A Lunar Lander Carrying Jeff Koons’ Art Is Flying Toward the Moon

The spacecraft, which finally launched on February 15, is expected to touch down on February 22

Koons and SpaceX Lunar Launch
A SpaceX rocket carrying 125 miniature moon sculptures by Jeff Koons launched at 1:05 a.m. on February 15. Paul Hennessy / Anadolu via Getty Images

The artist Jeff Koons is famous for his balloon animal sculptures, which are made of stainless steel but look as if they could float away at any moment. Now, a trove of his artwork has left the ground—and the planet—and is flying toward the moon.

Jeff Koons: Moon Phases is aboard the lunar lander Odysseus, which just hitched a ride with a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. After a canceled Valentine’s Day launch, the rocket finally took off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1:05 a.m. yesterday.

The Houston-based company Intuitive Machines is overseeing the mission. If all goes according to plan, the lander will reach the moon’s surface on February 22.

Moon Phases includes 125 miniature moon sculptures. Measuring about an inch long, each moon is named after a famous figure—such as GalileoDavid BowieSojourner Truth or Leonardo da Vinci—and has a corresponding NFT offered by Pace Verso, Pace Gallery’s NFT platform.

Moon Phases is Koons’ most ambitious work to date,” says Pace Verso in a statement. “The works in Jeff Koons: Moon Phases each correspond to a distinct phase of the moon—62 phases of the moon as seen from the Earth, 62 views of the moon as seen from different vantage points in space and one lunar eclipse.”

Koons began developing the idea with scientist and designer Chantelle Baier a few years ago, per Artnet’s Jo Lawson-Tancred. While the launch was initially scheduled for 2022, the project has since encountered a series of obstacles.

On Wednesday, the launch was delayed due to the temperature of the craft’s methane fuel, which “was a little higher than they wanted,” Koons tells the New York Times’ Zachary Small. The delay “happened at the very last minute.”

If it reaches the moon, Moon Phases could be the first-ever authorized artwork to make it to the lunar surface—a distinction that Dubai-based artist Sacha Jafri has also been working to achieve. Other unauthorized artworks have been on the moon for decades: In 1971, for example, the crew of Apollo 15 dropped off a small aluminum figure by Belgian artist Paul Van Hoeydonck and a plaque commemorating 14 American and Soviet astronauts who lost their lives.

Of course, there are no guarantees that Moon Phases will reach its destination. The United States hasn’t landed on the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972. No privately owned spacecraft has ever made a lunar landing (though companies have tried and failed).

Mario Romero, the Intuitive Machines engineer who named the lander after the hero of Homer’s Greek epic, knows that Odysseus is not yet in the clear but hopes the craft will ultimately follow in its namesake’s footsteps.

“This journey takes much longer due to the many challenges, setbacks and delays,” says Romero in a statement, per the Times’ Kenneth Chang. “Traveling the daunting, wine-dark sea repeatedly tests his mettle, yet ultimately, Odysseus proves worthy and sticks the landing back home after ten years.”

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