NEW YORK – A book portraying the history of the United States National Aeronautical Space Administration, better known by its initials NASA, seeks to demonstrate to what extent the exploration of space is associated with the collective visual memory of humans on Earth.
Milestones such as the photograph showing the Apollo mission’s arrival on the Moon, the first Martian landscape images, or planet Earth seen for the first time from outer space all belong now to Humanity’s collective eidetic memory.
“The NASA Archives. 60 Years in Space” (Taschen publishers) attempts to bridge two different commemorations due this year: NASA’s 60th anniversary and June’s 50th anniversary of the Moon landing.
It does so by suggesting a magical journey across space and time, resorting to 400 exquisitely selected photographs as a “visual homage to Humanity’s unstoppable drive to travel beyond Earth.”
This trip begins with the Gemini and Apollo projects, describes the winged space shuttles’ era and pauses with the Martian rovers: an epic six-decade sojourn covering millions of kilometers (miles) which continues, even at this moment, as veteran spaceships Voyagers 1 and 2 travel beyond our Solar system into interstellar space, or gazing in wonder at remote galaxy images sent back to Earth by the Hubble Space Telescope.
The book also recalls conversations between the astronauts and Ground Control, such as Apollo XIII’s classic one-liner, “Houston, we have had a problem,” actually a collective memory recall of astronaut Jim Lovell’s more accurate deadpan quote: “Houston we have a problem,” or President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s 1962 “Moon-shot” speech where he appealed to the people of the United States to support the Apollo program.
A photographic narrative that goes from the creation of NASA in 1958 as an “emergency response” to the launch of Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite launched by the Soviet Union, and the ensuing concerns among US society, to the “selfies” taken by NASA rovers on the Martian surface.
The book’s large format, high-resolution photographs highlight Mankind’s fragility resumed in Buzz Aldrin’s “Magnificent desolation” words uttered moments after setting foot on the Moon, right behind Neil Amstrong on July 20, 1969.
The book also registers how these technological advances were followed by the public with a mixture of incredulity and excitement, such as the image of New York’s Central Station full of commuters watching a giant screen broadcasting John Glenn’s Project Mercury Friendship 7 mission, as he became the first American to orbit the Earth three times.
Black and white memories contrast with Earth’s immense deep blue backdrop during a spacewalk or the daily chores of astronauts and cosmonauts on board the International Space Station (ISS) or the pioneering work of thousands of unsung NASA employees who anonymously contributed to these landmark moments in Space.
“In the breadth of a single lifetime, NASA made some of the greatest explorations we could have ever imagined, searching for our fundamental relationship with an immense and incredible Universe,” wrote the book’s author and editor, Piers Bizony.
The book also includes essays by former NASA chief historian Roger Launius and writer and science journalist Andrew Chaikin.
The NASA enterprise has not been without pitfalls and setbacks which can be seen in the deaths of 17 space pioneers, highlighted in the horrific image dated Jan. 28, 1986 of the Challenger shuttle bursting into a massive fireball before falling back to Earth in pieces.
“The NASA Archives” also covers the space exploration of our dreams by quoting extracts of classics such as Jules Verne “From the Earth to the Moon” (opening the volume) or Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001: A Space Oddissey” on the eternal human question: “What is out there?”
The book also looks forward by affirming the current status of future space systems.
Perhaps it is the words of Apolo 8 astronaut, Bill Anders, which resume it all: “We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”
The image of the Earth rising above the lunar horizon is likely to remain imprinted on the memory of anyone who has seen the photograph.
The “NASA Archives” is more than just a pictorial history of the US space program.
It reflects on why we choose to explore space and how we can achieve the grandest of all humanities longings: our desire to reach for the stars.