Judy Gale Roberts’ Moon Landing Intarsia


Judy Gale Roberts’ Moon Landing Intarsia

Parts of this NASA collaboration have literally achieved lunar orbit

By Kaylee Schofield

An extended version of this article will appear in the Winter 2019 issue of Scroll Saw Woodworking & Crafts magazine. 

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When you think of space missions, astronauts sipping Tang—or maybe Apollo 13’s oft-quoted appeal to Houston—might come to mind. But when NASA called Judy Gale Roberts in August of 2018, they had a different sort of mission for her. In advance of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing (July 20, 2019), the space agency asked her to design an intarsia scene that not only pays homage to the event but also contains real pieces of “moon wood.”

Judy spent more than 150 hours designing patterns for the project.

First, some background. The 1971 Apollo 14 mission marked the beginning of a little-known collaboration between NASA and the United States Forest Service (USFS). It took root when astronaut Stuart Roosa, a former USFS smoke jumper, brought over 500 seeds with him to see if a trip to space would change the trees that resulted. (It didn’t.) The USFS eventually germinated these seeds and sent them to key spots around the world (among them the White House and the Swiss Transport Museum in Switzerland).

The Kennedy Space Center in Fla. received one of these plants, a sycamore. Planted in 1976, it grew to maturity but fell in a 2017 hurricane. NASA carefully preserved the wood and sent several pieces to Judy. Then she set to work devising a pattern, using official photos from the first moon landing for reference.

Sanding the astronaut’s helmet.

The design process alone took around 150 hours. But in January 2019, with the assistance of her team (husband Stephen Catlett, former student Dr. Pete Ricci, assistant Marianne VanderVoord, and office manager Stacy Stackhouse), Judy and crew finally began cutting.

“Judy has been totally focused on this,” her husband Stephen said. “Judy usually loves to get outside and dig in the dirt, but this spring, she said, ‘You’re going to have to plant the jalapeños yourself. I want to make this perfect.’”

The finished product speaks for itself. Comprising over 1,300 individual pieces, a dozen wood varieties, and the fruit of 1,000+ shop hours, Judy’s creation gives the sense that you’re not just looking at the lunar landing—you’re participating in it. Slices of moon sycamore make up the flagpole, the laser-engraved sign at bottom center, and “Mars” (last “O” in Apollo).

The lunar module before being shaped.

On the first week of May, Judy and her team said goodbye to the completed piece as it traveled from her Tennessee studio to its new home at the Kennedy Space Center museum in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where it will hang on permanent display.

“It felt like letting your child go to fulfill the next exciting part of her life,” Judy reflected. “There were days when I thought, I’m tired, my fingerprints are all sanded off, and I can’t do this anymore! But those moments make it that much more satisfying when it’s complete.”

See more of Judy Gale Roberts’ work at intarsia.com.

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