Chesley Bonestell's Astronomical Visions; May 1994; Scientific American Magazine; by Miller; 6 Page(s)
Artist and illustrator Chesley Bonestell was born on January 1, 1888, 15 years before the maiden voyage of the Wright brothers' airplane and 38 years before the launch of the first tiny liquid-fuel rocket. When he died 98 years later, men had walked on the moon, and robotic craft had toured most of the planets of the solar system. Bonestell's paintings of astronomical vistas and space-faring explorers not only anticipated the great technological triumphs of the 20th century, they helped to bring them about. His attention to pictorial and technical realism transformed the popular perception of spaceflight from fantasy to an immediate possibility, if not a near certainty.
Bonestell came from a moderately wealthy family in San Francisco, where he and his two older sisters were raised by his father and grandfather (his mother died when he was an infant). Chesley displayed an acute interest in both art and astronomy early on. He started drawing at age five and began formal art instruction by the time he was 12. When he was 17, he visited Lick Observatory; he was excited and inspired by the view through the observatory's 12-inch and giant, 36-inch refractors. As soon as he returned home, Bonestell sketched a picture of Saturn as he had observed it-- probably his first attempt at space art.