• Apollo 11 – An act of faith: Spectacle

    The mission was by far and away the most recorded event in human history. Every word from every console position in mission control and every radio transmission was taped to provide more than 30 simultaneous channels of audio, whilst the astronauts’ medical data – including heart rate – was transcribed on pen recorders from suiting-up to the end of the flight. Telemetry giving details of the hardware’s performance was continuously received from the command-service module, and its position as well as those of each rocket stage were also tracked by radar when in range. But Apollo 11 was, first and foremost, a visual event. Drawing is the most basic method for this, and artist Franklin McMahon, a member of NASA's Art Programme, was invited into mission control to sketch the team. Photography was the dominant medium, however, and this is reflected in numerous ways. Indeed before man got anywhere near the Moon, nearly 100,000 photographs had been taken by NASA's lunar probes of the body and its surface. For Apollo, contractors documented the designing, building and testing of the spacecraft on film while NASA did the same for the astronauts’ training and at all stages of the pre-launch checks – during that suiting up, for example, a stills photographer used three different cameras whilst a cinematographer shot moving images. The space agency also commissioned Theo Kamecke to direct a film covering the Moon shot for theatrical release. For this he and his camera crews were placed within the crowd, in launch control and – during the moonwalk – in mission control. The resulting production, ‘Moonwalk One’, has since achieved cult status. More than 200 of NASA’s own cameras were also emplaced around the launch complex using a variety of mountings, formats and operational modes. Modified anti-aircraft gun carriages allowed heavy 70mm motion picture cameras fitted with powerful telephoto lenses to track the rocket’s ascent smoothly, whereas fixed, high-speed 16mm cameras on the pad shot into heat-resistant

    mirrors from blast-proof boxes and were triggered automatically to produce slow motion footage. Some of these had even been mounted on the Saturn 5 itself on earlier missions, to record the separation, descent and ignition of each stage before being ejected and parachuted to Earth for recovery and development of the film. The world’s media brought their own cameras, both film and video, for newsreels and recorded and live television broadcasts. As part of a deal struck by NASA with LIFE magazine, the astronauts and their families were also photographed at home and at work for publication, a process that yielded memorable images of Janet Armstrong and her sons watching from a boat as Apollo 11 lifts off. And thousands of amateurs, members of the public and VIPs used every type of still and cine camera commercially available to make their own record of events. Crucially, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins took several cameras with them. Hasselblad medium-format stills cameras, shooting very high-resolution negatives, had been trialled on previous Apollos (one was used by Bill Anders to take his famous ‘Earthrise’ picture) and three were carried this time. One had a motor drive, and all had been extensively modified for use in space, reducing their weight and easing film transport and manipulation of the controls. Large-capacity magazines reduced the need to reload – more than 30 were carried, though the cameras themselves would be left on the Moon to save weight. A black and white television camera was fitted outside the lunar module, to be activated by Armstrong as he descended the ladder to make his historic step. Another was fixed to look out of one of the two triangular viewing ports, set to take one picture every few seconds. A colour television camera remained in the orbiting command-support module. What would they all see? One day to go.

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Chris Rogers writer on architecture and visual culture

Click blog images to expand; pre-Sept 2011 posts here

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Chris is one of more than a dozen specialists whose essays fill this fresh examination of the charms of Paris, which is edited by John Flower. Looking at the French capital's history, culture and districts, each item can be read in just half a minute and is beautifully illustrated with its own collage-style spread.

The Ivy Press, 2018

Hardback, 160 pages | ISBN 9781782405443

£14.99

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