One of the most memorable events of the 20th century, the first manned lunar landing on July 20, 1969 was the culmination of the Apollo 11 mission. To mark its 50th anniversary, we are highlighting the recent donation of 10 rare photographs taken by astronaut Neil Armstrong (1930–2012) during the moon walk. These images depict fellow astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin descending the Eagle landing capsule as well as conducting scientific experiments on the lunar surface. The works are visually stunning and equally important as historic, scientific, and aesthetic statements within the history of photography.
The picture of Buzz Aldrin facing the US flag has become one of the most iconic images of American space exploration. It is interesting to note that the flag had to be stiffened with a rod to make it appear as if it were waving, since there is no wind on the moon.
Gifted to the Museum by St. Louis resident Ron Anderson, a former member of Air Force Systems Command, these photographs were printed just months after the negatives returned to earth in the Eagle capsule. Anderson was able to meet the astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission and had insider access to the photography lab at NASA, where these pictures were printed. Images were selectively released by NASA to those in the scientific community as well as to friends and family of the aerospace team.
Neil Armstrong was commander of the space capsule and, while untrained as a photographer, tasked with documenting the landing. He was provided with several cameras specially designed by the high-end Swedish camera manufacturer, Hasselblad.
The cameras had to be worn around the astronaut’s neck and featured a motor-driven mechanism that prepared the film and shutter when activated. Armstrong apparently practiced at his home before going up into space and quickly became adept at using them. He was so inspired by the magical landscape of the moon, that he—along with Buzz Aldrin—exposed several hundred negatives while on the mission. The bright, raking light of the sun produced striking shadows, and the extraordinary clarity of the camera’s optics captured every detail.
In one of the more unusual images of the group, Neil Armstrong pointed the camera straight down at Aldrin’s boot, and the footprint it made on the lunar surface—an imprint that is still on the moon undisturbed. This historic picture brings to mind Armstrong’s famous declaration, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
These remarkable photographs are available to view by appointment in the Museum’s Print Study Room.