists use. In addition, visualizing projects requires creative skills, which are important elements of the work of engineers, architects, map makers, etc. Scientists and astronauts rely on technical drawings and may be called upon to create their own visual renderings of their findings during the research process. In addition, visual communication tools were and are today vital to educating and sharing with the public the work NASA is doing. Photography, video and even painting have been vital aspects to the space program, scientifically!
Project LOLA or Lunar Orbit and Landing Approach, as pictured above, was a simulator built to study problems that may arise in relation to the lunar surface during the Apollo Missions of the 1960s. The simulator consisted of a machine with a cockpit, CCTV system and four large murals or scale models of the lunar surface. Painters were employed in this $2 million dollar project to create the moon surface murals used. The idea behind the project was to provide a training simulator for astronauts to familiarize themselves with the surface of the moon before landing.
Sifting through the hundreds of beautiful and magnificent images from NASA’s Apollo Missions, there was a notable absence of both women and minorities. Though not pictured, we know that there were women and minorities, in fact, working behind the scenes as human computers among other tasks in 1960s NASA. The first woman in space, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, actually flew in 1963. However, like other fields, NASA was slow to employ women and minorities in key visible roles, such as astronauts, until the 1980s. I hope that 50 years from now, as we celebrate the next NASA milestone, that it includes a plethora of photographs and other media that reflect the dynamic population of citizens that call this beautiful blue ball home.
I look forward to seeing you at the Gallery 708 reception for the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing 4-6 p.m. Thursday, July 18. Come for the photos that begin with Apollo 1 and move through the decade through the last Apollo Mission, number 17. Enjoy some era-appropriate spacey treats and stay for a “First Man” movie screening in the Prescott Room after the reception starting at 6 p.m.
“First Man” is a look at the life of astronaut Neil Armstong and the legendary space mission, Apollo 11, that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon July 20, 1969. This movie is rated PG-13.
Looking for further reading and media on the Apollo Missions? The library’s collection has you covered with these new and incoming titles:
Apollo 11 | DVD Documentary
Moonshot : the flight of Apollo 11 | Youth book for ages 4-7
Shoot for the Moon: the Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11 | New 2019 Book by Jim Donovan
One Giant Leap: the Impossible Mission that Flew us to the Moon | U.S. Space History Simon & Schuster, 2019 by Charles Fishman
Moon Landings | a new youth DK title by Shoshana Weider
Space | by DK Publishing & Smithsonian Institution
Universe | by DK Publishing & Smithsonian Institution
The Gallery 708 Exhibit “Moon Landing 50th Anniversary —NASA Images from the Apollo Missions” was funded in part by the Horizons Grants Program of the Salina Arts and Humanities Foundation. Funding is provided by Horizons, a private donor group.