Space art is the term for a genre of modern artistic expression that strives to show the wonders of the Universe.

Like other genres, Space Art has many facets and encompasses realism, impressionism, hardware art, sculpture, abstract imagery, even zoological art.

Though artists have been making art with astronomical elements for a long time, the genre of Space Art itself is still in its infancy, having begun only when humanity gained the ability to look off our world and artistically depicted what we see out there.

Whatever the stylistic path, the artist is generally attempting to communicate ideas somehow related to space, often including an appreciation of the infinite variety and vastness which surrounds us.

In some cases, artists who consider themselves Space Artists use more than illustration and painting to communicate scientific discoveries or works depicting space, some have had the opportunity to work directly with space flight technology and scientists in attempts to expand the arts, humanities, and cultural expression relative to space exploration.

Practitioners of the visual arts have for many decades explored space in their imaginations using traditional painting media and many are now using digital media toward similar ends.

Science fiction magazines and picture essay magazines were once a major outlet for Space Art, often featuring planets, spaceships and dramatic alien landscapes.

Chesley Bonestell, R. A. Smith, Lucien Rudaux, David A. Hardy and Ludek Pesek were some of the major artists in the early days of the genre actively involved in visualizing space exploration proposals with input from astronomers and experts in the infant rocketry field anxious to spread their ideas to a wider audience.

A strength of Bonestell’s work, in particular, was the portrayal of exotic worlds with their own alien beauty, often giving a sense of destination as much as of the technological means of getting there.


The Cosmos contains many sources of visual inspiration that our growing abilities to gather and propagate have spread through the mass culture.

The first photographs of the entire Earth by satellites and manned Apollo missions brought a new sense of our world as an island in empty space and promoted ideas of the essential unity of Humanity.

Photographs taken by explorers on the Moon shared the experience of being on another world. The famous Pillars of Creation Hubble Space Telescope and other Hubble photos often evoke intense responses from viewers, for example, Hubble’s planetary nebula images.


Space artists may work closely with space scientists and engineers to help them to visualize and develop their scientific and technological concepts of making the dream of space exploration a reality.

Other forms of pictorial Space Art bring the viewer to inner visions inspired directly or otherwise by the fruits of the expanding vision of Humanity.

Some aspects of such art pay visual homage to outer space, popular ideas of life on other worlds including alien visitation visions, dream symbology, psychedelic imagery and other influences on contemporary visionary art.

Now that artists have experienced free-fall conditions during flights flown with NASA, the Russian and French Space Agencies, and with the Zero Gravity Arts Consortium, new methods of artistic expressions unknowable today will unfold as artists imagine new ways to utilize microgravity environments to create artistic works.

Space Art - The Wonders of the Universe 2

Although such dreams await a substantial opportunity, early efforts by artists to have art pieces placed in space have already been accomplished with painting, holography, microgravity mobiles, floating literary works, and sculpture.

Subgenres of space art

Space Art as a genre and the artists that create it embrace a wide range of styles. In the visual arts, these styles can be categorized as follows.

1. Descriptive Realism

The direct inheritor of the artistic standards of Chesley Bonestell, Descriptive Realism is an aspect of Astronomical Art whose primary emphasis is to show a viewer a scientifically accurate visual depiction of alien places in the Cosmos.

When creating Astronomical Art one should have a sense of why the lighting, sky color, even the chosen landscape surroundings appear as they do, and how a change in a specific condition as on other worlds could alter the scene.

One should also have a reasonable “grounding” in science, the nature of the sky and weather, geology for knowing the Earth, as well as Astronomy for knowing the heavens.

2. Cosmic Impressionism

Like works done in the impressionist era, Space Artworks in the Cosmic Impressionism style use color and form to give a viewer the artist’s impression of the image subject matter without trying to be technically accurate, highly detailed, or adhering to known scientific principles.

Despite being looser, the subject matter is still clearly inspired by space.

3. Hardware Art

Hardware Art is usually similar to Descriptive Realism but focuses on the detailed depiction of the hardware of spaceships, probes, and equipment being used in a space setting.

4. Sculpture

Works of Space Art Sculpture are more difficult to recognize as such as they are usually more symbolic or abstract in nature, like a rocket shape, stained glass windows representing stellar objects, or a sculptured work designed specifically for zero gravity display.

However, the prime inspiration for three-dimensional works of Space Art is the same as other styles, space itself.

5. Cosmic Zoology

Though the question of other life in the universe has yet to be answered, artists can speculate about it and imagine the possibilities. Cosmic Zoology is the depiction of extraterrestrial life in extraterrestrial settings.

6. Other Endeavors

Works in other methods of artistic expression such as music composition and dance can also be inspired by space and are considered Space Art in their fields.

First, original oil paintings flew in outer space

An art conservation experiment from Vertical Horizons, founded by Howard Wishnow and Ellery Kurtz, was flown aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia STS-61-C January 12, 1986.

Four original oil paintings by American artist Ellery Kurtz were flown in one of NASA’s Get Away Special container mounted to a bridge in the shuttle cargo bay.

These original works of art are the first oil paintings to enter Earth orbit. This NASA GAS canister, designated G-481, was the 46th such canister flown aboard a Space Shuttle.

The Space Shuttle Columbia orbited the Earth 98 times during its mission duration time of 6 days, 2 hours, 3 minutes and 51 seconds. Columbia was launched from Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, on January 12, 1986, and landed at the Kennedy Space Center on January 18, 1986.

Zero-g space art

Another work, later brought to Earth-orbit sometime in the mid-80s, was a radiant study of the golden sunlight on a Soviet space station by Russian artist Andrei Sokolov, carried aboard the Soviet Mir space station starting with modules in February 1986.

In 1984 Joseph McShane and in 1989 Lowry Burgess had their conceptual artworks flown aboard the Space Shuttle utilizing NASA’s ‘Get Away Special’ program.

The first sculpture specifically designed for a human habitat in orbit was Arthur Woods’ Cosmic Dancer which was sent to the Mir station in 1993.

In 1995, Arthur Woods organized Ars ad Astra – the 1st Art Exhibition in Earth orbit consisting of 20 original artworks from 20 artists and an electronic archive also took place on the Mir space station as a part of ESA’s EUROMIR’95 mission.

The Mexican artist and musician Nahum directed the art and science project Matters of Gravity (La Gravedad de los Asuntos in Spanish), a project reflecting on gravity by its absence.

The first mission consisting only of Latin American artists was executed in a zero-gravity flight at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in 2014. The participating artists include Tania Candiani, Ale de la Puente, Ivan Puig, Arcángelo Constantini, Fabiola Torres-Alzaga, Gilberto Esparza, Juan José Díaz Infante, Nahum, and Marcela Armas.

The project included the participation of Mexican scientist Miguel Alcubierre and curators Rob La Frenais and Kerry Anne Doyle.

Small art objects have been carried on several Apollo missions, such as gold emblems and a small Fallen Astronaut figurine that was left on the Moon during the Apollo 15 mission.

Visual observations have been recorded in drawings and commentary by earlier Cosmonauts and Astronauts of difficult to photograph phenomena such as the airglow, twilight colors, and outer details of the Solar corona.

An able and observant artist can record aspects of the surroundings beyond the design limitations of any particular camera system.

Performance art has also occurred in space, as with Chris Hadfield’s edited performance of David Bowie’s Space Oddity.


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