Top Five Space Photographs - holiday snaps that are 'out of this world'

Tomorrow, Bloomsbury Auctions is holding a special auction celebrating the role of photographs in space travel.

The sale marks the 50th Anniversary of manned space flight, and is the UK's first sale of rare vintage NASA photographs. This seems remarkable, as a moment's consideration will remind you of just how powerful the use of images in bringing home the trials and wonder of the cosmos has bbeen.

NASA was slow to realise that the grainy footage of Neil Armstrong loping along the lunar surface may have kept TV audiences riveted to their seats (and still keeps conspiracy theorists riveted to the internet), it's the static images which have a lasting impact.

Zooming out: Yuri Gagarin

The Space Race saw the Soviet Union hurrying to snatch the propaganda victory of putting the first man outside the Earth's atmosphere from their capitalist rivals.

As we now know, that honour fell to Yuri Gagarin in his successful mission. But it must have been a nerve-wracking time for the cosmonaut waiting to make the trip into space, where only a single dog had made the trip before him.

Yuri Gagarin

You certainly can't tell that from his photograph, however. Of course, it's likely that Gagarin was encouraged to look calm and stoic ahead of taking risks for the communist ideal and the best image selected, but the result is very striking just the same.

In 2008, Heritage sold a signed copy of this signed photo for $5,078.75.

Soft Focus: Alan Bean storms

Every so often, astronauts are struck with a sense of awe at what they experience. In the case of Apollo 12 moonwalker Alan Bean the experience caused him to devote his time to painting various scenes from it - some real, some more dreamy.

Sometimes though you don't need a paintbrush to create an artistic image, and one extraordinary signed image which we sold from our stock shows that clearly.

Alan Bean, signature
Alan Bean: lunar photograph with signature

This shows Bean on the lunar surface almost disappearing to the right hand side of the picture in contrast to the blinding sun on the left caressing the moon with its rays to create a hazy, almost unreal image.

Bean had written and signed: "A brisk walk on the Ocean of Storms. Alan Bean, Apollo 12, Nov 1969", and the combined poetry of the words and image is so striking that we're almost sorry to have sold it.

Close-up: Bootprint

Whilst Neil Armstrong's poetic words may have summed up the significance of his first steps on the moon, nothing presents the reality of the event than the photograph of an Apollo 11's moonwalker Buzz Aldrin's bootprint.

 We're excited to be offering one of these at the moment - not least because it is signed by all three of the Apollo 11 crew: both the men who left prints on the moon and Michael Collins, who was orbiting above them, hoping against hope that they would be able to reconnect with his Command Module.

Photograph signed and inscribed by Apollo 11 crew, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins
The photograph - signed and inscribed by Apollo 11 crew

This is all the more notable as Neil Armstrong gave up signing his autograph years ago and his autograph has increased in value by an extraordinary 981.8% since 2000, according to the PFC40 Autograph Index.

Portrait Pose: Aldrin on the moon

The natural accompaniment to the bootprint photo is the classic image of Buzz Aldrin standing proud in his spacesuit on the moon, as taken by Neil Armstrong.

The image of the astronaut standing in a confident pose (so far as one can tell) with the image of his fellow astronaut in his visor and the blackness of space behind his head perhaps captures the feel of the moment more than any other.

Buzz Aldrin, signed photograph
Signed photograph of Buzz Aldrin, standing proud

We have a copy of this photo too, signed by the man himself, Buzz Aldrin.

In focus: Earth from Space

"Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available - once the sheer isolation of the Earth becomes known - a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose."

So said Fred Hoyle in 1948. On November 18, 1967, this promise was fulfilled.

The first Applications Technology Satellite (ATS-I) was launched in 1966 with a revolutionary camera on board. The "spin-scan cloud camera" was invented by Dr Verner Suomi and Professor Robert Parent of the University of Wisconsin.

The first colour photograph of the entire disc of the Earth
The first colour photograph of the entire disc of the Earth

The camera was initially designed to take high resolution weather photographs from a spinning satellite orbiting as fast as the Earth was spinning, resulting in an apparently stationary image.

Now familiar, the photograph remains mesmerising, and has been used to illustrate various ideals, notably by counterculture movements.


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