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In 1961, President Kennedy challenged the nation to land astronauts on the moon by the end of the decade. NASA met that challenge with the Apollo program. Neil Armstrong was the first human to walk on the Moon, July 20, 1969, during the Apollo 11 mission. The final mission to the Moon, Apollo 17, was December 7-19, 1972. 

Today, NASA looks to return to the Moon via Artemis, a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration of the Moon and lay the groundwork for sending astronauts to Mars.

Before looking forward, let's look back. In an auction event in October hailed as "One Giant Leap for Mankind: Vintage Photographs from the Victor Martin-Malburet Collection, Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Project Apollo (1961–1972)," more than 300 stunning original historic photographs from the Apollo program were offered by LAMA and Wright. Here are some highlights.

In July of 1960, photographer Ralph Morse captured this portrait of the original seven Mercury astronauts in their pressure spacesuits for LIFE magazine. Front row (from left): Walter Schirra, Donald “Deke” Slayton, John Glenn and Scott Carpenter; back row (from left): Alan Shepard, Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Gordon Cooper. The seven were later immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s best-selling book, The Right Stuff (1979). The photograph sold for $750.

In July of 1960, photographer Ralph Morse captured this portrait of the original seven Mercury astronauts in their pressure spacesuits for LIFE magazine. Front row (from left): Walter Schirra, Donald “Deke” Slayton, John Glenn and Scott Carpenter; back row (from left): Alan Shepard, Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Gordon Cooper. The seven were later immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s best-selling book, The Right Stuff (1979). The photograph sold for $750. 

Apollo 8 photograph of Earth

Apollo 8 (December 21-27, 1968) marked the extraordinary moment in history when humans truly left their home planet for the very first time. Astronauts William Anders, James Lovell and Frank Borman became the first human beings to see the Earth as a sphere hanging in space; a great milestone for human consciousness. The photograph sold for $3,640.

The crew of Apollo 11, the first explorers of another world (from left): Neil Armstrong, Commander; Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot; and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., Lunar Module Pilot. Armstrong became the first person on the moon July 20, 1969. The photo sold for $1,125.

The crew of Apollo 11, the first explorers of another world (from left): Neil Armstrong, Commander; Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot; and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., Lunar Module Pilot. Armstrong became the first person on the moon July 20, 1969. The photo sold for $1,125. 

The historic liftoff of Apollo 11, the first manned moon landing mission from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, July 16, 1969. The photograph sold for $1,875.

The historic liftoff of Apollo 11, the first manned moon landing mission from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, July 16, 1969. The photograph sold for $1,875. 

Buzz Adrin on Moon

In one of the 20th century’s most iconic images, Astronaut Buzz Aldrin poses with the American flag at Tranquility Base on the Moon during Apollo 11 mission. Notice the footprints on the Moon surface. The photograph sold for $3,000.

During Gemini IV (June 3-7, 1965) Astronaut Ed White became the first American to venture outside his spacecraft for what is officially known as an extravehicular activity, or EVA. The world has come to know it as a spacewalk. In the following years, it was a skill that allowed Apollo explorers to walk on the moon and American astronauts and their partners from around the world to build the International Space Station. White floated outside the capsule attached by an umbilical cord tether providing oxygen and communications from the spacecraft while inside Astronaut Jim McDivitt took pictures. The photograph sold for $3,250.

During Gemini IV (June 3-7, 1965) Astronaut Ed White became the first American to venture outside his spacecraft for what is officially known as an extravehicular activity, or EVA. The world has come to know it as a spacewalk. In the following years, it was a skill that allowed Apollo explorers to walk on the moon and American astronauts and their partners from around the world to build the International Space Station. White floated outside the capsule attached by an umbilical cord tether providing oxygen and communications from the spacecraft while inside Astronaut Jim McDivitt took pictures. The photograph sold for $3,250. 

Apollo 15 Astronaut James Irwin salutes the U.S. flag on the moon in 1971.

Astronaut James Irwin salutes the U.S. flag on the Moon during Apollo 15 mission, July 26-August 7, 1971. Irwin and fellow Astronaut David Scott took a series of “tourist” photographs of each other with the American flag in the splendid lunarscape of the Hadley landing site. The photograph sold for $1,375.  

During the final mission of NASA’s Apollo program (December 7-19, 1972), Apollo 17 Astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt stands on the moon beside the U.S. flag planted by him and Mission Commander Eugene A. Cernan, whose image reflects in Schmitt’s visor. A beckoning Earth floats nearly a quarter of a million miles away. The image sold at auction for $3,750.

During the final mission of NASA’s Apollo program (December 7-19, 1972), Apollo 17 Astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt stands on the moon beside the U.S. flag planted by him and Mission Commander Eugene A. Cernan, whose image reflects in Schmitt’s visor. A beckoning Earth floats nearly a quarter of a million miles away. The image sold at auction for $3,750.  

A fabulous large format presentation of the ‘Blue Marble,’ the most reproduced photograph in history. The image, a chromogenic print of the first human-taken photograph of the full Earth, was taken during Apollo 17 by either Astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt or Astronaut Ronald Evans. The image sold for $15,000.

A fabulous large format presentation of the ‘Blue Marble,’ the most reproduced photograph in history. The image, a chromogenic print of the first human-taken photograph of the full Earth, was taken during Apollo 17 by either Astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt or Astronaut Ronald Evans. The image sold for $15,000.  

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