|"The Fallen Astronaut"|
There lies a tribute, made physically out of aluminium, dedicated to the gallant space explorers who have furthered our imagination and knowledge about the cosmos. We have been visiting the moon quite often these days, powered by superior spacesuits and rovers. But our 'out of the world' journey too had a humble beginning.
Our search into the vast unknown began with a lens pointed at the sky in the 16th century. An Italian polymath named Galileo famously denounced “assumptions” about the cosmos, and triggered a scientific revolution – one which has since mesmerised men and women post Renaissance.
Over centuries, the obsession to find answers finally propelled us into the Space Age. On 12 April 1961, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut became the first human to journey into outer space when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth. Eight years hence, on July 21, 1969, we heard a cackle on the radio and then the immortal words, "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind" when Astronaut Neil Alden Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface. We had just made a dent in the Universe.
Since then, many brave men and women have contributed immensely to our scientific advancement and in our quest for knowledge beyond the horizon.
Many have lived on to tell the tale, many have fallen.
The sculpture of the “Fallen Astronaut” is a testimony to those who are remembered for their valuable contribution in space exploration. It is an 8.5-centimetre aluminium sculpture created by the Belgian artist Paul Van Hoeydonck in the year 1971. The small sculpture looks like an astronaut in a spacesuit, intended to commemorate the astronauts and cosmonauts who have died in the advancement of space exploration.
The story goes on as follows: Paul Van Hoeydonck was visiting New York City in 1969 when he stumbled into a conversation about creating a sculpture to be placed on the moon. It was a crazy idea, but it didn't stop Paul from pursuing it.
|Paul Van Hoeydonck with the figure in front of the Empire State Building|
Later, Hoeydonck met with the commander of the Apollo 15 mission to the moon - David Scott and shared his idea. It was then decided that Hoeydonck would fashion out the statuette in aluminium and Scott would carry it to be placed on the moon in his next mission.
|Plaque with 14 names|
In July 1971, Scott took in the figurine and a small plaque listing 14 names (of eight American astronauts and six Soviet cosmonauts who had died in service) aboard Apollo 15 spacecraft. At 12:18 A.M. GMT on August 2, 1971, during a spacewalk, the commander placed both items in the Hadley Rille-Apennine region of the moon hidden from NASA’s knowledge. Since both items were sneaked in incognito, as the famous anecdote goes, Scott simply said that he was "cleaning up behind the Rover" over recorded communications. Only one other man knew what Scott was doing - Mission pilot Jim Irwin.
Although it was done in secrecy, Scott had photographed the commemorative but revealed the existence of such a memorial in a post-mission press conference. Post the conference, the National Air and Space Museum requested that a replica is made for public display to which the crew agreed on one condition – that it be displayed "with good taste and without publicity", shortly after which a controversy followed.
|A replica of the aluminium figure|
The replica of the aluminium statuette and the plaque is now on display in the Museum's National Mall Building in the Space Race Wing, Gallery 114 after it was handed over to the Smithsonian Institution on April 17, 1972.