139 – The Final Impossibility: Man’s Tracks on the Moon
Story illustration for Look Magazine (December 30, 1969)
Oil on canvas
[NARRATOR] Over his 65-year career, Rockwell was in the unique position to cover many of the major events of the 20th century — from Charles Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic, to Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon.
Rockwell covered the space race for Look. Ever the perfectionist, he traveled to NASA to get every detail correct.
[HENNESSEY] He knew what the lunar landing module looked like long before most of the American public did.
[NARRATOR] For this 1969 image, he brought an Apollo moon suit back to his Stockbridge, Massachusetts studio to ensure absolute authenticity.
Unlike most of his work, where the story is told though the characters’ expressions, these astronauts’ faces are obscured. Rockwell began work on this illustration before the Apollo 11 launch, and before the identity of the final crew was decided.
[HENNESSEY] So in a sense it was much safer for him to create these kind of anonymous astronauts appearing on the moon, because he didn’t necessarily know it would be Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. …
While many of us remember Neil Armstrong and his famous first words…. I think what’s more important through time will be the … fact that a human being walked on the moon, and not the specifics of who the 13 individuals were who went to the moon, and that’s, I think, some of what Rockwell was capturing here as well.
[NARRATOR] You know I never like to fake things in my paintings, so I went along to the moon to make sure I got this one right.
No, sorry, just kidding. I did go to the launch headquarters in Florida, though. I got to poke around and draw the rockets up close. They even gave me one of these moon suits to take home with me to use in my studio.
Now, today you might think–walking on the moon?–big deal! But back in 1969, when your parents were kids, you’d go out at night and look at the moon shining in the sky and think — there’s people walking around up there, right now! — it was unbelievable!
Look at how I put the paint on the canvas. Most of the painting is smooth. But look at the bottom of the painting, where you can see the astronaut’s footprints. Here, I made the paint thick and lumpy. I even added some pebbles and sand to make it look more real. See how the surface of the moon sparkles a little?