When I read about this book, it took me — unsurprisingly — about two seconds to order it. All photographs of the Apollo space programme, as well as the precursors Gemini and Mercury, are stored frozen by NASA. I mean, the films are. Accordingly, most pictures we have seen in the past decades were not taken from these original films, but were copies of copies of paper prints (or scans thereof).
Now all the films — negatives for black and white, slides (ie. “positives”) for colour1 — have been taken out of the freezer one more time, unfrozen, and digitised at high resolution. And put back. Thanks to todays computational possibilities, Andy Saunders has restored a subset of these about 35,000 pictures to an astounding quality. And printed on high quality paper in this book. It weighs about three kilograms.
There’s also a chapter about the cameras (and films) used, including the challenges to make them usable when wearing a space suit. Think about the helmet and the related difficulties with aiming and framing a picture. No LCD at the back to shoot smartphone style. Or about operating the controls with the stiff gloves.
Apart from a descriptive caption, each photograph also is annotated with the lens and settings used, but to compare focal length and aperture value with our cameras down here today one has to account for the fact that they used 70 mm film in the Hasselblads.
Each mission is summarised on half a page. You find astounding facts like this: “Such was the pace of flight testing leading up to the first lunar landing that Apollo 10 was rolled out to Pad 39B while Apollo 9 was still in orbit.”
A book to get lost in.
Back in the film days, we always used slide film to get more vibrant colours. Also, not knowing what colour gamut would be found in deep space and on the moon, it was safer to use a film that has its own “reference built in”. ↩︎