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NASA Art Captures 50 Years of Exploration

Barbara Ernst Prey did extensive research to get the details right on her commissioned watercolor of the X-43, the world’s fastest aircraft.

For a half-century, the US space agency has commissioned artists to document its missions

One of the nation's most prolific art collectors is the U.S. space agency. For nearly a half-century, NASA has commissioned artists to document its missions and projects. Seventy of the 3,000 works in its collection are in a traveling exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

The art is mounted in a quiet corner gallery on the second floor of this cavernous museum, perched above an atrium filled with hanging spacecraft and missiles and crowds of visiting tourists. The show retraces milestones in space history through the unique visions and sensibilities of a diverse group of artists.

“The whole collection leaves me with this wonderful artistic notion of what we’ve been through over the 50 years of NASA history," says curator Tom Crouch, "from the very first launches, down to the latest planetary probe, and you see it through the eyes and the experience of these artists, all different, all interested in some different aspect of this, and yet when you see it here in the gallery it all comes together.”