Come July, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing may be all anyone in Houston wants to talk about. Even if they don’t, it’ll be inescapable anyway.
Imagine a room packed with representatives of the area’s leading institutions and organizations, all tasked with coordinating the various celebrations without stepping on too many toes.
Some time ago at Johnson Space Center, this meeting actually happened. And as of April 19, one of its more intriguing results will be “Museum of the Moon,” a giant glowing orb in the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. Hall.
“We wanted to look at what an achievement it was to go to the moon, and will be to go back to the moon, and focus on how interesting the surface of the moon really is,” explains Carolyn Sumners, HMNS’s curator of astronomy. “Well, one of the best ways to do that is put up a big ol’ moon!”
Created by UK artist Luke Jerram, the sculpture reaches a full 23 feet in diameter. Illuminated from within, it features projection-mapped NASA satellite imagery of the moon’s surface, with the Apollo landing sites and other key moon locations easily visible.
Houston’s is the first such “Moon” on American soil; it belongs to the museum and will remain in Glassell Hall indefinitely. Other sculptures have been exhibited at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia; several sites in India; Beijing’s “Water Cube” 2008 Olympic swimming venue; and Liverpool Cathedral. Underneath the sculpture in Marseilles, France, Jerram arranged an arc of deck chairs that were soon filled by couples holding hands. London’s Natural History Museum organized “moon yoga” sessions under theirs.
HMNS’s plans for our “Moon” are still fairly open-ended, beyond the companion exhibits that will surround it on Glassell Hall’s balcony. The sculpture may not be big enough to influence the tides, but it makes a perfect symbol for the museum’s Apollo-anniversary events—a wide-ranging, multidisciplinary campaign driven as much by the idea of the moon as a future destination as the site of a historic event. “Often one [HMNS] department really wants something, and the rest are going, ‘Nah, it ain’t gonna work,’” says Sumners. “We had four departments that all wanted one. That’s probably a good sign we ought to do this.”
Opens April 19. Free with museum admission (adults $25). Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5555 Hermann Park Dr. 713-639-4629.