Fallen Astronaut

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Fallen Astronaut
Fallen Astronaut.jpg
Dimensions8.5 cm (3.3 in)
LocationMoon, Hadley Rille
Coordinates26°07′56″N 3°38′02″E / 26.13222°N 3.63386°E / 26.13222; 3.63386Coordinates: 26°07′56″N 3°38′02″E / 26.13222°N 3.63386°E / 26.13222; 3.63386

Fallen Astronaut is an 8.5-centimeter (3.3 in) aluminium sculpture created by Paul Van Hoeydonck. It is a small stylized figure, meant to depict an astronaut in a spacesuit, intended to commemorate the astronauts and cosmonauts who have died in the advancement of space exploration. It was commissioned and placed on the Moon by the crew of Apollo 15 at Hadley Rille on August 1, 1971, next to a plaque listing the fourteen men known at the time to have died.[1]

The crew kept the memorial's existence a secret until after completion of their mission. After public disclosure, the National Air and Space Museum requested and received a replica of the statue. Controversy soon followed, as Van Hoeydonck claimed a different understanding of the agreement made with the astronauts and attempted to sell up to 950 copies of the statue. He finally relented under pressure from NASA, which has a strict policy against commercial exploitation of the US government space program.


Portrait of Van Hoeydonck by Willy Bosschem

Prior to his Apollo 15 lunar mission, astronaut David Scott met Belgian painter and printmaker Paul Van Hoeydonck at a dinner party. It was there agreed that Van Hoeydonck would create a small statuette for Scott to place on the Moon, though their recollections of the details disagree. Scott's purpose was to commemorate those astronauts and cosmonauts who had lost their lives in the furtherance of space exploration, and he designed and separately made a plaque listing fourteen American and Soviet names. Van Hoeydonck was given a set of design specifications: the sculpture was to be lightweight but sturdy, capable of withstanding the temperature extremes of the Moon; it could not be identifiably male or female, nor of any identifiable ethnic group. According to Scott, it was agreed Van Hoeydonck's name would not be made public, to avoid the commercial exploitation of the US government's space program.[2] Scott kept the agreement secret from NASA management prior to the mission, smuggling the statue aboard his spacecraft.

Van Hoeydonck gives a different account of the agreement: according to an interview in Belgian newspaper Le Soir, the statue was supposed to be a representation of all mankind, not only fallen astronauts or cosmonauts. He claimed he did not know the statue would be used as a memorial for the fallen space-goers, and the name given to the work was neither chosen nor approved by him; he had intended the figure to be left standing upright. He also denies it was agreed he would remain anonymous.[2][3] Both his and Scott's versions of events are given in an article in Slate magazine in 2013.[2]

Placement on the Moon[edit]

During the Apollo 15 mission, near the completion of his work on the lunar surface on August 1, 1971, Scott secretly placed the Fallen Astronaut on the Moon, along with a plaque bearing the names of eight American astronauts and six Soviet cosmonauts who had died in service:

Name Date Cause
Theodore C. Freeman October 31, 1964 aircraft accident
Charles A. Bassett II February 28, 1966 aircraft accident
Elliot M. See Jr.
Virgil I. Grissom January 27, 1967 Apollo 1 fire
Roger B. Chaffee
Edward H. White II
Vladimir M. Komarov April 24, 1967 Soyuz 1 re-entry parachute failure
Edward G. Givens Jr. June 6, 1967 automobile accident
Clifton C. Williams Jr. October 5, 1967 aircraft accident
Yuri A. Gagarin March 27, 1968 aircraft accident
Pavel I. Belyayev January 10, 1970 illness
Georgiy T. Dobrovolsky June 30, 1971 Soyuz 11 re-entry
pressurization failure
Viktor I. Patsayev
Vladislav N. Volkov


Scott photographed the memorial, but waited for a post-mission press conference to publicly disclose its existence. Later, he noted that "Sadly, two names are missing (from the plaque), those of Valentin Bondarenko and Grigori Nelyubov."[5] He explained that the western world was unaware of their deaths, because of the secrecy surrounding the Soviet space program at the time. Also missing was the name of Robert Henry Lawrence Jr., the first black astronaut and a U.S. Air Force officer selected for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program who was killed in a training accident in 1967.[6]


Query from Jan Stalmans to Van Hoeydonck about the number of outstanding replicas, with handwritten reply

After the crew disclosed the statuette's existence during their press conference, the National Air and Space Museum requested that a replica be made for public display. The crew agreed, on condition that it be displayed "with good taste and without publicity". The replica was given to the Smithsonian Institution on April 17, 1972, the day after CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite referred to the Fallen Astronaut and plaque as the first art installation on the Moon during the broadcast of the Apollo 16 launch.[7] It is now on display with a replica of the plaque[8] in the Museum's National Mall Building in the Space Race Wing, Gallery 114.

In May 1972, Scott learned that Van Hoeydonck planned to make and sell more replicas. Believing that this would be a violation of the spirit of their agreement, and NASA's policy against commercial exploitation of the space program, Scott tried to persuade Van Hoeydonck to refrain. It was advertised in a full-page advertisement in the July 1972 issue of Art in America magazine,[9][10] that 950 replicas of Fallen Astronaut signed by the sculptor would be sold by the Waddell Gallery of New York for $750 each;[11] a second edition, at a lower, unspecified price; and a catalog edition, at $5.[12]

After complaints from NASA about the intended sale, Van Hoeydonck retracted his permission for it and no statues were sold.[13]

On September 11, 2007, art journalist Jan Stalmans wrote to Van Hoeydonck, asking him how many replicas were in existence. Van Hoeydonk returned a handwritten response on the letter, that 50 copies had been made, most of which were still in his possession, unsigned. Van Hoeydonck wrote that he had only ever received money for one copy of Fallen Astronaut, despite many purchase offers he had received (see the English translation of the letter).[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sculpture, Fallen Astronaut". Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Powell & Shapiro 2013
  3. ^ Le Soir & 17 July 2009, p. 19
  4. ^ "images.jsc.nasa.gov". images.jsc.nasa.gov. 1971-08-01. Archived from the original on 2013-02-17. Retrieved 2013-04-29.
  5. ^ Leonov & Scott 2013, p. 313
  6. ^ Oberg, James (2005-02-23). "The Unsung Astronaut". NBC News. Retrieved 2016-01-20.
  7. ^ "Sculpture, Fallen Astronaut". si.edu.
  8. ^ "Plaque, Fallen Astronaut and Cosmonaut, Reproduction". si.edu.
  9. ^ Associated Press (21 July 1972). "Commercialism Taints Another Apollo Memento". Modesto Bee. p. 7.
  10. ^ Check-Six.com – Fallen Astronaut – includes copy of July 1972 Art in America ad
  11. ^ "NASA News Release 72-189". Collectspace.com. Retrieved 2013-04-29.
  12. ^ Wieck, Paul (25 July 1972). "Anderson Will Probe Unauthorized Sales". Albuquerque Journal. p. 16.
  13. ^ Van den Bussche 1980, pp. 16–17

External links[edit]