On Friday, February 16, America lost an artist who during his successful career captured with passion and integrity the wonder and excitement of space exploration. Robert McCall died at the age of 90 in Scottsdale, Arizona. During his long career, McCall’s artwork appeared on US postage stamps, NASA mission patches, the pages of LIFE, the walls of flight centers and museums—including the Smithsonian, and even the advertising poster for Staley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
SITES is honored to include two of McCall’s pieces in the traveling exhibition NASA | ART: 50 Years of Exploration. Jim Dean, founding director of the NASA Art Program and co-curator of the exhibition shared with us his memories of McCall:
"I first met him in 1963 at the Cape. He was part of the first group of artists to get involved with something called the 'NASA Artists Cooperation Program.' The word 'cooperation' was used because we were paying them practically nothing. With success we changed it to 'NASA Art Program" . . . and eventually paid them a little more. I remember Bob, who was living in NY, arrived looking very buttoned down, with a powder blue blazer and wearing a necktie, looking very much the New York illustrator.
That was for Gordon Cooper's Mercury flight. Bob returned to the Cape many times in the following years. I put him on a recovery ship during Gemini, in the Launch Control Center Firing Room during one of the Apollo flights and I went with him and Lamar Dodd on the first Shuttle countdown, before heavy security, when we were able to walk in the flame trench UNDER the shuttle. Years later, when we needed someone for the Space Mural at NASM, I got Bob to do it."
Our sympathies go to McCall’s family and friends. We mourn his loss, but celebrate the man who author Isaac Asimov once described as the “nearest thing to an artist in residence from outer space.”