Saturn V tearing through the sky, as seen by an Air Force EC-135. July 16, 1969. Image: NASA
This Sunday, July 20, marks 45 years since the first men walked on the Moon. It’s one of humanity’s most impressive accomplishments, and even once we do land men on an asteroid or Mars, this first Moon landing will remain one of our greatest feats.
The Apollo program was born at a time when nothing like spaceflight existed; though some within NASA were already doing some preliminary planning for a manned mission to the Moon in the late 1950s, there was no hardware that could see the mission fly, no rockets large enough to launch a manned spacecraft all the way to the Moon, and no provisions for managing a program of that magnitude. The men and women who brought the lunar landing to fruition were forced to invent almost everything as they went along.
In the nine years between President Kennedy promising America the Moon and Neil Armstrong’s small step, NASA developed an unprecedented amount of technology and know-how that continues to shape the biggest missions we’re designing today.
Apollo 11, and the Apollo program in general, has been eulogized countless times since the mission ended 45 years ago. Those eulogies are largely similar, praising the crew’s bravery and the skilled men and women who brought the mission to life while bemoaning the apparent stagnation our program has been experiencing ever since. Accompanying these celebrations of accomplishments past are the same images, the ones that show smiling astronauts in the spacecraft, astronauts saluting flags on the Moon, and perfectly framed shots of the Earth from hundreds of thousands of miles away.
But a lot more happened on missions that these representations show. The astronauts were human. They took pictures that didn’t come out perfectly. Some shots on the Moon that aren’t particularly striking actually show the contrast between the spacecraft and the lunar environment. Dozens of black and white images of our planet complement the colour ones that have become iconic of the era. These uncommon images of Apollo 11 put the mission in a slightly different light, telling the familiar story from an unfamiliar perspective.
Image: Kennedy Space Center
Technicians prepare to mate the Lunar Module Eagle to its adapter for launch in this image dated April 4, 1969.
The crew heads out to the launch pad, the first leg of their trip to the Moon, on July 16, 1969.
The Saturn V lifts off from the launch pad on July 16, 1969.
Command Module Pilot Mike Collins on board Apollo 11. The crew chilled in Earth orbit before Mission Control gave them clearance to go to the Moon. July 16, 1969.
The Earth as seen by the crew in orbit. The astronauts said that the Sun glinting off the oceans was something no artist could ever really replicate.
After leaving the Earth, they turned to look back at the planet and grabbed this shot, among many others. Most of these images were shot with a Hasselblad camera, which the Lunar and Planetary Institute describes in detail.
Image: NASA/Jon Hancock
There was a docking probe that closed off the Command-Service and Lunar Modules from one another and facilitated their docking early in the flight. Once docked, the crew had to take the docking probe and store it inside the CSM cabin. A bit of a huge piece of hardware to have kicking around, but it had to go somewhere.
With the two spacecraft docked and the connecting tunnel open, the crew had more space to move around. More, but still not a lot. Here’s Neil working one of the cameras as seen by one of his crewmates through the tunnel.
Here’s the Moon, right up close.
The Eagle has landed. The Lunar Module’s shadow on the Moon.
Tranquility Base in the background. Lunar Module thruster nozzle in the foreground.
Buzz Aldrin inside the Eagle as it stood on the Moon’s surface.
A less common view of the flag on the Moon: seen here through the Lunar Module’s window with the spacecraft’s thrusters in the foreground.
That famous boot print picture we all know so well? It was part of Buzz Aldrin’s “soil mechanics test." Here he is making that print, or one very much like it.
Neil Armstrong took most of the images on the surface while Buzz Aldrin did the heavy lifting. Here’s Aldrin, carrying the Early Apollo Scientific Experiment Package for deployment on the Moon.
Not every picture of the Moon is brilliant—like this one, though it does show bits of commander Neil Armstrong looking at a pole on the Moon.
In lunar orbit, the crew saw the Earth rising over the Moon’s horizon through the spacecraft’s windows.
They also took some incredible close-up shots of the Moon’s craters.
On the way back home the crew took this shot of the Earth, which is still completely stunning even in black and white.
Almost home, the Earth is starting to get bigger in the window.
The scene in mission control once the Apollo 11 crew was safely on board their recovery carrier at the end of the mission was pretty serene. You can see the astronauts in quarantine talking to President Nixon on the TV screens.