Human World

Astronomy art: Voices of Apollo 11

Voices of Apollo 11: an image of the moon, built up of letters from the Apollo 11 transmissions.
View larger. | An image of a full moon, made entirely of words. They are the transcripts of the onboard voice transmissions of the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. Image via J-P Metsavainio.

Voices of Apollo 11

As we celebrate the 52nd anniversary of the first human footsteps on the moon – which took place on July 20, 1969 – we’d like to bring some new astronomy art to your attention. Finnish astronomy artist J-P Metsavainio collected all the Apollo 11 transmissions and used them to construct an image of a full moon. He did this as a tribute to lunar astronaut Michael Collins, who died this year, on April 28, 2021. Metsavainio described his new image on his blog. He wrote:

I downloaded NASA’s original full transcript of Apollo 11’s onboard voice conversations. The idea was to turn this text into an image of the moon. After a few weeks of intense work at a feverish pace, my tribute was ready. Now the moon is made up entirely of Apollo 11 voice transcription letters. 

This is also a tribute to the entire Apollo 11 team: Commander Neil A. Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin E. [Buzz] Aldrin Jr.

Michael Collins died just nine days after tweeting about a previous work by Metsavainio (an incredible Milky Way image that took 12 years to make). Metsavainio recounted:

I was most gratified and deeply moved when Michael Collins – the Apollo 11 and Gemini 10 astronaut, author, explorer and artist – tweeted […] about my work on April 19, 2021. The news of his passing, just nine days later, hit me all the harder. It was a very emotional moment for me. Out of the blue, I got inspired to create this artwork. I absolutely had to do it right away, which I did.

Michael Collins was also an artist. His iconic photos made from moon orbit are true art and part of mankind’s greatest cultural heritage treasure.

Part of the moon's surface, constructed of hundreds of lines of text.
View full image. | A close-up of the image of a full moon, made of words spoken by Apollo 11 astronauts while visiting the moon in 1969. Image via J-P Metsavainio.

The loneliest man in history

At the same time Neil Armstrong was making history as the first human to set foot on the moon, Michael Collins was all alone aboard a spacecraft orbiting the moon. He was the astronaut who stayed behind on the command module, Columbia, while his two crew mates were testing out the moon’s surface in person.

And that’s why many affectionately called Michael Collins the loneliest man in history.

When he flew solo behind the moon, he was without radio contact with anyone. Meanwhile, his colleagues, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, were making history with their first steps on the moon.

So, here at EarthSky, we think that this is a fitting image to celebrate the July 20 moon landing. Like most astronomical images, it is not only a beautiful image, but full of information. Apart from the Apollo 11 communications, Metsavainio also pointed out the landing site. If you zoom into the image far enough at the right spot, you can find it marked by two letters in red.

Moon surface made of words in light and dark grays, with two letters in red.
View larger. | Two red letters mark the spot where the Apollo 11 lander touched down on lunar soil. Image via J-P Metsavainio.
A moon lander above a brown/beige moon, with a crescent Earth behind.
The Eagle as it has left the moon and is approaching Columbia. Image via M. Collins/ NASA.

Working in solitude

Metsavainio recounts how he connected to Collins’ lonely and otherworldly experience as he was working:

A similar solitude gripped me while I was creating this tribute image. For being an astronomical photographer and a visual artist often is a very lonely job. Especially this time as I was deeply emotional throughout my creative process for this artwork. Even though I never met him personally, the end of his Earthly mission meant more to me than I was prepared for. I needed to make this photo-based artwork to process the inner storm of my thoughts and feelings.


Apollo 11 transmission words in different shades of gray, forming in image of the moon.
View larger. | A close-up of the artwork shows how the image is made up entirely of only letters, letters from the transcription of Apollo 11’s Command Module recorder data. Image via J-P Metsavainio.

Bottom line: Astronomy artist J-P Metsavainio has created an image of the moon, using all the words spoken to Earth by Apollo 11 astronauts, while on the moon. The image serves as a tribute to Michaels Collins, who died in April, 2021, as well as the entire Apollo 11 crew on this the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo moon landing.

July 19, 2021
Human World

Like what you read?
Subscribe and receive daily news delivered to your inbox.

Your email address will only be used for EarthSky content. Privacy Policy
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

More from 

Theresa Wiegert

View All