A rare selection of prints from a previously unseen private collection of vintage photographs by NASA’s pioneering astronauts, taken in space and on the Moon, will be on exhibition in London throughout February at Mallett Antiques before the full collection goes under the hammer on Thursday 26th February at Bloomsbury Auctions in London. On October 24, 1946 a V2 rocket rose 65 miles up above the Earth’s atmosphere and captured the first photograph from space. Beginning with this photograph, From the Earth to the Moon encapsulates the epoch-making period when men and their machines first escaped Earth’s gravity and ventured to another world. This major collection of over 600 lots is unusually comprehensive in its coverage of the space programme, from the early days of Mercury, through the technical advances of Gemini and Lunar Orbiter, to the triumphs of Apollo.
The sale boasts both the iconic images from the golden age of space exploration, and a large number of rare photographs which were virtually unpublished at the time, including one legendary rarity, the only clear photograph of Neil Armstrong on the Moon.
As Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon on 20 July 1969, science fiction became science fact. For almost twenty years after Apollo 11 the only pictures known of Armstrong on the Moon were a few grainy images from the TV camera and the 16-mm motion picture camera. NASA believed that the only photographs taken on the lunar surface were of Buzz Aldrin and that no Hasselblad photograph existed of the first man on the Moon until this historic image was discovered in NASA archives at Houston, after languishing unrecognised for nearly two decades.
After each mission NASA released only a small proportion of the astronauts’ photographs to the public and news media. The remainder were accessible only to accredited researchers in the archives of the Manned Spacecraft Center, Houston, from where most of this exceptional collection is sourced. All the photographs wear the original NASA stamps, captions and identification numbers.
Sarah Wheeler, Head of Photographs at Bloomsbury Auctions said; “It’s incredible to realise that many photographs in this auction were unknown to the general public for decades until the complete NASA photographic archive began to appear digitally on the internet. This is particularly true of the collection of mosaics, real boots-on-the-ground panoramas taken by the Apollo astronauts as they explored the lunar landscape. These spectacular images were pieced together from individual Hasselblad frames for internal use by NASA scientists. We know of no such collection ever having been offered at auction.”
From the Earth to the Moon features photographs taken by the first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn, who was also the first man to carry a camera into space, through to the last man on the Moon, Eugene Cernan. Cernan’s portrait of Apollo 17 colleague, Harrison Schmitt, with the Earth above the US flag taken in December 1972, was described by Richard Underwood, the Apollo photographic supervisor, as; “One of the great photos ever to come out of the space program.” Cernan, commander of the final lunar mission, said; “I captured the Earth, the Moon, the man and the country all in one. I’m proud of this picture.”
Star lots also include the first ‘selfie’ taken in space, snapped by Buzz Aldrin during a 1966 EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity) and the personal photograph album of Ed White recording his spacewalk, performed on Gemini 4 in 1965, the first by an American. Other exceptional items include extremely rare large-format photographs specially produced by NASA for presentation.
Sarah Wheeler, Head of Photographs at Bloomsbury Auctions said; “These photographs are more than merely documentary, many are simply sublime. They represent a golden age in the history of photography as well, when a few men went to the unknown to bring back awe-inspiring pictures. The view of the first Earthrise over the lunar horizon changed Man’s relationship with the cosmos forever.”
All the photographs in the sale are vintage, printed shortly after they were taken, on high-quality Kodak paper, with estimates ranging from £300 to £10,000.
From the Earth to the Moon will be held at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions’ saleroom in London’s Mayfair on Thursday 26th February 2015.