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When astronauts photographed on the Moon

Posted by David Beard, Globe Staff  July 13, 2009 02:59 PM

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By David Beard, Globe Staff

With the 40th anniversary of man's first steps on the Moon a week away, we're getting space fever. We chatted and exchanged e-mails with NASA's Robert Jacobs and Michael Cabbage, two editors of "Apollo Through the Eyes of the Astronauts," a just-released book with photographs of and by the only people who've been to our Moon.

Q. How many photographs altogether were taken from the Apollo missions? Did the astronauts agree on who among them emerged as the best photographer?

A. We used 115 photographs in the book, most of them taken by the Apollo astronauts. Many of the astronauts turned out to be terrific photographers, but one whose name was consistently mentioned by his peers as among the best was Apollo 12 moonwalker Alan Bean.

Q. Did you have a personal favorite in the collection, and what about it struck you?

A. Robert's favorite was of Charlie Duke's family photo lying in the moon dust that he took during Apollo 16 (shown above). Michael's favorite is the well-known photo of Buzz Aldrin standing on the lunar surface that was taken by Neil Armstrong during Apollo 11. It has become one of the more iconic photos in American history.

Q. Some of the stories, such as the family Poloraid in the moondust, were extremely striking. Where there new things you hadn't heard before?

A. Yes, there were lots of great stories, some of which are recounted in the book. One that stood out related to the aforementioned family photo in the moon dust. Charlie Duke watched the picture turn brown and disintegrate in the unfiltered sun's rays moments after he snapped the photo.

Q. What role do you think these images had in fueling the American imagination for the Apollo program -- and does photography play a similar role for NASA today?

A. These images transported people around the world to an alien landscape for the first time. They were visual proof that America had fulfilled President Kennedy's mandate. Ironically, there was considerable debate inside NASA before the Apollo missions as to whether or not photography should play a major role. Photography still is vital in letting Americans here on Earth go along for the ride on NASA missions throughout the solar system. For example, pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope have revolutionized our knowledge of the universe.

Q. Are these photographs central to the lives of the Apollo mission members? Have you seen them in wallets, offices, homes of the former astronauts even today?

A. We'd hesitate to speak for the astronauts, but it's clear from many of their comments that the photos have a special meaning for them even today - 40 years after the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Q. Have you seen any post-Apollo photo collections of the astronauts? Is it clear that many have fallen in love with the medium as a way to express the hard-to-express wonder of nature and of space?

A. No, we haven't seen any such collections. However, we know from talking with the astronauts that many remain avid photographers or have found other outlets for their artistic talents. For example, Michael Collins and Alan Bean are painters.

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2 comments so far...
  1. Amazing!.... I am thrilled that we live in a world that hasn't forgotten about what came before us. I'm proud to be an American!! Congratulations, Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin.

    Posted by Allynson2 July 14, 09 08:23 PM
  1. Allynson2, don't forget Michael Collins...without him, the landing doesn't happen at all, and neither does the return to Earth. His role was as important as either of the other two!

    Posted by Paul July 20, 09 12:42 AM
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