One of my favorite books about space has very few words in it at all. “Full Moon” celebrates the photographs of the Apollo moon missions taken by the astronauts themselves. Their spacesuits had film cameras mounted on the front at chest level. As they moved around the surface of the moon, they carefully documented everything they could, mostly for scientific purposes.
That means that today, a lunar geologist studying a rock brought back from the moon can see exactly how the rock was situated on the surface there before it was picked up — extremely valuable information!
Of course, in addition to having scientific value, the pictures are also just incredibly cool and interesting to look at. “Full Moon” has about 130 pictures, organized by mission stage (the trip there, lunar orbit, the surface, splashdown). The photographer who put the book together, Michael Light, had plenty of material to work with — there are about 32,000 pictures from the Apollo missions. He used his artistic vision to choose photographs that are beautiful as well as informative.
A Fresh Look
While dozens of pictures from the U.S.A.’s famous race to the moon are as familiar as the nose on your face, thousands and thousands of pictures have hardly been seen by anyone. But even when it comes to pictures you’ve seen before, you’ve never seen them quite like this.
The 17 Apollo missions took place between 1967 and 1972, so of course the photographs were taken with film cameras. NASA had to keep such important film safe, so here’s what happened:
When astronauts got back and their film was developed, a number of the pictures were chosen as being the most news-worthy from that particular mission. The film negatives for those pictures were copied. Those copies were used to make pictures for newspapers, magazines, which then made their own copies. Publishers often ended up using copies of copies of the originals.
This process had two results. First, it caused the same pictures to be used over and over again. Second, it meant that publishers were often stuck using poor quality negatives.
By the 1990s, when Michael Light negotiated with NASA for access to the archive of original film negatives, technology had come a long way. Instead of taking photographs of the negatives he picked for the book, he scanned them using a high-resolution digital film scanner. This allowed the photographs in “Full Moon” to be reproduced with a sharpness and clarity that is stunning. All you can say, is “Wow.”
Nowadays, you can explore the Apollo archives yourself by going to one of the web sites that have databases of all the pictures (we provide some links below). You’ll see some interesting sights and gain a real appreciation for the amount of work the astronauts did simply to train for their trips to the moon. But for a gripping, one-stop ride from launchpad to splashdown, give “Full Moon” a look. You won’t be disappointed in this perfect artistic interpretation of one of the greatest technological achievements of all time.
Getting to the moon took a lot of time and a lot of work. The archives of the Apollo missions show spectacular views of barren lunar surface and of the beautiful blue sphere of Earth hanging in an ink-black sky. But a look through more of the galleries below will give you insight into how much more there was to getting to the moon and back than simply starting a countdown.Selected images from NASA