Apollo 11: The Big Picture

By Phil Plait | July 16, 2009 7:00 am

You just knew The Big Picture would take on the premier space event of the 20th century now, didn’t you?

Apollo 11 Saturn V rocket on its way to history

Whoa. Head on over there for high-res spacey goodness! Many of those images made me a little choked up, in fact. Sigh.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Pretty pictures
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Comments (44)

  1. Stone Age Scientist

    Photo #37 looks unearthly (pardon the oxymoron). But it is beautiful.

    Phil, check out Photo #20 for the Taurus pareidolia.

  2. Goosebumps. Awe inspiring. We, the human race, did good didn’t we? Thank you to the USA for bringing humanity’s dream to reality.

    Number 20 for me. Gorgeous.

  3. Kevin

    Amazing images, of course. And yeah, I get a little choked up as well. It’s simply outstanding what we can do when we focus on a real goal.

    Right now I’m listening to the launch countdown for Apollo 11 at http://wechoosethemoon.org/ – which is an “as it happened” website for the mission.

  4. angel

    Watching the launch of Apollo 11 “live” right now on http://wechoosethemoon.org/

    So cool. I have goosebumps :)

  5. Charles Boyer

    I’ve had picture 11 for years. My Dad is the guy with the white hard hat and his back to the camera on the gantry at the S-IVB level.

    Interesting too that TBP didn’t choose the ONE picture Aldrin bothered himself to take of Armstrong on the lunar surface.

  6. Stone Age Scientist

    All these talks about rockets and shuttles, and now this picture of a rocket rollout from KSC do remind me of this:

    Once again, I’m a kid marvelling at the wonders of science. Hmmm, I wonder how many astronauts today took their inspirations from Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds?

  7. Scott

    Was it just me or did wechoosethemoon.org just screw up the launch? My audio was out of sync from the counter by one minute. At around 1:45 the audio died and I got the launch with no NASA narration! Kind of took the fun out of the whole recreation concept.

  8. Jeff

    I still have my Milwaukee newspaper insert from July 23, 1969 showing full color pictures of all the events during Apollo 11 . Reading those over is very interesting 40 years later, I remember it like it was yesterday. 40 years is shorter than I thought.

  9. dbear

    What book(s) would anyone suggest to one wanting to read of the detailed history of the NASA missions to the moon and the moon landings? Thanks in advance!

  10. Stuart

    There’s a new (free) iPhone app to view Big Picture.

    http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=321915609&mt=8

    The icon is now next to the “I Can Has Cheezburger” and “xkcd” apps on my iPod touch.

  11. Kevin

    @dbear …

    Andrew Chaikin’s books, to start with. If you can find the three-book set “A Man on the Moon” that’s almost everything you need. He also has a new book out called “Voices from the Moon: Apollo Astronauts Describe Their Lunar Experiences.”

  12. Definitely choked up. Just…amazing. And the quotes too. I’m buying that book.

  13. Trebuchet

    I found the Big Picture coverage yesterday and posted a link on the BAUT forum. What I’m finding remarkable is that after 129 comments there are no HB’s! There’s one asking, apparently seriously, about the lack of stars but definitely not denying the landing, and a couple asking about the flag waving, but that’s it.

  14. Nathanial Burton-Bradford

    @dbear

    May I also recommend the book “Full Moon” from Michael Light.

    Not quite what you might be looking for, but well worth purchasing… Stunning images !

  15. Stone Age Scientist

    Wechoosethemoon.org does not work for me. I get no audio or any media whatsoever.

  16. Dan S.

    @dbear: In addition to “A Man on the Moon:”

    * “Moon Lander: How We Developed the Apollo Lunar Module” by Thomas J. Kelly
    * “Building Moonships: The Grumman Lunar Module” by Joshua Stoff
    * “Chariots for Apollo: The NASA History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft to 1969” by Courtney G. Brooks, James M. Grimwood, Loyd S. Swenson Jr., and Paul Dickson
    * “To A Rocky Moon: A Geologist’s History of Lunar Exploration” by Don Wilhems

    @Scott: wechoosethemoon.org also cut out on me at about T-0:1:30, and was 1 minute behind (unless there was a planned 1min hold, but it didn’t sound like it)

  17. the premier space event of the 20th century

    None of these pictures are from that day in 1999 when the moon was blown out of orbit.

  18. Jeff:

    I still have my Milwaukee newspaper insert from July 23, 1969 showing full color pictures of all the events during Apollo 11 . Reading those over is very interesting 40 years later, I remember it like it was yesterday. 40 years is shorter than I thought.

    Lucky! My mother threw out my entire Apollo 11 collection back in the early 70’s. (And I can hear my wife’s voice in my head — “get over it already!” :-) )

    Oh, and photo 9 has been in my desktop wallpaper collection for a couple of years.

  19. OtherRob

    Yeah, I got a little teary-eyed, too. :)

    I think my favorite is #24 of “Neil Armstrong in the cabin after the completion of the first EVA.” Though #15 is giving it a run for the money.

  20. I liked this quote from Michael Collins on photo 39: “I could not have staged it any better, but the alignment was not of my doing, just a happy coincidence. I suspect a lot of good photography is like that, some serendipitous happenstance beyond the control of the photographer. But at any rate, as I clicked away, I realized that for the first time, in one frame, appeared three billion earthlings, two explorers, and one moon. The photographer, of course, was discreetly out of view.”

  21. Kevin

    @TechyDad…

    I agree about that quote. I struck me personally, as I am a photographer, and there are times I feel exactly the same way as what Collins said (about the serendipitousness).

  22. Wow thanks for posting this. That site always has mind boggling good imagery. This was no different! Gotta show this to the kids.

    Yeah I think wechoosethemoon.org got overloaded there. Which isn’t really a bad thing to think that many people were interested!

  23. Charles Boyer

    “What book(s) would anyone suggest to one wanting to read of the detailed history of the NASA missions to the moon and the moon landings? Thanks in advance!”

    Chaikin’s books, buttressed with the Mission Reports, backed up by the Spacecraft Film DVDs of the missions in question.

  24. TechyDad. I think you mean number 35, not 39?

    Also, read the comments on the site, particularly #102’s comment on the same image, where he claims that it’s not “3 billion” people, because “one side of the Earth is permanently turned towards Moon”.

  25. Ibeechu

    It’s eerie, the picture quality. At first glance, it looks like the photos were taken very recently with modern-day cameras. People, in my generation at least, have never seen anything from decades ago aside from stuff from common period-quality equipment. So I’ve only ever experienced the 60s and 70s through grainy or degraded footage. Seeing pictures from that same time period that look as if they were taken yesterday… man. It really somehow solidifies how awesome the moon landing was. Like, I think that maybe in recent generations, it’s been sort of taken for granted. As if it’s some old legend. “Did you hear about those guys who landed on the moon?” “Oh, yeah. Hey, wanna go see Harry Potter later?”

    But these pictures are a jarring reminder that people just like us, our species, went on the moon. Not some legendary heroes seen only through old, grainy video equipment. But real people.

    I hope that post made sense, but it probably didn’t. My point was that the picture quality was so good, it showed me a time period that I had never seen before, in a new, clearer way. I guess it’s like how, whenever anyone who was born far after the 50s can seem to only imagine the 50s in black and white. I’ve only imagined the 60s and 70s in grain, but this is a real breath of fresh air to realize that people were still people back then. I hope THAT makes sense. But it probably doesn’t.

  26. OtherRob

    @Ibeechu, #26:

    But these pictures are a jarring reminder that people just like us, our species, went on the moon. Not some legendary heroes seen only through old, grainy video equipment. But real people.

    I think that’s the reason that #24 is my favorite. Just the look on Neil Armstrong’s face. The exhaustion, the exhilaration.

    And I agree completely about your comments on imagining the past in b&w. Your comments made sense to me. :) I’m always slightly jarred when I see, say, a WWII-era color picture.

  27. dhtroy

    How. Cool. Is. That.

  28. Charles Boyer

    “At first glance, it looks like the photos were taken very recently with modern-day cameras. People, in my generation at least, have never seen anything from decades ago aside from stuff from common period-quality equipment.”

    The FBI ran extensive tests and concluded that 35mm 200 ISO film captured about the same amount of information as 16 meg cameras. The numbers rise the lower the ISO and I imagine that NASA photographers at the Cape were using 120mm or higher cameras for a lot of their shots.

  29. Carl Chan

    #35 for me. I’d seen that picture many times, but reading Mike Collins description of it….I’d never thought of it that way before.

  30. Chas, PE SE

    RE book: Really good, butr little known, is “Chariots for Apollo” — not the one mentioned by Dan #17, but by Charles Pelligrino.

    Second: My absolute favorite piece of reporting was the headline on the Valparaiso (IN) Vidette-Messinger on July 24th, 1969:

    “MOONMEN INVADE EARTH!”

  31. Kevin

    The astronauts used Hasselblad cameras, which were “medium format.” The resolution is much better than a standard “35mm” format. Plus, Hasselblad was the cadillac of cameras at the time.

    I don[t know for certain, but I would guess that most of the high quality images were taken with medium format (or larger) film.

  32. Aleksandar

    In a drawer back home, in a plastic sheath, I’ve got newspaper special editions about Apollo 8 and Apollo 11. High quality paper, color photos. I remember accidentally finding them in late ’90es, my late father must have placed them for safe keeping and forgot about them. I remember seeing those 30 year old magazines, so well preserved like someone just brought them from newspaper stand.

    It made me realize how interested people around the world were in space and Apollo back then. Here in a semi-communist country, main state owned newspaper published a special issue after special issue about USA and Russian space program.

  33. 26. Ibeechu Says:
    People, in my generation at least, have never seen anything from decades ago aside from stuff from common period-quality equipment. So I’ve only ever experienced the 60s and 70s through grainy or degraded footage.

    Don’t sweat it, some/many? of us who lived through the ’60’s/’70’s have grainy or degraded memories.
    (FYI, I was 16 at the time of The Landing, and watched the launch on TV until Apollo got to a mile or two altitude, when I went into my back yard… about 40 miles S. of KSC)

    J/P=?

  34. Bryan Feir

    Having been born in 1968, I don’t remember the big wonder and awe around the Moon landings. First part of the space program I remember seeing on TV and understanding was the Apollo-Soyuz linkup in 1975. Which was quite a notable first of its own, if for different reasons…

  35. Chris A.

    Much as I enjoy The Big Picture, I’ve noticed that they are a bit prone to getting their facts wrong. The caption to #29 incorrectly states that the Moon is receding by 2.5 inches per year. It’s actually more like 1.5 inches (3.8 cm). Not a big difference in absolute terms, but it overstates the true value by 67%!

  36. TSB

    @Chris A. – As they say on the site, the captions usually aren’t written by the BP staff, though that may not be the case for archival images like this. Feel free to point out mistakes to them.

  37. @Chris A: Unless they know something we don’t. *music sting*

  38. Dan I.

    And that’s getting shared on Facebook for sure!

  39. Charles Boyer

    “The astronauts used Hasselblad cameras, which were “medium format.” The resolution is much better than a standard “35mm” format. Plus, Hasselblad was the cadillac of cameras at the time.”

    True, however, my post was to illustrate the base film to MP equivalent for a well-known format. I would simply do the math from there, it’s fairly easy.

    I do wish that the astronauts had been able to haul up and use a Wisner 11×14 view camera, the resultant shots would have been even more stunning!

  40. Thanx for the link Phil!

    @ Charles Boyer
    I was 13 when they landed, I was already into photography. The cameras were modified (tho’ not much, no finder, no leather… they left the aluminum alone, and a special HUGE shutter release, they had to be able to fire the thing.) Hassie 500 ELMs with a superwide lens and 70mm film backs. They only brought the backs home, left the camera bodies there.

    At the time Hasselblad had a nice glossy brochure out touting that NASA took their cameras to the moon, and left them there…. free for the taking !!! HAAAA !!!! I might still have the brochure packed away with my 500EL or 500ELM, i’ll have to look for it, if I find it, I’ll send a link to Phil.

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