Famed Space Artist Robert McCall, 90, Dies
Space artist Robert McCall with his "Decade of Achievement" U.S. postage stamps.
Credit: NASA

Artist Robert McCall, whose visions of the past, present, and future of space exploration have graced U.S. postage stamps, NASA mission patches, and the walls of the Smithsonian, died on Friday of a heart attack in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was 90.

Once described by author Isaac Asimov as the "nearest thing to an artist in residence from outer space," McCall's paintings first attracted the public's attention in the 1960s on the pages of LIFE, illustrating the magazine's series on the future of space travel. He expanded on that theme at the invitation of director Stanley Kubrick, who had McCall paint the advertising posters for his seminal 1968 science fiction film, "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Since then, many more have encountered McCall's space art through canvases both very large and very small.

Perhaps his most famous piece, the six-story "The Space Mural — A Cosmic View" greets visitors to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Painted over the course of eight months in 1976, McCall's depiction of the creation of the universe leading to astronauts walking on the moon is seen by an estimated ten million annually.

Others of McCall's large murals can be found at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, at the Dryden Flight Research Center in Lancaster, California, and at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson. A number of his paintings decorated the walls of the former Horizons pavilion at Walt Disney World Resort's Epcot in Florida, and one remains on display at the entrance to the park's iconic "Spaceship Earth" attraction.

At the other end of the size spectrum but no less popular, McCall created the art for 21 space-themed U.S. postage stamps, ranging in subject from the moon landings to the unmanned probes sent to Mars and Jupiter. His design for a commemorative marking the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project adorned the largest stamp published in the United States.

In 1981, McCall designed eight stamps celebrating STS-1, the first flight of the space shuttle. At mission commander John Young's request, McCall also designed the insignia that Young and Bob Crippen wore aboard Columbia for the two-day mission.

It was through the stamps and patches that he created did McCall ultimately see his artwork merge with their subject matter and enter space. The Apollo 15 astronauts flew his "Decade of Achievement" two-stamp pane to the Moon, and the last men to walk on the lunar surface did so while wearing an Apollo 17 mission patch designed by McCall.

"It is something I continue to covet," shared McCall in a 2006 interview with collectSPACE.com. "It was wonderful to really see this emblem that I designed on the Moon, in real time from Mission Control."

In 1973, at the personal request of flight director Eugene Kranz, McCall designed the original insignia to represent the Mission Control teams.

McCall also created patches for the third and fifth shuttle crews, as well as the first to dock with Russia's Mir space station. His most recent patch was designed for back-up spaceflight participant Barbara Barrett, a family friend, in 2009.

Continue reading at collectSPACE.com about McCall's path to becoming a NASA artist and his view on the future of spaceflight.

Copyright 2010 collectSPACE.com. All rights reserved.