New NASA Photos Show Golden Age of Space Flight

Bet you didn't know Buzz Aldrin took the first space selfie!


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A huge collection of more than 600 vintage NASA photographs are seeing the light of day for the first time in years. The previously unseen images are on display at Mallett Antiques in London, and are set to be auctioned off on Thursday.

Spanning the early days of the Mercury Project to the landmark Apollo Missions, the images were all captured by NASA’s pioneering astronauts. So why has it taken so long for NASA to release them?

"Many photographs in this auction were unknown to the general public for decades."

After each mission during space exploration's golden age, NASA released only a small number of pictures to the media. The rest were only made available to researchers at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston.

All of the images feature the original NASA stamps, captions, and identification numbers.

"It's incredible to realize 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,” said Sarah Wheeler, head of photographs at Bloomsbury Auctions in London, in a press release.

Wheeler added that each photograph was pieced together from individual Hasselblad medium format frames that were originally intended for use by NASA scientists. The agency has since transitioned to using Nikon digital cameras.

Some of the images were taken by John Glenn, who was both the first American to enter orbit and the first person to carry a camera into space. One image, captured by Buzz Aldrin during a 1966 space walk, could even be described as the first "space selfie,” though it seems unlikely Buzz would have endorsed that term.

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Eclipse of the Sun

This dramatic view of an eclipse when the Earth moved directly between the sun and the spacecraft is a scene only visible in space. It was taken with a 16mm motion-picture camera from the Apollo 12 spacecraft during its journey home from the Moon, November 1969.

“You could see the spectrum spread out all around the Earth. Finally, when the Earth completed eclipsing the sun, you could see a big white light right in the middle of the Earth moving across the ocean. We didn’t know what that was. When we got back, Rusty Schweickart pointed out that it was the Moon right behind us reflecting off the Earth.” — Alan Bean

Buzz Aldrin Selfie

Buzz Aldrin snapped the first self-portrait, or "selfie," in space during the Gemini 12 mission, November 1966.


Reflections of the Sun over the LM “Antares” in the lunar black sky.

A Portrait of Earth
Credit: The Earth from Apollo 11, July 1969

The Earth from Apollo 11, July 1969.

Portrait of Buzz

A portrait of Buzz Aldrin by Neil Armstrong. The photographer and the Lunar Module are reflected in Buzz's gold-plated visor, Apollo 11, July 1969.

Apollo 11 Lift-off

Apollo 11 lifts off on its historic flight to the Moon, 16 July 1969.

Perhaps Morse’s greatest image for Life Magazine: “You have to realize that the rocket had to go through the camera, in a sense. It had to go through the camera’s field of view. It took me two years to get NASA to agree to let me make this shot. Now, RCA had the camera contract at Cape Canaveral at that time, and they had a steel box-with optical glass-attached to the launch platform. We negotiated a deal with them and I was able to put a Nikon, with maybe 30 or 40 feet of film, inside the box, looking out through the glass. The camera was wired into the launch countdown, and at around minus-four seconds the camera started shooting something like ten frames per second.” — Ralph Morse

Florida Peninsula from Space

Florida Peninsula looking East, Apollo 7, October 1968.

“Everything came together on day nine, and we found ourselves looking at the Florida Peninsula, which had been our home for much of the preceding three years. Grabbing the Hasselblad camera, I perpetrated a photographic no-no, taking this picture looking into the sun." — W. Cunningham

Buzz Aldrin Space Walk

EVA (Extravehicular activity) by Buzz Aldrin, Gemini 12, November 1966.

“The whole purpose of Aldrin’s EVA was to see how well you can work in space. You can operate very nicely out there if you know what you’re doing and just slow down. You have to let zero gravity work for you, not against you.” — J. Lovell.

Sunset over the Andes

Sunset over the Andes, Gemini 7, December 1965.

First US Spacewalk

First US Spacewalk: Ed White’s EVA (Extravehicular Activity), Gemini 4, 3 June 1965.

Within days of splashdown, McDivitt’s pictures appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world, marking a turning point in the role photography played in the space programe and in the popular conception of manned space exploration.

“I wasn’t the only one who felt the power of those images from space. Countless people saw them and understood their basic message: this was the edge of human experience.” — Andrew Chaikin

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