Like anyone embarking on an exotic trip, astronaut John Glenn wanted to take photos of his upcoming journey in 1962. None of NASA’s equipment was really designed for making pretty pictures, though, so Glenn bought a drugstore camera and got some technicians to modify it for orbit. The dozen or so pictures he took showed the curvature of Earth, the blackness of space and a spectacular sunset.
A few missions later, when Wally Schirra blasted into a six-orbit flight, he took along his own camera, an expensive Swedish-made Hasselblad, favored by wedding and magazine photographers at the time. Gordon Cooper took the same camera on his 1963 spaceflight. The photos they captured had razor-sharp views of our home planet and the cosmos. Soon after, many astronauts started using the company’s cameras, creating a record of stunning images.
Astronaut John Young retrieves tools from the lunar rover during the Apollo 16 mission. The vehicle, used by astronauts on Apollo 15, 16 and 17, vastly extended their range on the surface.
Apollo 12’s Alan Bean holds a container of lunar soil in November 1969. Attached to his spacesuit is a modified Hasselblad camera, held in place with a chest bracket.
The lunar module carrying Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin lines up with Earth as it approaches the orbiting command module, piloted by Michael Collins.
The Saturn rocket’s second stage looms just 100 feet from the Apollo 7 command module as the crew tests rendezvous maneuvers in 1968.
The Apollo 16 command module is piloted solo by astronaut Thomas “Ken” Mattingly, in lunar orbit.
Astronauts captured spectacular views of the rugged lunar surface in sharp detail. Here, prominent rilles — long, narrow grooves — appear in the Herigonius region, photographed from lunar orbit during the Apollo 16 mission.
Neil Armstrong waits inside the lunar module after landing on the surface.
The crater Eratosthenes, as seen from the Apollo 12 command module.
Tracks made by Apollo 14’s hand cart — carried by astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell in 1971 — wind their way away from the lunar module.
Apollo 17’s Harrison Schmitt, the only scientist to walk on the moon, sits in the lunar rover on one of his three moonwalks.
The Apollo 16 lunar module, seen from the command module shortly before docking, shows several of its outer thermal blankets torn loose due to the forces involved in launching from the lunar surface.
An aluminum statuette and a list of fallen astronauts were placed on the surface by Apollo 15 astronaut Dave Scott without prior approval from NASA.
Ronald Evans, command module pilot of Apollo 17, conducts a spacewalk to retrieve film canisters from the service module on the way back to Earth.
Coated in moondust, Gene Cernan waits in the Apollo 17 lunar module in 1972. He was the last person to walk on the moon.
[This story was originally published in print as "Framing History."]