‘HEY MAN, THEY WALKED ON THE MOON. LET’S DO THIS!’
Fifty years ago today, humanity accomplished the impossible. America and the world were inspired when Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, backed by crewmate Michael Collins and hundreds of
men and women behind them, took their first steps on the moon.
In celebration of their achievement and its 50th anniversary, Santa Monica-based filmmaker Steven Barber has taken a statue of the three Apollo 11 astronauts to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
At 2,800 pounds, standing 12 feet tall and costing $750,000, the monument marks the end of Mr. Barber’s year long journey to honor three of America’s greatest heroes.
A brief resident of Santa Barbara when he was young, Mr. Barber has made several documentaries on subjects ranging from paraplegic athletes to the heroes of the Joint POW and MIA Accounting Command. He loves finding a good story and putting a project together. He has had his share of setbacks, but over the years he’s learned that if you keep swinging, you cannot fail. It’s exactly this mentality that led to the statues finally arriving at the Kennedy Center’s moon garden.
“You can’t believe what it took to put in three statues, so I can’t even imagine what it takes to put a rocket up in the air,” Mr. Barber laughed.
Mr. Barber said the project would not have happened if not for the collapse of a Buzz Aldrin documentary he was making.
“Buzz Aldrin’s a great friend of mine. I’ve known Buzz for 17, 18 years. I’ve been trying to do his story, and we
were at a point about a year ago when it all came together. Netflix was onboard, we had the money, we had the story, he approved of the posters, and then he got into a big legal battle with his family. Shut everything down,” Mr. Barber told the News-Press.
Devastated, Mr. Barber went riding on a mountain bike ride trying to think of another way to honor the 50th anniversary.
“Took a three-hour mountain bike ride, and I just had this epiphany,” he said.
Mr. Barber remembered a statue of Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert in Washington, D.C., that he saw a decade ago.
“It was one of those things that was so amazing. I didn’t need to take a picture of it, and I take pictures of
everything,” he said.
He then thought; what if someone made statues for all 12 astronauts who walked on the moon?
When he got home, Mr. Barber began reaching out to people trying to get the project going.
“You would have thought somebody would have done this 50 years ago. You would have thought some sculptor would have said, ‘Hey man, they walked on the moon. Let’s do this!’ ” he said.
Thankfully, Mr. Barber eventually found his artists, the original sculptors of the John Swigert statue, Mark and George Lundeen of Colorado. They just happen to be the best in the world, Mr. Barber said.
He expected to get the cold shoulder from George. After living in Los Angeles for so many years he had become used to mean people.
“He was the antithesis. A good-old-boy from Omaha,” said Mr. Barber.
The sculptors took the job, and even got a four-month head start as Mr. Barber secured funding and got the green light from NASA. It was all because they believed in the project, Mr. Barber said.
Mr. Barber showed the clay bust used to make Neil Armstrong’s statue to the News-Press and said the artists plan everything by hand and without computers.
“They’re like Da Vinci,” he explained.
From the sculptors’ expertise to NASA suggesting three statues just of the Apollo 11 crew — rather than 12 from all the Apollo m issions — Mr. Barber said everyone involved has elevated the project.
“It was a collaborative. Everybody I talked to had a better idea,” he said.
The project was magical, he said, but there were several times when it seemed it was going to be shut down.
“When I die on my tombstone it’s not going to say, ‘Here lies Steven Barber; the most humble guy on the planet’. Humility is not in my DNA, all right? Never has been. But this project humbled me to the core, because it went down so many times, because I kept getting crushed. There were just so many obstacles. That’s the thing. Once it got greenlit, then the real obstacles came,” said Mr. Barber.
Despite the obstacles, Mr. Barber and the team persisted, and now visitors to the Kennedy Space Center
in Florida can enjoy the beautiful statue greeting them as they arrive to see some of America’s greatest achievements.
Mr. Barber hopes the statue will continue to inspire the public, and would love to build the rest of the statues he had originally envisioned. For now, he is working on a documentary about the project and has about 35 hours worth of footage from the experience.
Mr. Barber said he’s thrilled to be a small part of what he said is one of the biggest stories in the history of the world.
“I can’t tell you how this happened. I really can’t. I can tell you it’s happened, that they’re built. It’s done. They’re unveiled. They look awesome,” he said.