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Skinner Celebrates the Wonder of Manned Space and Moon Exploration with The Beauty of Space: Vintage NASA Photographs, November 2

Portrait of Buzz Aldrin with the photographer and the Lunar Module reflected in his gold-plated visor, Apollo 11, July 1969 (Estimate $1,200-1,800)

A tribute to astronauts John Glenn (1921-2016), the first American to orbit the Earth, and Eugene Cernan (1934-2017), the last man on the Moon.

MARLBOROUGH, MA  – The Beauty of Space, the first auction in the United States to focus solely on vintage photographs produced from 1961 to 1972 by NASA, will take place on November 2 at 10AM. The 445 lot single-owner collection showcases 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.

While the astronaut’s primary goal was to record their activities, they were inspired by what they witnessed, creating images that transcend documentation, allowing viewers to share in the magic and excitement of space travel. The photographs are now appreciated for their artistic value as well as their historical and scientific significance. The images are the artistic artifacts produced by these space explorers turned photographers—the treasures they brought back along with samples of the lunar surface.

First Earthrise Seen by Human Eyes, Apollo 8, December 1968, Vintage Chromogenic Print

The auction, organized by mission, is conceived as a “space and lunar” photographic journal of the astronauts: from Alan Shepard, the first American in space in May 1961; to Eugene Cernan, the last man on the Moon in December 1972. Included are astronaut portraits and training exercises in addition to images of remarkable spacewalks and lunar excursions, and views of the Earth and Moon. Of particular note are large-format prints produced by NASA for presentation and fascinating original Apollo panoramic mosaics used by scientists.

The Birth of Space Photography

On February 20, 1962, John Glenn became the first human to photograph the Earth from space as he orbited the planet on board his Mercury Friendship 7 spacecraft. Every astronaut from then on would carry a camera into space. “You know, when you get back, you’re going to be a national hero,” noted NASA’s chief of photography Richard W. Underwood, “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” (quoted in Underwood’s Johnson Space Center Oral History).

Gemini 7 spacecraft orbits the Earth, Gemini 6, December 1965 (Estimate $1,500-2,500)

NASA’s Photographic Division was founded in close partnership with Kodak and Hasselblad, and cameras and film were adapted for use in the harsh conditions of space. After each mission, NASA selected a limited number of the astronauts’ photographs for release to the public. The rest were accessible only to accredited researchers in the archives of the Manned Spacecraft Center, Houston, from which most of this collection is sourced.

Photography proved to be a vital tool in reaching and exploring the Moon, but NASA also realized the image-building value of photographs in the space program, which generated tremendous public interest.  Made in 1965 from Gemini 4, images like Jim McDivitt’s stunning color photographs of his partner Ed White floating freely above the Earth represented the first pictures of man in space. Few sights in human history have been as exhilarating as the first Earthrise over the lunar horizon captured from Apollo 8 in 1968. Seven months later Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent only 150 minutes on the Moon, watched live on television by half a billion people, but brought back to Earth on Apollo 11 astonishing images seen by many more. The current excitement surrounding private spaceflight companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin show that the dream of manned space exploration lives on.

Voyage to Another World

The first photograph from space taken by man: the Sun illuminating the Earth, Mercury-Atlas 6, 20 February 1962 (Estimate $800-1,200)

Six manned Apollo missions to the lunar surface from Apollo 11 in July 1969 to Apollo 17 in December 1972 represented the pinnacle of human exploration. The astronauts observed a pristine, alien world that was airless, silent, and void. In this disorienting and dangerous environment, they explored lunar canyons and towering mountains on foot and via rover. With their cameras, the astronauts conveyed to the rest of humanity the surreal beauty and the profundity of their experience. Changing the way we see ourselves and our place in the universe, their photographs created a new visual vocabulary and are now part of our collective memory.

Acquired from former NASA scientists and employees, the photographs on offer were brought together by a private collector of 20th-century avant-garde art. 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.

Many of the photographs bear original NASA marks, captions, and identifying numbers, as well as Kodak paper watermarks, and will be offered with estimates ranging from $300 – $9,000.

Auction highlights include, but are not limited to:

The original seven project Mercury astronauts, Langley Air Force Base, July 1960 (Estimate $400-600)

♦ The Sun illuminating the Earth, by John Glenn, first American in orbit, Mercury Atlas 6, 20 February 1962

♦ The first full-color photograph of Earth taken in November 1967 by the robotic ATS 3 spacecraft

♦ The very first photograph taken on the surface of another world, by Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11, 20 July 1969

♦ Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the moon with reflection of Neil Armstrong and the LM “Eagle,” 20 July 1969

♦ The footprint on the Moon, by Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11, 20 July 1969

♦ Lunar Module “Eagle” and Earthrise, by Michael Collins, Apollo 11, July 1969

♦ David Scott and the lunar mountains of Hadley-Apennine, by James Irwin, Apollo 15, August 1971

♦ Eugene Cernan, the last man on the Moon, by Harrison Schmitt, Apollo 17, December 1972

Previews and Bidding

Public auction previews open on Tuesday, October 31, from 12-5PM and Wednesday, November 1, from 12-7PM.  The Skinner website enables users to view all lots, leave bids, and bid live in real-time through SkinnerLive!

About Skinner

Skinner auctions draw international interest from buyers and consignors alike, with material regularly achieving record prices. The company’s auction and appraisal services focus on fine art, jewelry, furniture, and decorative arts from around the globe, as well as wine, rare books, Asian art, clocks, and more. Widely regarded as one of the most trusted names in the business, Skinner appraisers have appeared on the PBS-TV series, Antiques Roadshow, since the show’s inception. Skinner has galleries in Boston and Marlborough, Massachusetts, as well as in New York City and Coral Gables, Florida. Join auctions live with SkinnerLive! and Bidsquare. For more information visit, find us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.


High-resolution images are available upon request.


Jenna Nastri
Marketing & Communications Manager

Michelle Lamunière
Specialist, Fine Photographs

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