THE GREAT MOMENT by PAUL CALLE in commemoration of the TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE APOLLO XI MOON LANDING
I confess that my memory is fading a bit, as I think back on what happened 20 years ago. I certainly remember Apollo XI’s thundering launch, the noise and fire from the gigantic machine blasting all other thoughts from my consciousness. I still remember vividly the sight of the distant earth, a tiny but incredibly beautiful blue and white beacon, beckoning me home. I remember the stark contrast between this jewel, our home planet, and the sterile rock pile we call the moon.
Alone in the command module, I did not see Neil Armstrong step out into the fine dust of Tranquility Base. I did hear Neil and shared with millions back on earth a moment of immense pride as he said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Paul Calle not only heard that, but in his mind’s eye he saw it. Fortunately, Paul’s eye is an exceptional one, and he transports all of us to the moon with Armstrong, to share this historic first human step on another planet.
We, in the American space program, have been fortunate to have had gifted leadership. James E. Webb was the Administrator of NASA during its formative years when we were building our lunar machines in response to President John F. Kennedy’s clear goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.” Thomas O. Paine followed Webb and was NASA’s leader at the time of Armstrong’s first step. Both men clearly understood the place art has always had documenting exploration. As Webb put it, “Important events can be interpreted by artists to give a unique insight into significant aspects of our history-making advance into space.” Paine noted that “…we have a solemn obligation to leave for future generations a truthful record at all levels of perception, and for this the imagination and insight of the artist are invaluable assets.”
I certainly share that view. As a photographer aboard Apollo XI, I certainly knew my limitations — and they are even more obvious to me today. Astronauts are skilled and highly trained observers. Most of us have been test pilots, and we are accustomed to remembering and recording the maneuvers of our airplanes. Our language, however, is highly technical. We speak of temperatures, pressure velocities, accelerations, vibrations. These yardsticks are of vital interest to the engineers, but beyond that — what was it really like in space? Our cameras were very good, but the finest emulsions are crude compared to the precision of the human eye. On film, colors fade, details blur. Astronauts are invariably disappointed after a flight to discover that what emerges from the photo lab is but a pale carbon copy of the view they remember. Furthermore, cameras are generally attached to the astronaut, who cannot retreat a few paces to view a scene with the ideal perspective.
At this point, enter an artist like Paul Calle. Whether working with pencil or brush, Paul combines the insight, the raw talent and the highly developed technique that enable him to go beyond technology and present an image of the human spirit. This print of my friend Neil Armstrong by my friend Paul Calle combines for me the best of two worlds: NASA’s technological achievements and an artist’s exquisite interpretation of it. It looks as beautiful today as it did 20 years ago, as it will 100 years from now.
Paul was with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and me the morning of our launch while we had breakfast in our crew quarters and during our suiting up in Cape Kennedy. In a sense he was equally at home with us on our trip to the moon. We took along with us a stamp die from the U.S. Postal Service, a Paul Calle flag commemorating our flight. Issued in 1969, the First Man on the Moon stamp had a distribution exceeding 150 billion.
Paul understood what we were about on Apollo XI, and this magnificent print presents in a unique way the result of a gifted artist’s creativity and skill. Thank you, Paul.
Apollo XI Command Module Pilot
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