One of the most reproduced NASA images, this photograph of an Apollo 11 astronaut on the Moon shows Buzz Aldrin, not Neil Armstrong as many believe.  

 In this spontaneous picture, Aldrin’s arm is raised, perhaps to read the checklist sewn onto his left glove. His right boot digs into the dust. A protective gold visor hides his face. Image courtesy of NASA.

Armstrong served as photographer—he can be seen reflected in Aldrin’s visor. Aldrin recalled Armstrong saying, “Stop and turn.”

Learn more about taking the spontaneous photograph.  


This image—the space–suited Apollo astronaut standing and facing the camera—became an iconic symbol of American accomplishment and was reproduced in books, films, television, and items of popular culture.

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Moon Walker 
Mitchell Jamieson 
Serigraph on paper

Chosen as the first artist for NASA’s Project Mercury, Mitchell Jamieson created works that evolved from enthusiastic images to darker ones that reflected the deep conflict he felt about American actions in Vietnam and Cambodia. Jamieson feared that NASA’s idealistic mission would be overtaken by military goals.

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Lunar Confrontation 
Robert Shore 
Oil on masonite panel 

In this fanciful work, Robert Shore imagines an unidentified Apollo astronaut encountering his not–so–distant inspiration: Jules Verne, identified by the French flag in his hand. 

Perhaps one of the best known reinterpretations of the famous photo is MTV’s “Moonman” statuette.  

This MTV "Moonman" statuette is the trophy given during the music television network's annual Video Music Awards. The award statue, designed by Manhattan Design, which also created the MTV logo, reinterpreted that film clip as a three-dimensional awards statuette. MTV Networks gave this blank Moonman award to the Museum in 2007. Image courtesy of Smithsonian Institution. 

When MTV hit the airways in 1981, it debuted with footage of the Apollo 11 launch followed by an astronaut planting a flag with an MTV logo on the moon.  MTV founder Bob Pittman explained in a 2006 interview that MTV was intended to be a different type of television, “a network that would be about the network, rather than the individual programs.” Originally, they had intended to use the image of astronauts accompanied by Neil Armstrong’s famous quote. When Armstrong’s lawyer declined their request to use the quote, it was too late. They had already developed their marketing and promotion strategy around the man on the Moon – as the image for taking a giant leap. They launched with the images but not the voice.

The archival material from the National Museum of American History’s collection reflects the imagery of this the opening sequence for MTV. Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

The Moonman animation played at the top of the hour for the next five years, so when it came time to design the VMA award, it was the natural choice.  

While the “Moonman” is very reminiscent of the original NASA photograph of Buzz Aldrin, it isn’t an identical replica. MTV’s “Moonman” holds onto a flag, with one foot floating, and a bootprint under him. “The whole idea was, the statue had to be balancing on one leg, like anti-gravity and floating,” Gorman explained, crediting the details to the magic of the statuette’s design.  

The story of the “Moonman” statuette came full circle in 1996, when Pepsi, one of MTV’s corporate sponsors, paid to have a VMA award statue flown to the Russian Mir space station for the Video Music Awards show. The statuette was lightened for the flight, removing the base. (The regular statuette weighs in at 7 pounds, 3 ounces, the lightened statuette at just 4 pounds.) The cosmonauts had the statuette on hand during the downlink with host Dennis Miller on the live broadcast. Ultimately, the pressures of live television and delays in voice transmission and language translation made their conversation very awkward, but the event fit the VMAs' reputation as an unconventional awards show. 

This MTV "Moonman" statuette was flown in space aboard the Russian space station Mir in September 1996. You can see it was lightened for flight by removing the heavy base. Image courtesy of Smithsonian Institution. 

This blog post was adapted from the online exhibit “Out of this World.” 


Related Topics Apollo program Art Society and Culture
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