Lunar Knights and the Search for the Holy Grail

On April 3rd, I had the opportunity to participate in a historic event: the unveiling of a new painting by internationally acclaimed portrait artist Maciej Maga. I knew that the painting was called “Lunar Knights,” perhaps as in those who went to battle in ancient suits of armor, or knights as in the brave. Or maybe knights as in the Knights of the Round Table on a quest to find the Holy Grail. But what would that grail be? Maybe, I wondered, it was the painting itself.

I’ve lived in Dallas my whole life, but there are parts of the city I’ve never seen. The place where we unveiled “Lunar Knights” was one of them. Old Parkland, owned by Harlan Crow, has the quiet intellectualism of an old college campus and the almost regal majesty of Jeffersonian-era buildings. The entire center was modeled after the architectural style of founding American government buildings, celebrating the history of our country as we forge the future. I thought it was a fitting place for an event where we would meet astronauts and put on display what Back to Space is all about.

My fellow Ambassadors and I were assigned the task of unveiling the painting, so the first thing we did when we arrived was to head downstairs to the Old Debate Chamber to learn what to do. We took this beautiful spiral staircase down to a landing displaying incredible artwork. Images on the wall ranged from an enormous portrait of the aftermath of 9/11 to a painting of an astronaut on the moon that I at first mistook for a photograph. Another staircase led us down to the main room, which was modeled after an old Roman Senate. Instead of traditional rows of chairs, guests sat behind Senate benches. Each place had a printed out copy of Luke’s blog post on 3RF (you can read it here) and I was so incredibly excited to see our work there for everyone to read!

The Ambassadors with astronaut Buzz Aldrin

We stepped up onstage and learned how to unveil the painting for the big moment. It was enormous, maybe one and a half times my height, so tall that Lance would have to stand on a ladder to uncover it. We all looked at it with a slight awe and intense curiosity as the blue cloth draped over the edges concealed the beautiful artwork underneath.

To start the event, Michael Gorton spoke to those gathered about Back to Space’s mission in generating exponential STEM. He said that the generation that watched the launch of the Saturn V rocket that sent men to the moon developed more science, technology, engineering, and math than all of human history before– but what have we done since? I got chills at that. He seemed to be challenging me and my generation to do more, while offering to help us to accomplish our goal. Even in the 60s, so much was able to occur, and so much new ground was broken. The future’s just as wide open today as it was back then, and my generation can do that and more! We’ve got work to do, but if we look at each other and if we look up, we can reach for the stars and beyond. The sky’s not the limit anymore.

The artist, Maciej Maga, also spoke. He grew up in Poland when it was under Communist control, and he told us how he and his classmates at school had the TV on to watch the moon landing when men ran in to turn the TV off, since the message was anti-communist “American propoganda.” He told us how it felt to be promised the moon and have it ripped away, and how he’s been able to find it again through working with the men who went there.

And now it was our turn. We had five ambassadors in attendance– Courtney, Anna, Lance, Julianna, and me– and we each came onto the stage to help with the painting. One by one, the three Apollo astronauts present were introduced and came on stage, standing in front of us. I had this certainty then, this feeling that they were the past and us the future, but that we all stood on that stage united in this purpose of exploration and advancement. To stand onstage with Buzz Aldrin, Al Worden, and Walt Cunningham was something that I never envisioned in my wildest dreams, but there I was!

We took our places, hands on the cloth, ready to see the painting. My greatest fear at that moment was that I’d pull too hard and the entire thing would tip over. Maciej Maga counted down, we cut the ropes holding the sheet in place, and after pulling the cloth off, we saw it.

Lunar Knights. This painting features ten Apollo astronauts standing together against the moon. They wear identical outfits and similar features, all of them looking towards the center at the American flag with the moon behind them. It’s the astronauts as they appear now. 50 years later, they all still look up– except for a few, who looked out at us. In our photographs with the painting it almost appears as though they’re posing with the audience.

Lunar Knights. The Holy Grail. I suppose it could be the men themselves and the living story they bring. It could be the moon and the science it gave us, or the powerful way that it brought together viewers of every nationality together on that day in July 1969. For the kids watching, the grail could be the excitement of discovery that inspired that generation. Because of his love of freedom, I am certain that the artist, Maciej Maga, sees the American flag and freedom as the grail. But maybe the grail isn’t in the painting at all. Maybe it lies in the quest for the future that my generation, the Student Ambassadors and all those around us, are undertaking now. Maybe the grail is the inspiration of the past that illuminates the future. Maybe it’s in the eyes of the astronauts looking out– maybe it’s in us.

It was difficult to leave the stage when surrounded by astronauts and an artist alike, but we came down and were greeted by another pleasant surprise. I was shocked at how excited the 120 event attendees were and how they all wanted to meet us! We’re students, but these incredibly successful adults wanted to speak with us. I realized what an important role we all have in inspiring each other. We are the future. We are going back to the moon. We are going on to Mars. I know people now who will be astronauts in the future. I know people now who will engineer the rockets to get us there. I know people who are forming the future right now– because I am one. Because we all are.

Fifty years later, we can still be the generation that goes to the moon, and does the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. We are the new Lunar Knights.

Post by Katie Mulry

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