Chesley Bonestell, born in 1888, was an American painter, designer and illustrator. His paintings were a major influence on science fiction art and illustration, and he helped inspire the American space program. Along with the French astronomer-artist Lucien Rudaux, Bonestell was dubbed the "Father of Modern Space Art".
Together with Warren Straton Bonestell designed the art deco façade of the Chrysler Building as well as its distinctive eagles. During this same period, he designed the Plymouth Rock Memorial, the U.S. Supreme Court Building, the New York Central Building, Manhattan office and apartment buildings and several state capitols. His illustrations of the Golden Gate Bridge convinced the wealthy to build it.
In the late 1930s he moved to Hollywood, where he worked as a special effects artist, creating matte paintings for films, including The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), Citizen Kane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).
Bonestell then realized that he could combine what he had learned about camera angles, miniature modeling, and painting techniques with his lifelong interest in astronomy. The result was a series of paintings of Saturn as seen from several of its moons that was published in Life in 1944. Nothing like these had ever been seen before: they looked as though photographers had been sent into space.
Bonestell's last work in Hollywood was contributing special effects art and technical advice to the seminal science fiction films produced by George Pal, including Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide, The War of the Worlds and Conquest of Space, as well as Cat-Women of the Moon.
When Wernher von Braun organized a space flight symposium for Collier's, he invited Bonestell to illustrate his concepts for the future of spaceflight. For the first time, spaceflight was shown to be a matter of the near future. Von Braun and Bonestell showed that it could be accomplished with the technology then existing in the mid-1950s, and that the question was that of money and will. Coming as they did at the beginning of the Cold War and just before the sobering shock of the launch of Sputnik, the 1952–54 Collier's series, "Man Will Conquer Space Soon!", was instrumental in kick-starting America's space program.
In 1986, Bonestell died in Carmel, California, with an unfinished painting on his easel. His name lives on not only through his children but also as asteroid number 3129 and as a crater on Mars.