As NASA’s Orion spacecraft makes its closest approach to the moon as part of the Artemis I mission, heralding the latest era in NASA’s rich history of lunar missions, an extremely rare photo of humanity’s first lunar landing is expected to sell for $30,000 at auction this week. A print of the only photo taken of Neil Armstrong on the moon will be sold as part of Bonhams’ Space Photography auction from November 22 through December 1.
Neil Armstrong became the first person to step foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, as part of the Apollo 11 mission. For about two decades following the momentous ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,’ it was believed that there weren’t any photos of Armstrong on the moon. There was some miscommunication, and it was thought that Armstrong never gave fellow moonwalker Buzz Aldrin the Hasselblad camera.
|For about 20 years, it was thought that this famous Apollo 11 photo was among the only ones that showed Neil Armstrong on the moon. Armstrong, the photographer, is seen in the reflection of Buzz Aldrin’s visor.|
The flight plan outlined that Armstrong was supposed to leave the camera on the Apollo Lunar Module descent stage Modularized Equipment Stowage Assembly (MESA). When asked when he gave Aldrin the camera, Armstrong replied that he hadn’t given it to Aldrin. NASA’s head of public affairs at the Manned Flight Center, Brian Duff, understood Armstrong’s response to mean that Aldrin had never used the camera to capture any photos of Armstrong on the moon.
In a 1987 issue of Spaceflight, a pair of British researchers, H.J.P. Arnold and Keith Wilson, concluded that Buzz Aldrin had used the Hasselblad camera during the extravehicular activity (EVA). Aldrin captured images 5876-5900 and 5904-5926 on Magazine S (40). The featured photo was originally thought to show Buzz Aldrin, as photographed by Neil Armstrong. However, in truth, the roles were reversed, as Wilson confirmed with Armstrong in 1987.
|This is the only full-body photo of Neil Armstrong on the moon during the Apollo 11 EVA. The image was captured by Buzz Aldrin on July 21, 1969. The 8×10 print features NASA text in the top left corner.
Image credit: Bonhams
By all accounts, it’s the only existing photo of Armstrong on the lunar surface. Period prints of the photo are scarce. Another print was sold as part of the ‘Voyage to Another World: The Victor-Martin Malburet Photograph Collection‘ in 2020. The print of Armstrong on the moon sold for more than £50,000, equating to nearly $70,000.
The photo sold in 2020 is not the same as the one Bonhams is auctioning. The print at Bonhams includes red NASA identification markings and presents a different, taller crop.
|This print, sold by Christie’s in 2020 for £52,500, has a different aspect ratio than the one available from Bonhams.
Image credit: Christie’s
Despite the high price for the print sold by Christie’s in 2020, Bonhams expects its print to sell for between $20,000 and $30,000. There’s an avid market for space photography and memorabilia. For many, the memories and nostalgia surrounding Apollo 11 and subsequent NASA missions are powerful.
Adam Stackhouse, specialist for Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts department, told PetaPixel, ‘Space photography can convey the emotion and achievement of the space program and the beauty of the Solar System more succinctly than any written account.’ Many more space photos will be available when the Space Photography auction starts online tomorrow, November 22.