Onlookers watch as the space shuttle Endeavour carries a crew of six astronauts on a mission to the International Space Station. (Hans Deryk/Reuters)
Fifty-five years ago today, President Eisenhower signed into law the act that created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration — what you and I know better as NASA. At the outset, NASA operated on a tiny budget of $250,000 — about $2 million in today's money. But in its nearly six decades, the science agency has managed to deploy probes beyond the solar system, send robots to Mars and, most famously, put people on the moon.
NASA has kept detailed photographic records of its proudest mission, Apollo 11. Hundreds, if not thousands, of images are freely available in its online archives. There are way more than we can include here. But as a small homage, we've culled a few of the least-recognized (if no less important) images of the time. The photos are all from NASA, and the captions come from NASA's Apollo 11 mission log.
Buzz Aldrin (left) and Neil Armstrong during the Sierra Blanca trip. 24 February 1969.
With Back-up Commander Jim Lovell (left) looking on and holding a Hasselblad, Back-up Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise (right) examines a sample during the Sierra Blanca trip. Both have geology hammers stowed in tool belts. Haise also has what looks like a tape recorder attached to the front of his belt. The leather pouch on Lovell's left hip may also hold a tape recorder. The recorders would capture any descriptions they made of the samples which, after the end of the session, could be discussed with the trainers. 24 February 1969.
Bill Anders, Armstrong, Michael Collins, Aldrin, and Deke Slayton (left to right) during the pre-launch breakfast. Deke is discussing a map that might show the location of recovery ships or of communications sites to be used during the early phases of the missions. 16 July 1969.
The Mobile Service Structure (MSS) moves down the pad 39A ramp, leaving the Saturn V alone during a Countdown Demonstration Test. Photo filed 11 July 1969.
Apollo 11 after pitchover. Note the condensation cloud that has formed in air expanding aft of the first-stage/second-stage transition. 16 July 1969.
Buzz in the Lunar Module.
Buzz has reached the bottom rung of the ladder and is about the jump down to the footpad. As he said at the moment Neil took this picture, "Okay. I'm going to leave that one foot up there and both hands down to about the fourth rung up." The thermal shroud protecting the U.S. flag that Neil and Buzz deploy during the EVA can be seen on the underside of the lefthand ladder rail.
This shows the area under the Descent Stage, including the jettison bag. Neil turned to his right to take this photo while waiting for Buzz to get farther out of the cabin.
Buzz salutes the U.S. flag.
Buzz is deploying the Solar Wind Collector (SWC), a foil sheet that he is pointing at the Sun. Note the word 'Shade' printed on the bottom of the back side. The word 'Sun' is printed on the sunward side. At the end of the EVA, after leaving the SWC exposed to the Sun for about 1 hour and 17 minutes, Buzz will roll up the foil and pack it in a bag for analysis back on Earth.
View down onto the heavily disturbed soil directly under Neil's window. Many clear footsteps, and a sharp shadow cast by the -Y strut. Journal Contributor AwE130 has identified the Contingency Sampler ring in this image. As indicated in a detail, it is at the lower right.
Mission Control in Houston celebrates after splashdown.
President Nixon greets the astronauts in their isolation chamber.
Collins, Aldrin, and Armstrong in post-flight ticker tape parade in New York City. NASA Administrator Thomas Paine is seated in front of Buzz. Photo filed 13 August 1969.
And one more: What the astronauts saw on Day 4 of the mission.