Astronomy art: Voices of Apollo 11
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.
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.
— Michael Collins (@AstroMCollins) April 19, 2021
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.
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.
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.