An iconic portrait of famed NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the moon and the first earthrise viewed by humans from the lunar surface in 1968 are among 1,200 photographs and ephemera items heading for a virtual sale on February 22 at Dreweatts, an auction house in Donnington, England. The rare items come from the collection of the late British journalist Tim Furniss, who between 1984 and 2006 served as Flight International magazine’s spaceflight correspondent, and are being offered up for auction by his son, Thomas Furniss.
The portrait of Aldrin (estimated at £8,000-£12,000 or $10,872-$16,308), the second man on the moon, was captured by Neil Armstrong, who beat him to making moonfall and whose reflection can be seen in his subject’s helmet. The Lunar Lander Eagle — the spacecraft that aided Apollo 11 in safely landing on the moon — is also visible in Aldrin’s face shield. Taken on July 20 of 1969, the photo instantly became iconic, disseminated on the cover of Life magazines and reproduced worldwide. Aldrin himself later commented that he remembered the moon more from these photographs than from his memories.
Another image that rapidly made an imprint on the collective consciousness was a photo of the Earth rising over the moon’s horizon on Christmas Eve of 1968. Captured in color by Apollo 8 crew members on their first orbit of the moon, the photo depicts the gray, cratered lunar surface in the fore and a crescented Earth in the far distance. The photo, estimated at £4,000-£6,000 or $5,435-$8,153, channeled the spirit of human triumphalism during a tumultuous political era while marking the eerie beginnings of humanity’s ability to see its own home from above. It was “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as Armstrong famously said.
Other lots feature items that are less immediately recognizable yet provide a fuller picture of the quirks, scientific study, and broader culture of space exploration in the late 20th century. A print of the first color photograph taken on the surface of Mars in July of 1976 shows a rugged terrain bespeckled by rocks, appearing in a magenta hue. The photo was taken on the day that the Viking 1 landed on Mars, the first unmanned spacecraft to do so.
A diptych of photographs lovingly remembers the life of Laika, a stray husky-spitz mix sent into outer space by the Soviet Union on the Sputnik 2 and the first animal to orbit Earth in 1957. Unfortunately, she died soon after liftoff. Armed with sensors and outfitted in a spacesuit, Laika, who scientists knew would be doomed, was launched into space as part of a trial run to determine if human space flight would be feasible. Between 1951 and 1966, the Soviet Union strapped dogs into spaceships 71 times. A photo that tells a tale with a happier ending captures Miss Baker, a squirrel monkey, cupped by gloved human hands. Miss Baker was the first animal to survive a spaceflight in 1959, and after retirement, eventually lived to the age of 27.
A NASA concept for a space station was mocked up even before energy was later focused almost single-mindedly on heading a mission to the moon. Illustrated by John Sentovic, the space station was conceived by Krafft Ehricke, an assistant to the technical director at Convair, a division of the General Dynamics Corporation, and featured on the cover of Spaceflight. Designed to host four people, it promised the possibility of short-term human existence in space. The slick, geometrically art deco-style of the illustration embodies the technological aspirations of the time, if a bit rudimentary in its engineering and design.
Finally, a remarkably meditative photograph tempers the adrenaline of blastoff by framing it with the curvature of a gnarled tree trunk resting in a pond. Two birds can even be seen flying on the horizon. Its unique composition suggests a corrective to the Cold War-era race to space that tinged the human spirit of exploration with a dark, bellicose streak.