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"Houston, Tranquility Base here, The Eagle has landed."

Neil Armstrong, July 20, 1969

Armstrong after his lunar walk

Neil Armstrong (1930 - 2012) will be remembered, of course, as the first human to tread the surface of the Moon. Its small step, which represented a giant leap for humanity, is for many people the most important historical moment of the twentieth century. As news of the death of the most famous astronaut on August 25, Barack Obama reminded Armstrong as one of the greatest heroes in US history. of Armstrong himself in that memorable epic of July 20, 1969, when the human being left a mark on our satellite for the first time. The reason is very simple: Armstrong, besides being the commander of the mission, was in charge of operating the mission's main camera, a Hasselblad with 70 mm film and electric recharging mechanism. Paradoxically, one of the most famous photographs in history, taken by Armstrong, is rarely credited to its author:

Cover of a NASA brochure (1975) with the image of Buzz Aldrin taken by Neil Armstrong

In this NASA pamphlet on lunar exploration is shown the image of Edwin ("Buzz") Aldrin near the lunar module. Armstrong, who took the photograph, appears as a reflection in the visor of Aldrin's helmet. Experts have noted that in this photograph does not appear the communications antenna that was part of the space suit that used the astronauts. The antenna was attached to the "backpack" of the astronauts and protruded above the hull. Why does not the antenna appear in this image so famous?

The AS11-40-5904 photograph of the Apollo 11 mission, taken by Neil Armstrong

In the original AS11-40-5904 we can see that Neil Armstrong, courageous and efficient space commander, was not a very good photographer, or at least did not pay much attention to photographic composition. Aldrin's helmet is almost cut out of the photo, and there is virtually no free space at the top of the image ("space" in the photographic sense, not in the planetary sense). The cover of the 1975 pamphlet, and the thousands of reproductions that have been made of this photograph, show a trimmed version in which the lunar module does not appear and to which more depth has been added, ie, the blackest of space, on the hull of Aldrin. Of course, the communications antenna, trimmed by Armstrong's original frame, does not appear in any of the images.

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This example of editing a photo lends itself to much debate. On the one hand, it is clear that the modified versions of AS11-40-5904 are visually more striking and attractive, and that the most important details are not lost. On the other hand, because it is a photographic record without doubt historical, it could also be argued that any alteration, however small, could reduce the documentary value of the image. In fact, if the rules of some media that explicitly prohibit the use of retouched photography are rigorously applied, this image could not have appeared in so many publications.

To close this note about Neil Armstrong, a picture of him on the Moon, taken by Buzz Aldrin, is on the Moon:

Neil Armstrong and the Lunar Module

External links:
The history of photography AS11-40-5904, as told by NASA itself. The image AS11-40-5904 in high resolution on the NASA page

  • Adam Floyd