Vintage NASA space photos up for auction

Story highlights

  • Treasure trove of more than 600 NASA images from the space race are up for sale at auction in London.
  • Photographs include the first "selfie" in space, and an extremely rare picture of Neil Armstrong on the Moon.

London (CNN)An out-of-this-world collection of vintage NASA photos -- including the first "selfie" taken in space and a rare image of pioneering astronaut Neil Armstrong on the Moon -- are to go up for sale in London.

The treasure trove of more than 600 images, including some of the most significant moments in lunar exploration, was put together over decades by a dedicated collector.
    The pictures will go under the hammer at Bloomsbury Auctions in London on February 26, where they are expected to sell for between £300 ($465) and £10,000 ($15,525) -- a total of upwards of £500,000.
    Among the highlights of the sale is a photograph snapped by Buzz Aldrin -- later the second man to step onto the Moon -- during the Gemini 12 mission in November 1966, which is believed to be the first space "selfie." It is tipped to sell for £600 to £800 ($932 to $1,242).
    Aldrin also features in perhaps the most famous image in the sale: the so-called "visor photograph" showing him on the Moon on July 20,1969 during the Apollo 11 mission.
    A spokesman for Bloomsbury Auctions said the picture, taken by Armstrong just minutes after he had made his "one small step" speech and featuring the pioneering astronaut reflected in his colleague's helmet visor, was likely to excite a lot of interest from bidders.
    NASA astronaut Ed White taking part in the first U.S. spacewalk on June 3, 1965. Photograph taken by fellow astronaut James McDivitt.
    "A picture like that still has enormous power today," the photography expert said.
    There's also an extremely rare picture taken by Aldrin showing his fellow explorer Armstrong on the lunar surface. Most of the photos from the Apollo 11 landing were taken by Armstrong himself, so there are very few of him actually on the Moon.
    "It is very rare to find a vintage print of that because it wasn't recognized by NASA at the time," explained the Bloomsbury Auctions spokesman.
    "They didn't realize it was Neil Armstrong, so they didn't release it to the press. It was found years later, and very few people have seen it, it hasn't been widely published, so that one is of obvious historic significance."
    But the collection is not limited to photos from the 1960s heyday of the space program. The oldest image in the sale is one dating all the way back to 1946; shot by a camera strapped to a V-2 rocket, it is the first to show the earth from space.
    In addition to photos of astronauts, there are also landmark mosaics and panoramas showing the lunar surface, and shots looking back at Earth from the darkness of space, including the iconic "Earthrise" image taken by Apollo 8's William Anders in December 1968, which Sara Wheeler, head of photographs at Bloomsbury Auctions, said "changed man's relationship with the cosmos forever."
    The auction house spokesman said previous sales of NASA images had proved hugely popular, both with space enthusiasts and photography aficionados.
    "Four years ago in 2011 we sold a private collection of NASA photos and I was surprised by the range of people who did buy them -- I'd say about half were interested in the aesthetics of the image, and the other half were looking for the significant moments in space history -- the classic images: the first 'earthrise', the first picture of the whole earth and so on."
    He said the fact that the pictures were vintage prints, dating back to the days of the space race only added to their allure.
    "They represent a golden age in the history of photography, when a few men went to the unknown to bring back awe-inspiring pictures," said Wheeler.