The Quest for Unpublished Photos of Apollo 11.

The Quest for Unpublished Photos of Apollo 11

10102018133123_500x500By J. L. Pickering, coauthor of Picturing Apollo 11: Rare Views and Undiscovered Moments

This book is available at a discount price through July 31, 2019, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. Order here and use code APOLLO.


How many photos of an historical event are “enough”? The answer likely depends on who you are. Let’s use the mission of Apollo 11, the first time humans landed on the moon, as an example. If you’re a casual student of history, the number of images that have been publicly available since 1969 are probably sufficient. If you’re more of space enthusiast, however, you want to see more, since they would add to your understanding and appreciation of what transpired.

But if you’re a true historian, the answer may be, “there are never enough!” That’s because each additional photo provides more detail and information, much like a movie showing the same scene from different angles. As someone who has been collecting, organizing, and archiving still photos from the U.S. manned space flight programs for 48 years, I fall into this category.

The Apollo 11 Saturn V at sunset at LC-39A on July 2, 1969. (Photo by Tiziou News Service)
The Apollo 11 Saturn V at sunset at LC-39A on July 2, 1969. (Photo by Tiziou News Service)
Aldrin with the LM behind him shortly after he has deployed the SWC. If the photo is enlarged, Armstrong can be seen reflected in Aldrin’s visor. Visible on the front of Aldrin’s suit are his PLSS Remote Control Unit and camera bracket. (NASA)
Aldrin with the LM behind him shortly after he has deployed the SWC. If the photo is enlarged, Armstrong can be seen reflected in Aldrin’s visor. Visible on the front of Aldrin’s suit are his PLSS Remote Control Unit and camera bracket. (NASA)

What is that astronaut holding during training? Who is the technician seen obliquely in one image but clearly in another (maybe his name can be deciphered by zooming in on his name badge)? But the desire to bring as many photos to light as possible goes beyond just factual reasons; sometimes, a more attractive version was overlooked or omitted.

Armstrong appears relaxed while wearing a space suit and floating in a tank in October 1963 during water survival training at the Naval Aircrew Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida. (NASA)
Armstrong appears relaxed while wearing a space suit and floating in a tank in October 1963 during water survival training at the Naval Aircrew Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida. (NASA)
Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins (left to right) during recovery training on the deck of MV Retriever in the Gulf of Mexico (off the coast of Galveston, Texas) on May 24, 1969. (NASA)
Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins (left to right) during recovery training on the deck of MV Retriever in the Gulf of Mexico (off the coast of Galveston, Texas) on May 24, 1969. (NASA)

The relatively small universe of photos released by NASA, however, was not nefarious but was determined by the demand. It’s important to remember that during the Apollo era, newspapers (almost all printing in black and white halftone) and general-interest magazines only needed so many photos; and digital reproduction and the Internet were still decades away.

Aldrin (left) meets with astronauts Ron Evans (center) and Schmitt during a lunar surface experiment deployment simulation on January 21. Aldrin examines a Hasselblad 500 EL Data Camera similar to one he would use on the lunar surface. Evans was a member of the Apollo 11 astronaut “third string” support crew. (NASA)
Aldrin (left) meets with astronauts Ron Evans (center) and Schmitt during a lunar surface experiment deployment simulation on January 21. Aldrin examines a Hasselblad 500 EL Data Camera similar to one he would use on the lunar surface. Evans was a member of the Apollo 11 astronaut “third string” support crew. (NASA)
Armstrong is contemplative following the June 18 session. He had recently received thousands of suggestions regarding what his first words on the Moon should be. (NASA)
Armstrong is contemplative following the June 18 session. He had recently received thousands of suggestions regarding what his first words on the Moon should be. (NASA)

In the intervening forty years, attention also turned to what would end up as something of a temporary future: the space shuttle program, lasting from 1981–2011. When digital photography arrived during the 1990s, the number of shuttle images exploded and “storing” them was not a problem. Meanwhile, however, tens of thousands of celluloid negatives and prints from the past Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs were packed away and eventually sent from NASA’s field centers to the National Archives.

A crane prepares to lift Apollo 11’s S-II booster off a workstand in the transfer aisle of the VAB on February 6, 1969. The 81.5-foot-tall and 33-foot-diameter S-II was built by North American Rockwell in Seal Beach, California, and, powered by five J-2 engines, produced approximately 1,000,000 pounds of thrust. (NASA)
A crane prepares to lift Apollo 11’s S-II booster off a workstand in the transfer aisle of the VAB on February 6, 1969. The 81.5-foot-tall and 33-foot-diameter S-II was built by North American Rockwell in Seal Beach, California, and, powered by five J-2 engines, produced approximately 1,000,000 pounds of thrust. (NASA)
Tourists take in the rocket and spacecraft display at KSC Visitor Center. “Apollo fever” was gripping the country as KSC became the focal point for the upcoming Moon launch. More than 8,000 people were touring the Moonport daily in the week leading up to the launch. (Photo by Tiziou News Service)
Tourists take in the rocket and spacecraft display at KSC Visitor Center. “Apollo fever” was gripping the country as KSC became the focal point for the upcoming Moon launch. More than 8,000 people were touring the Moonport daily in the week leading up to the launch. (Photo by Tiziou News Service)

A significant cache of material ended up in a spare railroad boxcar parked in the Florida heat and humidity near the Launch Complex 39 Press Site, and after years of neglect, was headed to a local landfill. A few concerned retirees managed to save thousands of prints. Many of them, however, had already been released (or at least made available to the media) during the 1970s. The bulk of physical Apollo-era photography was eventually boxed up and sent to one of three National Archives facilities in Maryland, Texas, or Georgia. In the past few years I have spent many weeks and dollars at these facilities scanning and “liberating” images from color negatives that were never printed.

Spectators in a parking lot near the VAB wave an American flag as Apollo 11 begins its journey to the Moon. The Saturn’s automatic engine shutdown function was inhibited during the first thirty seconds to prevent the vehicle from falling back onto the pad during a launch failure, seen as the least preferable option at that stage of the flight. (Photo by Tiziou News Service)
Spectators in a parking lot near the VAB wave an American flag as Apollo 11 begins its journey to the Moon. The Saturn’s automatic engine shutdown function was inhibited during the first thirty seconds to prevent the vehicle from falling back onto the pad during a launch failure, seen as the least preferable option at that stage of the flight. (Photo by Tiziou News Service)
Details of the flight were eagerly devoured; the News Citizen was a local Houston-area newspaper. (Photo by Tiziou News Service)
Details of the flight were eagerly devoured; the News Citizen was a local Houston-area newspaper. (Photo by Tiziou News Service)

Many of these photos—and others I have obtained from private sources—form the core of the space history photo books I produce with my coauthor, former news correspondent John Bisney. Our goal is always to go beyond the “greatest hits” to bring readers a wealth of great new images they would never otherwise see. These locked-away photos, taken on the ground as opposed to the more famous (and fully released) in-flight images snapped by the astronauts, capture moments in time, split seconds in history that will never be repeated. They’re filled with far more than astronauts and spacecraft—instead they reveal the men and women behind the successes and failures of the early U.S. manned space program. We see their emotions, their workplaces, and glimpses of their everyday lives and culture on the job.

Government and industry engineers monitor the Apollo 11 CDDT in firing room 1 on July 2, 1969. Approximately 450 persons were present during the test. (NASA)
Government and industry engineers monitor the Apollo 11 CDDT in firing room 1 on July 2, 1969. Approximately 450 persons were present during the test. (NASA)
Members of the flight control team at Mission Control in Houston wave U.S. flags and light up cigars at the successful conclusion of the mission on July 24. (NASA)
Members of the flight control team at Mission Control in Houston wave U.S. flags and light up cigars at the successful conclusion of the mission on July 24. (NASA)

This is why I continue to persevere to try to overcome a less-than-helpful federal bureaucracy not particularly interested in devoting resources to releasing images from half a century ago, now languishing in government warehouses. John and I are always delighted to bring you the results.


Pickering_JL-Credit-JStevenJordanJ. L. Pickering, coauthor (with John Bisney) of Picturing Apollo 11: Rare Views and Undiscovered Moments, has been archiving rare space images for some forty years. Drawing from NASA archives, retired NASA personnel, news photographers, and other sources, his collection numbers more than 120,000 high-resolution prints and images. He covered the final Apollo/Saturn launch in 1975 and attended numerous Space Shuttle launches. Today he serves as a resource and expert for authors, documentary filmmak­ers, museums, former astronauts, and even NASA. He lives in Bloomington, Illinois.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s