Apollo 11 photos of Armstrong and Aldrin auctioned as NASA announces Moon return date

NASA share the preparation ahead of Artemis I's moon launch

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The “Moon Shots: Space photography 1950–1999” auction included 327 photographs covering the earliest rocket launches through to the first manned lunar missions. The fortnight-long auction was held by Christie’s online, with bidding having closed earlier this afternoon. The lots, the auction house said, documented “a wide-ranging view of the Golden Age of space exploration”.

They added: “Spanning the 1950s, with the launch of Atlas, to the late 1990s, with images capturing the beauty of Saturn’s rings, the collection captures an exciting panorama of one of the most important scientific stories in history.

“Among the most evocative photographs are shots of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin setting foot on the Moon for the first time, and the first untethered space flight.”

In fact, the sale was led by two images of Mr Aldrin on the lunar surface — with one, dated July 16–24, 1969, showing the pioneering astronaut posing by the US flag with the Eagle Lunar Module in the background. It was valued at £20,000–30,000.

The second was a picture in which the Eagle and Neil Armstrong, who was behind the camera, can be seen reflected in Mr Aldrin’s mirrored visor. This sold for £9,450.

Christie’s added: “The photographs are arguably some of the most recognisable photographs from space exploration, capturing Aldrin posed against the backdrop of a vast lunar landscape.

Other notable inclusions in the auction included two pictures of NASA engineer Ed White performing the first-ever US spacewalk in the June of 1965, one of which was auctioned off for £1,386.

Meanwhile, a shot of the first spacecraft rendezvous — conducted at a whopping 17,000 miles per hour — sold for £1,008, and a sunset photograph of the first Saturn V rocket on its launch pad sold for £504.

The auction also includes various breath-taking shots of the Earth and Moon as seen from space — including the iconic first human-taken photograph of an “Earthrise” over the lunar surface in the December of 1986, which went for a whopping £15,120.

The full selection of photographs being sold in the “Moon Shots: Space photography 1950–1999” auction can be viewed on Christie’s website.

The space-themed auction is coming to a close just as NASA officials have revealed the prospective launch dates for the Artemis I mission.

A major step in efforts to return humanity to the lunar surface, the uncrewed mission will see the first integrated flight test of NASA’s Orion spacecraft and the long-awaited Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

Launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the mission will engage in several orbits of the Moon, including the first-ever “distant retrograde orbit” which will reach some 43,730 miles out from the lunar surface.

The mission will last anywhere between 26 and 42 days, depending on which launch window is chosen — with NASA having identified 158 different opportunities between July 26 this year and June 30 in the next.

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The choice of launch windows depends on various factors — including the orbital mechanics that will be in play at each given point in time.

A NASA spokesperson explained: “The resulting trajectory for a given day must ensure Orion is not in darkness for more than 90 minutes at a time.”

This, they added, is “so that the solar array wings can receive and convert sunlight to electricity and the spacecraft can maintain an optimal temperature range.

“Mission planners eliminate potential launch dates that would send Orion into extended eclipses during the flight.”

On Tuesday, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told a US House subcommittee hearing that they were aiming, all things being well, to launch Artemis I “in August”.

As NASA’s Kathryn Hambleton told Ars Technica: “The range of dates is not meant to convey anything about the probability of launching in 2022 or 2023.

“All launch dates more than about two months out are preliminary. It is standard for the team to have a preliminary outlook several months ahead.

“We’ll set a more specific target after we complete wet dress rehearsal testing.”

This trial — which will see the SLS fully fuelled and brought to within 10 seconds of engine ignition — is currently anticipated to take place in early–mid-June.

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