25 Rare and Overlooked Images From the Famed Apollo 11 Mission

25 Rare and Overlooked Images From the Famed Apollo 11 Mission

The images include the first photo taken by a human from the lunar surface and rare views of the intrepid Apollo 11 astronauts.

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NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface during Apollo 11.
NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface during Apollo 11.
Photo: NASA

It was 53 years ago on this very day that NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon. We’ve already seen the many famous pictures from that historic day, so we’ve assembled 25 overlooked images that still capture the spirit and wonder of humanity’s first trek to the lunar surface.

Apollo 11 launched from Cape Kennedy, Florida, on July 16, 1969, on an unprecedented nine-day mission to land on and explore the lunar surface. It marked humanity’s first opportunity to study the Moon in-person, so NASA was sure to send the crew with an assortment of cameras and accessories. The results were spectacular, with the mission capturing hundreds of photos and videos, which NASA has made available through the Apollo 11 Image Library.

On this, the 53rd anniversary of the first crewed Moon landing, we scoured the archives to find images that didn’t make it to the newspapers or were otherwise forgotten. They may not be the best photos of Apollo 11, but they’re still goosebump-inducing.

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Clearing the tower

Clearing the tower

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Photo: NASA

The Apollo 11 Saturn V rocket just prior to clearing the launch tower at the Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969.

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Anxious ground controllers

Anxious ground controllers

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Photo: NASA

From left to right: CapCom Charlie Duke, backup Commander Jim Lovell, and backup Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise during the Apollo 11 mission.

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Michael Collins holding a TV camera

Michael Collins holding a TV camera

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Photo: NASA

Pilot Michael Collins holds a TV camera while inside the Apollo Command Module.

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Neil in the tunnel

Neil in the tunnel

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Photo: NASA

A photo showing Neil in the tunnel connecting the Lunar Module and the Command Module. “What you’re seeing here is an extra TV monitor attached to the cam with the ever-present gray tape,” according to Apollo Journal Contributor Markus Mehring. “Early crews had no such monitor or other means of image control and complained about their inability to easily/properly point the camera inside the cramped quarters of their spacecraft, so this was what they were granted.”

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A long way from home

A long way from home

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Photo: NASA

A view of the Eagle Lunar Module (LM) and a spectacular shot of Earth during the translunar coast. The distance from home seems daunting.

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We’re here

We’re here

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Photo: NASA

One of many shots taken of the lunar surface.

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Historic descent

Historic descent

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Photo: NASA

The view from the Command Module as the Lunar Module descends to the surface. The Apollo 11 landing site is at the center of the photo.

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Quick shots on arrival at Tranquility Base

Quick shots on arrival at Tranquility Base

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Neil captured this view from his window within seconds of landing on the Moon. It’s one of several images taken in haste and done to ensure that at least some close-up views of the Moon were captured in the event of a No Stay decision.

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A page from the checklist

A page from the checklist

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Image: NASA

This is one of 68 pages from the LM Lunar Surface Checklist, and it details the required steps just prior to Neil making his historic first steps on the lunar surface.

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The first photo taken by an astronaut on the Moon

The first photo taken by an astronaut on the Moon

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“I’ll step out and take some of my first pictures here,” Armstrong told ground controllers at the 109:30:53 mark of the mission. To which ground controller Bruce McCandless responded: “Roger. Neil, we’re reading you loud and clear. We see you getting some pictures and the contingency sample.” The image seen here, showing the jettison bag on the surface, is the first photo ever taken by a human on the Moon. As for that historic shot of Armstrong climbing down the ladder for the first time, that was captured by a camera mounted on the Descent Stage of the Lunar Module.

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Buzz about to make his own small step

Buzz about to make his own small step

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Image of Buzz with both feet on the LM footpad, as he’s just moments away from stepping onto the lunar surface for the first time.

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Making footprints

Making footprints

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Photo: NASA

Buzz took a series of footprint photos for soil mechanics experts back home, including this one.

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Neil in color

Neil in color

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Photo: NASA

Neil packing the bulk sample with an open rock box. NASA says this “is the only good Hasselblad picture of Neil on the lunar surface.” The commercial Hasselblad 500 EL camera took color photos and was capable of functioning in the vacuum of space.

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A good place for a flag

A good place for a flag

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Photo: NASA

The Apollo 11 crew placed the U.S. flag just below the center of this view, taken from Aldrin’s side of the lander. It was also the crew’s first look at the boulder field (top right), which likely formed from the impact that created West Crater.

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Buzz at work

Buzz at work

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Photo: NASA

Buzz deploying the seismometer. This took a bit of doing, as the astronaut had to get the device leveled.

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LM Footpad

LM Footpad

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Photo: NASA

A close-up view of an LM footpad. The regolith bears a wind-swept appearance, the result of the Eagle’s descent engine.

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So many footprints

So many footprints

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Photo: NASA

This view from Armstrong’s window shows the black shadow of the LM and an assortments of footprints made by the astronauts during their historic excursion, known as an EVA (extravehicular activity).

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Be still my beating heart

Be still my beating heart

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Image: NASA

The heart rates of Neil (top) and Buzz (bottom) during their excursion on the lunar surface. For Neil, the ending of the EVA was most strenuous (or stressful!), as it involved the documenting and transferring of the sample materials.

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Hey there, Buzz

Hey there, Buzz

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Photo: NASA

This photo of Buzz—still wearing his Snoopy cap—was taken shortly after the EVA. Neil struggled to capture a clean and crisp portrait of his crewmate owing to the extremely bright light that was being reflected from the surface. It was just prior to this image that Buzz captured an iconic view of Neil (below).

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Photo: NASA
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A room with a blurry view

A room with a blurry view

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Photo: NASA

With the camera set to close range, Buzz captured this crisp view of the reaction control system (RCS) quad and a blurry view of the U.S. flag and the TV camera (center top) on the likewise blurry surface. It’s not the picture Buzz was looking for, and which he eventually captured (below), but there’s something pretty cool about it.

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Photo: NASA
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Earthrise

Earthrise

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Photo: NASA

The first of several photos showing the Earth rising above the lunar surface. The crew captured the image as they began their journey back to Earth.

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Heading home

Heading home

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Photo: NASA

A glorious view of Earth as the Apollo 11 crew headed home.

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Recovery of the Command Module

Recovery of the Command Module

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Photo: NASA

The Apollo 11 Command Module as it’s being lowered to the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet on July 24, 1969. The flotation ring, which had been put on by Navy divers, had just been removed.

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Precious cargo

Precious cargo

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Photo: NASA

One of two Apollo 11 sample return containers, filled with surface material, arrives at Ellington Air Force Base from the Pacific recovery area.

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Out of quarantine

Out of quarantine

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Photo: NASA

Armstrong greeting friends upon release from quarantine. On their arrival, Apollo 11 crew members were sequestered from friends and family for 21 days as a precautionary measure.

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