Local sculptor Bridgette Mongeon was 8 years old when Apollo 11 took three American astronauts to the moon on July 20, 1969.
“I remember sitting in front of the television and thinking, ‘This is significant,’ ” Mongeon said.
Fifty years later, she is preparing to begin work on a sculpture of the astronaut who made the small step for man and giant leap for mankind – Neil Armstrong.
As The Leader reported in April, Mongeon has been commissioned to create two life-sized sculptures of Armstrong. One will go to Space Center Houston and the other to Ethnomir, a park 75 miles outside of Moscow which highlights the achievements of key individuals from around the world.
In 2012, a Russian group gave Houston a sculpture of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. That sculpture sits outside the former Manned Spacecraft Center Headquarters in southeast Houston – now the home of Houston Parks and Recreation – along with a panel of John Glenn in honor of both space pioneers.
Sophya Tabarovsky, a Russia native who runs Kindness Without Limits, which is a cultural nonprofit affiliated with the Russian School in Houston, was involved in the placement of the Gagarin statue and has been fundraising for the current Armstrong effort for seven years.
“The Space Center Houston has already designated a spot,” Mongeon said. “Believe it or not, there are no sculptures of astronauts at Nassau Bay. Armstrong would be the first.”
Mongeon is also closer to nailing down the process by which she will create Armstrong.
“I’m hoping to get permission from NASA to get a 3D scan of the actual suit,” Mongeon said. “The Smithsonian did 15 different prints of the suit. One will be located at our Minute Maid Park. The data of this space suit is almost like gold.”
Mongeon said she often uses 3D data created by 3D scanning to create an armature for her clay.
However, in the case of the space suit, with permission to use the scan data, she has a vendor that could 3D print the suit to size.
“It is not necessarily less work, but different,” she said.
In Mongeon’s sculpture of Armstrong, he will be carrying his helmet and she will have to revise the data to accommodate for that. She will still need to traditionally sculpt the base where he will set foot on the moon as well as create Armstrong’s hands and head.
Whatever process Mongeon uses, she is committed to accuracy.
“If I don’t have that spacesuit correct, someone is going to say something,” she said.
Traveling the circuit to promote the project, Mongeon said she’s enjoyed meeting many astronauts and NASA officials. George Abbey Jr., the son of former Johnson Space Center director George William Samuel Abbey, has been a great resource, according to Mongeon, along with Dr. Kyle Sprecher, another member of the fundraising team.
Mongeon said it is significant for both Russia and Houston to have the Armstrong sculpture because the space race was a challenge that she thinks inspired great minds. Now the two places are united in space with cosmonauts and astronauts working together.
“When you’re in space, there are no geographical boundaries,” Mongeon said. “It’s just the earth and the moon. I wish we could all see that.”
Find out more information at www.unitedinspace.com.