The First Photographs of Space Travel

In all their physical, orange-tinted glory
Shot in December 1965, this image shows the Gemini 7 module (where the image was taken) and Gemini 6 about to complete the first manned orbital rendezvous. (NASA / Breese Little)

Pictures of and from space are ubiquitous. Any number of websites will show you them. (Astronaut Photography of Earth is probably my favorite.) Nearly every smartphone has a special app for them.

A new art exhibit examines a period when they were rare. The Breese Little, an art gallery in London, is showing “For All Mankind” from now to February 22. It displays vintage NASA photography from 1964 to 1983, a period that encompasses the end of the Gemini program, the entirety of Apollo, and the beginning of the space shuttle. (Not to mention Skylab.)

Some of the photos from the show are below.

Gizmodo compares them to photos in “an old family album,” and it’s true. Where we’re used to digital photography and its pixels, these photos are sharp, physical, and tinted orange. (Many of them were likely taken with Hasselblad cameras, NASA’s device of choice for most of its early history.)

“The exploration of space is undoubtedly one of the single most important endeavours in humanity’s quest for self‐knowledge,” a release from the Breese Little says. “And yet the same problematic moral quandary remains: should such significant sums of money be spent on space exploration ahead of social welfare?”

Perhaps that question can be answered by looking at the process of spaceflight as we look at its products—as something beautiful. Speaking of which, Breese Little isn’t the only gallery displaying space-art this month: The National and Space Museum in Washington, DC has a gallery of photos from the Mars rovers, too. 

Ed White walking in space over Hawaii, taken by James McDivitt on Gemini 4. (NASA / Breese Little)
 
Ed White over Hawaii, also taken by James McDivitt during Gemini 4. White's walk, in June 1965, was the first American space walk. (NASA / Breese Little)

 

The Florida keys from orbit, aboard Gemini 4 in June 1965 (NASA / Breese Little)
 
Owen Garriott working outside of Skylab 3 in August 1973 (NASA / Breese Little)

 

Apollo 9's David Scott climbing out of the Command Module's open hatch in March 1969 (NASA / Breese Little)

 

The Saturn V rocket bearing Apollo 11 taking off on July 16, 1969.  (NASA / Breese Little)

 

The famous 'Earthrise' photograph, captured on December 26, 1968, by Apollo 8

 

The splashdown of Apollo 14, in February 1971 (NASA / Breese Little)

 

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Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

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