What is a vintage NASA photograph ?
The photographs on this website are guaranteed as vintage NASA or Soviet prints, processed by NASA’s photographic laboratories shortly after the date of the scene depicted. As contemporary, original prints of pictures taken by astronaut-photographers such as Neil Armstrong, they are very rare and difficult to find, especially in good condition.
Generally speaking, vintage NASA photographs were printed on fibre-based photographic paper, 20 x 25 cm (8 x 10 in). Most are printed on “A Kodak Paper”, a watermark which changed in 1972. Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are glossy prints on paper. The NASA reference numbers within square brackets do not appear on the prints and are provided for reference.
How many of them are there?
NASA produced master duplicates of all negatives after each mission, while the originals were locked away in cold store. From the master duplicates photographs were printed and distributed for the use of NASA’s own scientists and public relations department. In subsequent years, NASA destroyed many of these original prints as they were archived on the internet and true vintage prints are subsequently hard to find. Vintage NASA photographs are not ‘editioned’ in any conventional sense, and there is an unknown but certainly finite number of them in open circulation.
Because NASA had several processing centres and each print was produced on demand, no two are ever identical, meaning each one is unique. The location of the red NASA number, the presence or not of a purple caption on the verso, any annotations or other marks, the ageing of the colour and the condition of the print can all vary to a significant degree.
We only ever stock one print of a particular image at any time and, generally speaking, once it's gone, it's gone. While we refresh our inventory periodically, there can be a substantial wait to replace most images, if they can even be replaced at all.
What are the red (or black/blue) NASA numbers?
These typically refer to the mission name or number, such as AS11 for Apollo 11, the magazine number and frame number. The majority of prints have a red, blue or black NASA number printed near the image on the front of the print, but by no means all of them. The unique NASA number for each image can be used to search for further information on NASA's websites.
What are the purple stamps on the back of some photographs?
Some, roughly a third, are printed on the reverse in purple ink with the NASA logo, the issuing centre, the identification number (mission-film magazine-frame), the date the picture was taken and an explanatory caption. Colour (chromogenic) prints on heavier weight paper are commonly blank on the back, as were certain print runs made for internal use or for the agency’s subcontracting firms.