As we approach the 50th anniversary of several important dates in the history of space exploration, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston presents this selection of photographs from our permanent collection celebrating our fascination with space and the exploration that has become possible since the last half of the 20th century.
From the moment of photography's invention, the staff of the Paris Observatory recognized the medium's unique ability to record and advance studies of the moon, the planets, and the stars.
The first daguerreotype of the sun was made by Jean Bernard Leon Foucault (1819-1868) and Hippolyte Fizeau (1819-1896) at the observatory in April 1845.
Other distinguished astronomical photographs were made by the astronomers Prospere Henry (1849-1903) and his brother, Paul-Pierre Henry (1848-1905), and slightly later, by Maurice Loewy (1833-1907) and Pierre Henri Puiseux. The Henry brothers were not only skilled astronomers but also "optical geniuses" who designed a special camera for the observatory telescope. Between 1896 and 1910, Loewy and Puiseux published seventy-one photographic plates in a twelve-part atlas of the moon, which remained the most comprehensive work on the subject for fifty years.
When Edward Sheriff Curtis made this photograph in 1915, he wrote "The Qagyuhl people thought that
an eclipse is the result of an attempt of some creature in the sky to swallow the luminary: In order to compel the monster to disgorge it, the people dance round a smouldering fire of old clothing and hair, the stench of which, rising to his nostrils, is expected to cause him to sneeze and disgorge the moon."
Apollo 9 Command/Service Modules (CSM), collectively nicknamed "Gumdrop", and Lunar Module (LM), nicknamed "Spider", are shown docked together as Command Module pilot David R. Scott stands in the open hatch. Astronaut Russell L. Schweickart, Lunar Module pilot, took this photograph of Scott during his EVA as he stood on the porch outside the Lunar Module. Apollo 9 was an Earth orbital mission designed to test docking procedures between the CSM and LM as well as test fly the Lunar Module in the relative safe confines of Earth orbit.
The astronauts are supposed to make photographs of a purely scientific value, but their human experiences and observations appear on the picture discs from each flight. Charles Duke and Charles J. Precourt incorporated their families into their missions by arranging family portraits in the unique surroundings of space.
The majority of the text in this exhibition appears in Anne Tucker’s “Quest for the Moon and Other Stories: Three Decades of Astronauts in Space” (The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1994).
Information about Skylab Mission is quoted from http://grin.hq.nasa.gov/ABSTRACTS/GPN-2000-001055.html. Information about Mars Pathfinder is quoted from http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mars-pathfinder.
Thanks to Anne Wilkes Tucker, Jason Dibley, Kim Pashko, Margaret Mims, Caroline Goeser, NASA and the Google Cultural Institute.
Design: Flora Brooks and Matthew Lawson