Book Review

The Art of NASA: The Illustrations That Sold the Missions by Piers Bizony

Review by Scott Sacknoff
Published in Quest Volume: 28 #1 (2021)

NASA has a long history of working with artists. From its very beginnings, the agency used artists and their art for a variety of purposes. Early development sketches, blueprints, and cutaway drawings helped scientists and engineers visualize the complex theory and technical systems they were developing. Concept art was used to visualize mission concepts and tell a story that helped to sell the nascent space program to Congress and the public, in place of photographs and moving images that were not possible. These conceptual art works were also used to help NASA do comparative studies of space systems options for rockets and space planes, space stations, and lunar rovers as well inspiring NASA to dream big as artists visualized future planetary exploration or gave staff a visual of the mission they were working on.

While many of these images are very familiar to people interest in space and the history of space, a resource documenting the breadth of concept art had been lacking. Just a month before the book was announced, discussions among several historian revealed that many of us had been collecting images for just such a project. So, the revelation of The Art of NASA was a highly welcome effort to give space concept art the exposure it deserves.

From the thousands of conceptual art sketches, illustrations, paintings, and digital creations found in the NASA archives, The Art of NASA presents roughly 170 of them in a coffee table-size book, ranging from early Mercury spacecraft through the Apollo program to space stations, Mars exploration, and planetary exploration. Images range from technical diagrams to iconic paintings by Robert McCall and the sketches of Paul Calle. It is by no means complete but The Art of NASA is a gorgeous first step toward documenting the breadth of material produced. It is very evident that great effort was spent cleaning up and polishing these images. The quality of some familiar ones is exceptional.

The book is divided into five sections: (1) This New Ocean (The Dawn of the American Space Age), (2) One Giant Leap (Apollo), (3) Islands in the Sky (space stations), (4) Brave New Worlds (Moon, Mars), and (5) The Expanse (Exploring the Depths of Space beyond Mars).

Beyond the images, each section begins with a narrative, and there are quite useful captions for each of visuals offered. The book does have a few random typos that I gather will be fixed in future printings, such as Yuri Gagarin’s flight taking place on 4 April 1961 [19, it was 12 April 1961] and George HW Bush being president in 2004 [122, it was George W. Bush]. That aside, and the fact that I’ve personally never been a fan of visual images that are printed through the bindings, this book is very highly recommended for its visual appeal.


About the Book

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Title: The Art of NASA: The Illustrations That Sold the Missions
Author: Piers Bizony
Publisher: Motorbooks
Year: 2020
ISBN: 978-0-76036807-7
Pages: 192


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More Information

  • Archive ID # G301198
  • Format: Document (PDF)
  • Author/Creator:
  • Publication Year: 2021
  • Publisher: Quest
  • Copyright Status: Copyrighted
  • Copyright Holder: SPACE 3.0
  • Language: English
  • Number of Pages: 1
  • Type: Book/Movie Review
  • Subject:
  • Collection: Quest
  • Availability: Digital Download