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Apollo hardware transformed into art

Alan Boyle / msnbc.com

An Apollo lunar module propellant tank sits on display in Dale Cox III's Seattle-area backyard, alongside a more traditional sculpture. The tank might have been sent to the moon if NASA went ahead with Apollo 18, 19 and 20, as originally planned. Instead, it's been turned into an art installation.

Space hardware can be beautiful. Just ask Dale Cox III, a Seattle-area resident who has surplus tanks scattered around his yard. And not just any tanks: Most of these pieces are titanium components that were built for NASA's use on an Apollo lunar module.

Dale's father, Dale W. Cox Jr., picked up all this metal back in 1970, when NASA decided to cut the Apollo moon program short. The Apollo 18, 19 and 20 missions were canceled, and the tanks were no longer needed. The elder Cox, a former astronaut candidate who was familiar with the rainbow look of titanium, spotted the pieces in a California scrap yard.

"Basically, my dad bought everything he could get his hands on," Dale Cox III told me.

His mother, an artist, added metal embellishments to the titanium — and collaborated with another artist, Jae Carmichael, to present an exhibit of the pieces titled "Titanium One" in 1971. Titanium's color depends on the metal's alloy content, surface cleanliness and the temperature at which it's fired. Low-temperature firing produces a golden sheen, while higher temperatures result in shades of green, red, red-violet and blue.

"Titanium never changes color, and it doesn't corrode," Cox said. "It's been outside since my dad bought it, and it's basically never changed."

Someday, the Coxes hope their titanium treasures will be put on display in a sculpture garden, as a tribute to Apollo and to art. In a telephone interview from California, Dale W. Cox Jr. told me that the hardware would have been "pretty dull" if it weren't for his wife. "She transformed them into space junk as an art form," he said.

To learn more about the fate of Apollo artifacts, check out Cosmic Log. 

Alan Boyle / msnbc.com

Half of a titanium tank that was once destined to go inside a lunar module now sits beside a 600-year-old yew tree in the front yard of Dale Cox III's house.

Alan Boyle / msnbc.com

Dale Cox III points to the area on NASA's Apollo lunar module where one of the titanium tanks would have been installed. The diagram is taped to the tank itself, sitting in Cox's backyard.

Alan Boyle / msnbc.com

Dale Cox III points to sheets of titanium with pieces cut out, cookie-cutter-style. The cut-out pieces were used in hardware construction. The leftovers were assembled into an abstract gate ornament. The half-moon hanging to the right is part of a titanium tank, artistically embellished with additional squares of metal. A blue-colored fuel line, also made of titanium, rises from the ground.

More about space artistry:


Dale W. Cox Jr. is one of the principal characters in a new book by Colin Burgess, titled "Selecting the Mercury Seven: The Search for America's First Astronauts."

Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter or adding me to your Google+ circle. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for other worlds.