The Apollo program, launched in 1961 by John F. Kennedy, flew its first manned mission in 1968, and the following summer, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin met the program’s mandate, making their historic Apollo 11 Moon Landing. In the ensuing few years, several more spacecraft and crews either orbited or landed on the Moon, and for a brief moment, popular magazines and newspapers regularly featured photographs of those expeditions on their covers and front pages. Looking every bit the authentic vintage Hasselblad photos they are, the images you see here were taken by Apollo astronauts on their various missions and sent home in rolls of hundreds of similar pictures.
These astronauts snapped photos inside and outside the spacecraft, in orbit and on the moon’s surface, and in 2004 NASA began digitizing the resulting cache of film. Luckily for the public, devoted space enthusiast and archivist, Kipp Teague—an IT director at Lynchburg College in Virginia—has posted a huge number of these photos (8,400 to be exact) on his Project Apollo Archive Flickr account.
Teague initially began acquiring the photos in collaboration with Eric Jones’ Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, “a record of the lunar surface operations conducted by the six pairs of astronauts who landed on the Moon from 1969 to 1972.” Understandably, so many people expressed interest in the photographs that Teague reformatted them in higher resolution and gave them their own home on the web. The Planetary Society informs us, “every photo taken on the lunar surface by astronauts with their chest-mounted Hasselblad cameras is included in the collection.”
While Teague and Jones’ other sites use photos that have been processed to increase their clarity, lighting, and color, the photos on Project Apollo Archive remain in their original state. “Browsing the entire set,” writes the Planetary Society, “takes on the feeling of looking through an old family photo album.” Indeed, especially if you grew up in the late-sixties/early-seventies at the height of the space program’s popularity.
A good many of the photos are rather procedural shots of craters and clouds, especially those from earlier missions. But quite a few frame the breathtaking vistas, technical details, and awestruck, if exhausted, faces you see here. So many photos were taken and uploaded in succession that clicking rapidly through a photostream can produce an almost flipbook effect. You can browse the archive by album, each one representing a reel from different Apollo missions—including that famous 11th (top, and below)—though Teague has yet to post high resolution images from Apollo 8 and 13.
It seemed after Apollo’s demise in the mid-seventies that photographs like these documented a lost age of NASA exploration, and that the once-great government agency would cede its innovative role to private companies like Elon Musk’s Space X, who have been much less forthcoming about releasing media to the public, making proprietary claims over their space photography in particular. But thanks in part to Space X and the cooperation of Canadian, European, Russian, and Japanese space programs, NASA’s International Space Station has raised the agency’s public profile considerably in the past several years. Though still painfully underfunded, NASA’s cool again.
Even more profile-raising is the Mars Rover program, whose recent finding of water has refueled speculations about life on the Red Planet. As films like the recent, astronaut-approved The Martian and a raft of others show, our collective imagination has long bent toward human exploration of Mars. Establishing a base on Mars, after all, is Space X’s stated mission. Looking at these stunning vintage photos of the Apollo Lunar missions makes me long to see what the first astronauts to walk on Mars send back. We probably won’t have to wait long once they’re up there. We’ll likely get Instagram uploads, maybe even some with fake vintage Hasselblad filters. It won’t be quite the same; few current events can compete with nostalgia. But I like to think we can look forward in the near future to a renaissance of manned—and woman-ed—space exploration.