Vintage NASA photographs set for sale

Posted by Jake Parks
on Tuesday, October 31, 2017

On November 2, nearly 500 vintage NASA prints taken from 1961 to 1972 (including the three pictured above) will be auctioned off.

On February 20, 1962, John Glenn achieved two huge milestones for humankind within just a few short hours. First (and maybe most impressively), he became the first American to orbit the Earth by circling it three times aboard his Mercury Friendship 7 spacecraft, reaching speeds of more than 17,000 miles per hour. Second (and maybe most importantly), he snapped the first human-taken photograph of the Earth from space, permanently changing how we viewed our planet’s place in the universe.

Now, in just a few short days, you have the chance to bid on Glenn's iconic photograph, as well as many others, during The Beauty of Space — the first auction in the United States to exclusively focus on vintage photographs produced by NASA from 1961 to 1972.

According to the auction house, (Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers in Marlborough, Massachusetts), “the 445 lot single-owner collection includes both iconic and rare gelatin silver and chromogenic prints presenting an extraordinary photographic journey to the moon and back as seen through the eyes of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts.”

This photo, taken by astronaut James A. McDivitt, captures astronaut Ed White performing the first U.S. spacewalk over New Mexico during the Gemini 4 mission in June of 1965. // NASA/Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers
After Glenn took his iconic image of Earth from orbit, every single astronaut that went into space was required to carry a camera as part of his standard equipment. In the Johnson Space Center Oral History Project, NASA’s chief of photography, Richard W. Underwood, said of the astronauts, “You know, when you get back, you’re going to be a national hero, but those photographs, if you get great photos, they’ll live forever. Your key to immortality is in the quality of the photographs and nothing else.”

Following every mission, NASA would select a handful of the astronauts’ photographs to release to the public. Any images that were not made publically available were instead stored in the archives of the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, where they were only accessible to accredited researchers.

Mainly gathered from former NASA employees and scientists, the photographs featured in this sale were all acquired by a private collector of 20th-century avant-garde art. According to the auction house, “His fascination for explorers and adventurers began with the prophetic novels of Jules Verne, leading him to the pioneering astronauts who voyaged to the final frontier: Space.

This image from the Apollo 12 mission in November 1969, shows photographer and astronaut Pete Conrad reflected in the visor of astronaut Alan Bean during a moonwalk. // NASA/Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers
With photographs ranging from astronaut portraits and training exercises to spacewalks and lunar excursions, many of images still bear NASA marks, captions, numbers, and even Kodak paper watermarks. The collection is meant to act as a photographic journal of the golden age of manned space exploration, documenting astronauts from Alan Shepard, the first American in space (May 1961), to Eugene Cernan, the last man on the moon (December 1972). The vintage photos are expected to fetch prices ranging anywhere from $300 to $9,000.

Skinner’s website,, allows users to view all the lots, leave bids, and bid live in real-time. Public auction previews of the vintage collection are open from 12 P.M. to 5 P.M. on Tuesday, October 31, and from 12 P.M. to 7 P.M. on Wednesday, November 1.

Catalog #3048M is available from the Subscription Department at, while realized prices will be available at during and after the sale.

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