A monument honoring Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary will be unveiled at the Kennedy Space Center today. The idea for the monument — despite being crafted in Colorado and to-be-unveiled just an hour or so away from Orlando — was conceived locally by Santa Monica-based filmmaker Steven C. Barber.
Barber, a documentarian whose films have focused primarily on the military, was walking around Washington, D.C. about six years ago when he was smitten by a statue of Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert.
The statue, created by Lundeen Sculpture, embosses Swigert in bronze, immortalizing him with a confident chin up, chest out demeanor while holding his astronaut helmet.
The sight of the statue was kind of a big deal for Barber.
“I grew up a huge space guy,” Barber said.“My dad worked for GM but got to work on Apollo 11. You don’t grow up in the space race and all that and not be affected by something like that, man. That statue is divine.”
Years later, Barber was working on a documentary of one of his heroes, Buzz Aldrin, when the project suddenly fell apart due to Aldrin leaving to take care of personal matters.
“I was devastated,” Barber said. “He’s my buddy but, man, the day he pulled out of the doc, I thought, oh my god, this is the worst day of my life.”
Barber biked up to the Santa Monica Mountains to clear his head. How could he still honor his hero, even in an adjacent manner, he thought. Adrenaline and exhaustion were hitting Barber, who looked up at the sky, the empty space of it all. Then inspiration struck. Swigert. The statue.
“It just hit me,” Barber said. “Wouldn’t it be great to do a statue of the moon landing?”
Barber quickly contacted Swigert statue-makers Lundeen Sculpture to commission a piece — before having any form of approval.
“We got a call from Steve, and well, you know how he is,” George Lundeen, founder of Lundeen Sculpture said with a laugh. “He’ll talk ya into anything.”
Lundeen said aside from Barber’s natural-born carnival barker antics, that it was Barber’s friendship with Aldrin and having the opportunity to create a monument that immortalized an important part of history that intrigued him.
“Who’s more famous than the first boys that walked on the moon,” Lundeen said.
While Lundeen created clay drafts of the monument — originally envisioned as featuring every astronaut apart of the 1969 space mission — Barber sought to get the ball rolling on the logistics of the project.
By luck, one of the top brass at the Kennedy Center had seen one of Barber’s documentaries and assured him he could have space for a monument there if he could get the funding. The usual members you’d suspect would fund wouldn’t or couldn’t help Barber out with his mission.
“I went through all the big names,” he said, rattling off gigantic corporations ranging from tech companies to defense contractors. “I went through over 400 people. It felt like it wasn’t going to happen.”
Barber’s options were running low. He went through his Rolodex once more, praying for a miracle.
Quicken Loans, who Barber says he initially contacted and had even done work for in the past, were interested but initially declined due to finances not lining up for them. Barber persisted with them and eventually, they agreed. They provided $750,000 for the monument.
Time was now of the essence; Lundeen said he and his team typically have nine months to a year of conceptualizing and making a statue. While waiting for funding and corporate red tape. He and his crew now only had about three.
“We hauled all kinds of ass to get this thing ready,” Lundeen said.
Due to a tight schedule, the originally envisioned statue was downsized to just three astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. The statue will feature the three men standing proudly, looking towards the moon with Neil Armstrong holding an American flag. It will be a 7-foot-tall statue mounted on top of a 4-foot-tall concrete base.
Lundeen and his crew worked roughly twelve hours or more each day and worked with local foundries to assist them and get every detail right, a process that translated to several thousand hours of work.
To make the monument as accurate as possible, Lundeen and his crew sifted through hours of footage, newspaper clippings, watched newsreels and movies. To add to the authenticity, they even got to meet one of the moonwalkers.
“When Buzz Aldrin walks into the studio, bright-eyed, it’s a moment,” Lundeen said. “Sure, he’s older, doesn’t stand up quite as tall, but my God he’s got those bright eyes, he’s got that enthusiasm. It’s been terrific.”
Now, with the statue scheduled for the unveiling, Barber and Lundeen are ecstatic for a gift they can give to future generations.
“It takes a lot of work and passion to get this done and we did it,” Lundeen said.
“[The Apollo 11] story is about inspiration, it’s about America,” Barber said. “If you want something, you can make it happen. Only here in the U.S.A., baby.”