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NASA's Next Launch: An Art Exhibition

Eileen Collins, 1999 Annie Leibovitz/Courtesy of Smithsonian hide caption

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Annie Leibovitz/Courtesy of Smithsonian

It's well-known that the dawn of the Space Age inspired a renaissance in American science. Less well-known is the art that the space program helped give rise to.

Liftoff at 15 Seconds, 1982 Jack Perlmutter/Courtesy of Smithsonian hide caption

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Jack Perlmutter/Courtesy of Smithsonian

Liftoff at 15 Seconds, 1982

Jack Perlmutter/Courtesy of Smithsonian

Grissom and Young, 1965 Norman Rockwell/Courtesy of Smithsonian hide caption

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Norman Rockwell/Courtesy of Smithsonian

In 1962, NASA began commissioning artwork to chronicle the ecstasy and agony of manned spaceflight — from those early successes breaking the chains of gravity to enter Earth orbit to the Columbia shuttle tragedy and beyond. That collection goes on display starting Saturday at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

Gemini Launch Pad, 1964 James Wyeth/Courtesy of Smithsonian hide caption

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James Wyeth/Courtesy of Smithsonian

Some 70 works are on display. Among the gems is a delicate 1964 watercolor by James Wyeth that hints at humbler days in the space program, when technicians rode bicycles to check on the launchpad. And then there's William Wegman's playful 2001 vision of dogs in space (see them suited up?) — not the starry night of Van Gogh's imaginings, for sure, but mesmerizing in its own way.

Chip and Batty Explore Space, 2001 William Wegman/Courtesy of Smithsonian hide caption

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William Wegman/Courtesy of Smithsonian