Space, the final frontier towards which travels our planet, the Earth; this is the life story of Paul Fjeld, space enthusiast and artist for over half a century
God dag, good day, bonjour, my reading friend. There are people among us who, through a combination of hard work, talent and, perhaps, a little luck, manage to build careers in a field they had been passionate about since their teenage years, and even childhood. Paul Fjeld was / is one of those happy souls. Let me explain.
Fjeld was born in Bærum, Norway, in June 1955. A few months later, his family moved to the Montréal, Québec, area. Fjeld’s childhood and adolescence undoubtedly resembled those of many English-speaking Quebecers of his time.
Fjeld discovered a passion for space exploration, or the conquest of space, the choice is yours, around 1967-68, as part of a school project on the Apollo program. He wrote to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and undertook correspondence with representatives of this world famous organisation mentioned many times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since March 2018. A talented aspiring artist, Fjeld began to cover the walls of his room with watercolours showing various types of space capsules. His interest in art grew over the years.
And yes, Fjeld was obviously glued to the television screen of the family home, in July 1969, when Neil Alden Armstrong and Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin, Junior, treaded that lunar soil where the hand of man had never set foot.
Fjeld spent many weeks in the spring and early summer of 1971 working as a caddy at a golf club in the Montréal area. In addition, he mowed lawns, delivered newspapers and worked in a library and in a stockbroker’s office. His goal: to accumulate the funds allowing him to go to the John F. Kennedy Space Center, in Florida, to attend the launch of the Apollo 15 mission, made up of astronauts James Benson “Jim” Irwin, David Randolph “Dave” Scott and Alfred Merrill “Al” Worden – a first experience of its kind for the teenager.
Indeed, he had received a letter from Scott, the mission commander, which reached him shortly before his departure for Florida. “Thank you for the painting of the crew, Scott said. It is a good likeness. Jim, Al, and I appreciate it very much.”
Along with his various 1971 jobs, Fjeld volunteered at the space pavilion at Terre des Hommes – the site of the Exposition internationale et universelle de Montréal, or Expo 67, which had run from April to October 1967. His supervisors were so delighted with his performance that they were seemingly the ones which arranged for the teenager to witness the launch of the Apollo15 mission.
This being said (typed?), Fjeld struck a deal with The Montréal Daily Star. He wrote at least one text for the children’s page of that important English-speaking Montréal daily.
After Fjeld’s older brother loaned him $ 50 at the last minute, the teenager left Montréal by motorbus with a large, almost empty suitcase. The trip between Canada’s metropolis and Florida took approximately 36 hours.
You have a question, my reading friend? Why a big, almost empty suitcase, you say? To have plenty of room to bring back all kinds of stuff, of course.
Exhausted but elated, Fjeld reached his goal 5 days before the launch, which took place on 26 July. He showed up at NASA with his best suit, just to make a good impression. Greeted with courtesy and, perhaps, with some amusement, by the staff of the Public Information Office of NASA, the youngster freelance writer spent a few good days at the NASA News Center drawing astronauts, rockets and other space subjects, in ink and / or watercolours.
Like any other journalist, Fjeld attended press conferences, went to the work rooms and took lots of photographs.
As you can imagine, he was the youngest (16 years old…) fully accredited journalist present at the NASA News Center. Obtaining that precious accreditation, before showing up to the John F. Kennedy Space Center of course, was certainly not easy.
As thrilled as he was, Fjeld wished he had put some more money aside. “Just $ 50 more,” he stated, “and I could go on to Houston,” Texas, where the Manned Spacecraft Center, today’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, was located.
Would you believe Fjeld’s odyssey was mentioned near the bottom of the front page of a July 1971 issue of the daily Orlando Sentinel of Orlando, Florida – the city where took place the 1968, yes, yes, 1968, edition of Villain-Con immortalised in a 2015 American animated film, The Minions?
Indeed, in July 1969, Felonius Gru had his eyes riveted on the television set in the family home as the aforementioned Armstrong and Aldrin treated the lunar soil. His mother, Marlena Gru, did not realise how much that event would change the life of the young boy. Gru was then less than 8 years old. Yours truly, on the other hand, was a little over 12 years old, but I digress.
While in Florida in 1971, Fjeld befriended NASA employees and reporters at a small Florida newspaper which may, I repeat may, have been called Space Capital News. In fact, they asked him if he would agree to write some texts for their newspaper. Better yet, Space Capital News stated it was prepared to pay for a (bus?) ticket so that Fjeld would be able to witness the launch of Apollo 16, in the spring of 1972. The teenager was delighted.
Shortly before mid-April 1972, a few days before his departure for Florida, Fjeld telephoned Space Capital News to see if he could still count on its financial assistance. An operator told him that the newspaper no longer existed. The teenager was devastated. His parents then agreed to lend him some money. Needing a little more moolah, Fjeld contacted a major English-language daily in Montréal. The Gazette gladly agreed to help him out. Its management gave the teenager $ 50 and wished him a safe trip.
The trip between Montréal and Florida, by motorbus, again took about 36 hours.
Surrounded by journalists from all over the world, Fjeld attended the launch of Apollo 16 in April 1972.
Fjeld made a third (motorbus?) trip to Florida in December 1972 to witness the launch of the Apollo 17 mission. He was still the youngest fully accredited journalist present at the NASA News Center to report on the last mission of the Apollo program. During that stay, Fjeld did not work for any daily newspaper.
Indeed, he was one of the few (less than 10 of the 2 000 and some representatives of the international press?) journalists able to go just about anywhere. According to Fjeld, “only about a thousand of those do any work. The others are there because they’re friends of somebody. Some of those people probably try to accredit the family cat.”
A comment that could not be more personal if I may. This was a comment whose insight underscores the extent to which adolescents of that era, and of ours for that matter, were not / are not fooled by their elders. It is most unfortunate that they cannot vote at the age of 16. There might be fewer, dare I say (type?) it, bipedal wastes of space among our elected officials. End of rant.
Oddly enough, at least for yours truly, Fjeld owed his unrivaled access to the curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, District of Columbia. Hereward Lester Cooke was one of the founders of the NASA Art Program, established in 1962.
Fjeld paid all of his expenses. He made some money doing freelance work for English-language dailies in Montréal and Québec (and Canada?).
Before I forget, a NASA employee offered Fjeld the chance to take a seat in the Apollo program Command Module simulator used by all crews, which was no small feat, you will agree with me. Better yet, a maintenance team then called on his services to replace faulty buttons or controls.
In early May 1973, Fjeld was again at the NASA News Center of the John F. Kennedy Space Center. He was on hand to report on the launch of America’s first space station, Skylab. As it was badly damaged when it was launched, many journalists returned home. Fjeld chose to stay in Florida to cover upcoming repairs. He was still at the NASA News Center more than 2 weeks after his arrival when the Skylab 2 mission, the first manned flight to Skylab, took off into space.
A watercolour by Fjeld imagining the repair work that the 3 astronauts would have to accomplish impressed NASA representatives. Would you believe that it impressed them so much that they asked his permission to photograph it so that they could use it later?
This work may or may not have been the one Fjeld produced at the behest of NASA Art Program el supremo James Dean. The teenager was / is arguably the youngest artist to ever sell a work of art to NASA.
During his stay in 1973, or a previous stay, the teenager had the chance to meet very well-known people, such as West German journalist Wolfgang Will, the one and only journalist from his country to cover the Apollo program.
No later than 1973, Fjeld lectured at the Dow Planetarium in Montréal – an institution mentioned in a November 2019 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee. He may also have written the guidebook for the aforementioned space pavilion at Terre des Hommes. Fjeld apparently trained several of these guides.
The people at NASA were so impressed with Fjeld’s talents that, in 1975, they asked him to go to Houston, to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, to paint watercolors imagining the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project which took place in July. As you probably know, this was the first international piloted space mission, during which the Soyuz space capsule of 2 Soviet cosmonauts and the Apollo space capsule of 3 American astronauts docked together in space.
Fjeld thus spent several / many days in the Mission Operations Control Room of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, in the company of one of the great space artists of the 20th century, Robert Theodore “Bob” McCall.
Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center director Christopher Columbus “Chris” Kraft, having seen the teenager sitting far back, more or less comfortably, invited him to find a somewhat comfortable seat. Fjeld apparently ended up finding himself between the capsule communicator, Karol Joseph “Bo” Bobko, and the flight director, Donald Ray “Don” Puddy. He was just 20 years old.
Fjeld subsequently produced works for NASA as part of the Space Transportation System project, which resulted in the manufacture of Orbiter Vehicles / Space Shuttles.
In October 1984, Fjeld was at the aforementioned John F. Kennedy Space Center to witness the launch of the space shuttle Challenger aboard which sat the first Canadian astronaut, Joseph Jean-Pierre Marc Garneau. The National Research Council asked him to immortalise that occasion by making sketches and paintings. Indeed, Fjeld followed Garneau during his training. And yes, Garneau was mentioned in a June 2019 issue of ur you know what.
The Canadian Space Agency subsequently called on Fjeld’s services to produce works showing the RADARSAT remote sensing satellite and Canada’s contribution to the International Space Station.
Over the years, world famous organisations such as CBS Incorporated and equally world famous publications such as National Geographic and Aviation Week and Space Technology have used Fjeld’s works.
Likewise, well-known Canadian firms such as Canadair Limited of Cartierville, Québec, de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited of Downsview, Ontario, and Pacific Western Airlines Limited of Richmond, British Columbia, not to mention well-known American firms such as American Airlines Incorporated and Rockwell International Corporation, used the services of Fjeld.
The magnificent mural that adorns the Challenger Learning Centre at the Ontario Science Center in Toronto, Ontario, is also a work of our personality of this week.
And yes, Canadair and de Havilland Aircraft of Canada were mentioned many times in our you know what, and this since February 2018. Pacific Western Airlines, meanwhile, was mentioned there in November 2019 and October 2020 issues. I would be telling you nothing new by adding that American Airlines was mentioned in November 2017 and March 2020 issues, or that Rockwell International was mentioned in August 2018 and November 2020 issues. Apologies for that rather tedious paragraph.
Between 1987 and 1989, Fjeld was associate producer of the very interesting television series Astronomy Toronto, which aired between 1981 and 1994 thanks to the contribution of several members of the Toronto Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, a prestigious organisation which does not appear to have a bilingual website, but I digress.
Would you believe Fjeld was one of the technical advisors for the American miniseries From the Earth to the Moon? The 12 episodes of said miniseries were broadcasted for the first time, in English of course, in April and May 1998. And yes, before the shooting Fjeld sometimes offered himself the luxury of correcting the aforementioned Scott’s failing memory, which the retired astronaut seemingly did not appreciate.
Around 2001, Fjeld joined the project to restore an Apollo Lunar Module located at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York. Said module, owned by the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, was slightly modified so as to be identical to the Lunar Module of the Apollo 11 mission. The life-size diorama of which it was part is one of the strong points of that museum, whose current building was inaugurated in 2002.
Fjeld produced and directed An Eagle on the Moon, the documentary film which complements the lunar diorama at the Cradle of Aviation Museum.
Fjeld also contributed to the creation of the sequence which showed the lunar landing of the Lunar Module of the Apollo 15 mission of the 2005 IMAX 3D documentary film Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D.
The following year, the Royal Canadian Institute for Science of Toronto, another prestigious organisation which does not seem to have a bilingual website, or a French name, but I digress, again, awarded Fjeld the equally prestigious Sandford Fleming Award, presented annually to a Canadian for her or his exceptional contribution to the public understanding of science.
A potentially disruptive comment if I may. Over a period of almost 40 years (1982-2021) only one francophone Canadian won the Sandford Fleming Award, in 1988: Fernand Seguin, one of the pioneers of scientific communication / popularisation in Canada and a gentleman mentioned in a November 2018 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee, but back to our story.
In 2009, Fjeld participated in the partial restoration of a Lunar Module capable of operating in the Earth’s atmosphere on display at the National Air and Space Museum. He oversaw the complete restoration of that same lunar module in 2015-16.
Around 2014-15, Fjeld wrote the restoration plan for the Lunar Module on display at the John F. Kennedy Space Center.
Fjeld has resided in the United States for several years.
God natt, good night, bonsoir, my reading friend.