HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE CITY'S COLLECTION: LUNAR FOOTPRINT
Alex Irrera, Civic Art + Design Assistant
On July 20, 1969 at 20:18 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time), mankind touched down on a celestial body other than Earth. Carried out by American space mission Apollo 11, the first landing of humans on the moon was piloted by astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. With Collins in lunar orbit in the command spacecraft Columbia, fellow spacemen Armstrong and Aldrin directed the Eagle lunar module towards the moon’s Sea of Tranquility. About seven hours after skillfully maneuvering around the Sea’s plethora of boulders to a safe landing, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon—with the eyes of over half a billion people watching him from their terrestrial television sets.
Commemorating this historic achievement of scientific determination and genius, Houston is home to its own Tranquillity Park. Located in Downtown Houston, the park was dedicated in 1979 for the tenth anniversary of man’s first lunar landing. On one of the park’s rough exterior walls, hang bronze plaques that repeats Armstrong’s transmission to Earth, "Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed," in fifteen different languages. Also wall-bound, is a stainless steel relief of an Apollo 11 astronaut walking on the moon, entitled One Step for Mankind. Surrounded by black granite plaques, the fuzzy image was borrowed by artist Naomi Savage from a film negative taken during the first moon landing. The artwork was created through an intaglio photo etching process, in which chemicals and light combine to corrode or eat away at metal surface with great precision. Savage was the niece of pioneering modern artist and photographer Man Ray, whom she apprenticed under in the late 1940s. Through his instruction, Savage became interested in experimentation with photogravure and photoengraving, among other types of printmaking. Savage explored a wide variety of subject matter (including portraits, landscapes, masks, kitchen utensils, and dental and ophthalmological equipment) throughout her career.
Secluded behind the park’s walls, are water features and footpaths, slight hills and slopes—which allude to the moon’s craters—and the large Wortham Fountains (by park architect Charles Tapley) that features stainless steel cylinders designed to represent the Apollo 11 rocket boosters. Amidst these many elements is a simple plaque set into the park’s brick pavement. Entitled Lunar Footprint, the work depicts Neil Armstrong’s first step onto the moon’s surface. Engraved around the footprint replica are the famous (and debated) words that Neil Armstrong spoke in witness to the historic moment, “…one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
When the Apollo 11 spacecraft splashed into the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969 (about 812 nautical miles southwest of Hawaii), Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins fulfilled a promise set by President John F. Kennedy that Americans would walk on the moon—and return home safely—before the end of the decade. Armstrong and Aldrin became the first humans to traverse the moon’s surface, spending about two and a half hours outside of the spacecraft collecting samples, conducting experiments, and transmitting observational information back to Earth.
Although several missions to the moon have followed, this first accomplishment by Apollo 11 remains a moving symbol of scientific feat and exploration. The mission—and the art and artifacts created to memorialize it—will continue to inspire generations of scientists and science enthusiasts for years to come.
NASA. "July 20, 1969: One Giant Leap For Mankind." Posted July 14, 2014. https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/apollo11.html
City of Houston. "Art in Parks: One Step for Mankind." http://www.houstontx.gov/parks/artinparks/onestepforMankind.html
International Center for Photography. "Naomi Savage." https://www.icp.org/browse/archive/constituents/naomi-savage?all/all/all/all/0
City of Houston. "Lunar Footprint." http://www.houstontx.gov/parks/artinparks/lunafootprint.html
City of Houston. "Wortham Fountains." http://www.houstontx.gov/parks/artinparks/worthamfountains.html