When artist Marco Brambilla was eight years old, he and his father took a trip to Cape Canaveral where they witnessed a small rocket launch into the sky. “It left a great impression on me,” he tells The Creators Project. “I became obsessed with the idea of a countdown, this idea of compressing space exploration into this moment of spectacle.” Harnessing his memory of that day, he’s now launching a moon-landing simulation from the billboard spaces of Times Square.
During the month of March, every night at three minutes to midnight, 54 screens in Times Square fill with Brambilla’s video montage of clips of real lunar surface, engineering tapes of the rocket’s ignition from NASA’s archives, a stream of numbers that scramble like ticker tape, and real transmissions from astronaut Frank Borman of the first team to reach, not land, on the moon. And then exactly at midnight, a computer-generated Saturn V launches, or rather descends. The rocket is based off of the real Saturn Vs NASA built in golden space age of the early 70s, ones that were for missions Apollo 18 and 19, but were never launched. Brambilla’s work is titled Apollo VXIII, as homage.
Space travel is becoming less and less about human, terrestrial exploration, because our technologies can do it all for us now, he adds. “Our first contact with a place or people is more virtual.” Brambilla wanted to resurrect the spirit of the vintage missions from the space race and reinvent them for the electronic age, and by creating a simulation and embedding it into the physical space as a site-specific installation, he could revive that same feeling of anticipation and hope of witnessing a lunar landing, huddled around a black-and-white television set.
Is it fact or is it fiction? Is it simulated or is it real? Did Apollo 18 really happen? These are all questions Brambilla hopes viewers have when seeing the simulated countdown. And ultimately, he wants the experience to remind of the American dream: "We all aspire to greatness. So much has been achieved. Is there potential to achieve this again in this electronic age?"