NASA vintage photographs up for auction, including first space selfies

A fantastic collection of prints from a previously unseen private collection of NASA photographs showing pioneering astronauts on the Moon and in space will go under the hammer on Thursday, 26 February, at Bloomsbury Auctions in London.

The prints are currently on exhibition in London at Mallet Antiques for all to see before people start placing their bids in two weeks’ time.

Space photography started in October 24, 1946, when a V2 rocket shot 65 miles up into the air above Earth’s atmosphere and took the first picture. The photograph marks the beginning of the epoch-making period when humans and their machines first left our planet’s gravity and ventured into outer space.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon

Lot No. 325: Portrait of Buzz Aldrin with the photographer (Neil Armstrong) and the Lunar Module reflected in his gold-plated visor, Apollo 11, July 1969. (Image: Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions)

This vast collection of more than 600 pictures is “unusually comprehensive”, says Bloomsbury Auctions, and covers the early days of Mercury, through to Gemini and the Lunar Orbiter, to the Apollo missions.

The auction includes many iconic images from the golden age of space exploration, as well as several rare virtually hitherto unseen photos, including the only clear picture of Neil Armstrong on the Moon.


When Mr. Armstrong stepped on the Moon and said “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind,” science fiction became a reality.

Niel Armstrong

Lot No. 250: First photograph of a man (Niel Armstrong) standing on the surface of another world, Apollo 11, July 1969. (Image:  Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions)

For nearly two decades after Apollo 11, the only photographs known of Armstrong on the Moon were some grainy TV camera images and the 16-mm motion picture camera.

NASA had been under the impression that the only pictures taken on the Moon’s surface were of Buzz Aldrin, and that there were no Hasselblad photos of the first man on the Moon until this historic image was found in NASA archives at Houston. It had been languishing there, unrecognized, for nearly twenty years.

After each space mission, NASA only released a tiny proportion of the astronauts’ pictures to the public and news media. The rest were available only to approved researchers in the archives of the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston.

The current 600+ collection consists of these previously inaccessible photographs. All of them have the original NASA stamps, ID numbers and captions.

First photo taken from space

Lot No. 2: The first photograph from space, 24 october 1946. (Image:  Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions)

A new look at the Moon

Head of Photographs at Bloomsbury Auctions, Sarah Wheeler, 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.”

The collection includes photographs taken by John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, and also the first human to carry a camera into space, through to Eugene Cernan, the last astronaut on the Moon.

Richard Underwood, the Apollo photographic supervisor, said the following of Cernan’s portrait of Harrison Schmitt, his Apollo 17 colleague, with the Earth above the American flag taken in December 1972: “One of the great photos ever to come out of the space program.”

Cernan, who commanded the final lunar mission, added “I captured the Earth, the Moon, the man and the country all in one. I’m proud of this picture.”

First space ‘selfie’

The first ‘selfie’ taken in space is also for sale. The photograph was taken by Buzz Aldrin in 1966 during an Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA). There is also the personal photo album of Ed White recording his spacewalk on Gemini 4 in 1965.

Buzz Aldrin selfie

Lot No. 80: First ‘selfie’ (Buzz Aldrin) in space, Gemini 12, November 1966. (Image:  Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions)

Ms. Wheeler 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 auction are vintage. They were printed soon after they were taken, on high-quality Kodak paper.

Experts believe the pictures will go for between £300 to £10,000 ($457 to $15,233).

Reference: Catalogue “From the Earth to the Moon: Vintage NASA Photographs,” Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions.