Man aspired to go to the moon, said John F. Kennedy, “not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.”
And photo conservator Andy Saunders has applied the same incredible ambition and determination to meticulously rework 35,000 photos from the Apollo missions that until now have been kept in a locked Nasa freezer.
The hauntingly beautiful images, locked away at Houston’s Johnson Space Center, reveal startling new insights into life aboard the rockets and on the lunar surface.
Because the footage was kept in the vaults for so long, almost every Apollo image was based on copies of the master duplicates of the originals, leading to a gradual deterioration in quality.
With his access to the source footage, Saunders was now able to shed light on a dark corner of space and modern history, and the treasure trove has now been branded as “the ultimate photographic record of mankind’s greatest adventure”.
Neil Armstrong is captured by Buzz Aldrin shortly after her historic spacewalk in 1969, showing the emotion on the astronaut’s face. It seems he has a tear in his eye
James McDivitt on Apollo 9 docks with the Lunar Module while Russell Schweickart films him. Originally, the underdeveloped film showed only a spot of light before being restored by Saunders
Charles Duke leaves a photograph of his family on the lunar surface, with his footprint clearly visible nearby. On the back he wrote: “This is the family of astronaut Duke from planet Earth. Landed on the moon, April 1972.’ He said it was an “emotional moment” to leave.
David Scott reflected in Russell Schweickart’s visor on Apollo 9 on its ten-day mission
The film was shot during the Apollo missions from 1962 to 1972, including the only clear image of Neil Armstrong on the moon, and it took Saunders, 48, more than a decade to recreate the set pixel by pixel.
Because Armstrong was holding the camera, there was no image prior to the restoration that clearly showed the astronaut on the natural satellite.
There’s also the first clear photo of life inside the doomed Apollo 13 mission, which forced the astronauts to return to Earth in the lunar module, and images of the golf ball Alan Shepard hit on the moon.
The astronaut joked on his return that he had flown “miles and miles,” but the photo shows he actually flew about 40 meters.
The contours, craters and features on the Moon’s surface are also illuminated as it passed in front of the Sun on Apollo 11 – a moment Armstrong said was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
Saunders, a Cheshire property developer, quit his job to devote himself full-time to revising the images in the secret archive.
The first portrait of another human in space was taken in 1965, showing Ed White exiting the Gemini IV plane in 1965, photographed by James McDivitt
David Scott is seen in the Apollo 9 command module hatch in a 1969 photograph taken by Russell Schweickart and restored by Saunders
Buzz Aldrin takes the first-ever selfie in space during the Gemini XII mission in 1966, showing the sun reflecting off his visor
The digital archaeologist used high-resolution scans of the original footage and applied modern digital editing and enhancement techniques to make the photos as clear and sharp as possible.
He told the BBC: “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t see these important moments of history in a quality other than incredible, because they used the best cameras, the best lenses and the best film, developed at the most advanced photo lab present. It makes no sense.’
All 16mm footage was taken by astronauts during missions.
Saunders uses a “stacking” technique to create a highly detailed image after overlaying and processing multiple frames.
The process has allowed him to reveal things not seen in previous footage.
In one scene, a speck of light from the underexposed image that looked like a window reflection turned out to be Apollo 9 commander Jim McDivitt in his helmet, about to dock two spacecraft.
Fred Haise tries to sleep in the Apollo 13 refrigeration module in 1970. The mission was supposed to land on the moon, but an oxygen tank in the service module failed two days into the mission. The crew had to circumnavigate the moon and return to Earth in a dramatic moment that inspired the Tom Hanks film of the same name
On Apollo 8, Bill Anders used a “flap” for his onboard home videos in the rocket. Shown at right is the original image prior to Saunders restoration
The hauntingly beautiful images, locked away at Houston’s Johnson Space Center, reveal startling new insights into life aboard the rockets and on the lunar surface
Saunders said, “It’s just an absolutely stunning portrait of an Apollo astronaut from 1969, who seems to be looking up through the window in almost amazement.
“In reality it’s even better because McDivitt is in the process of making the docking and the stakes were very high. This was the first time we had people on a spacecraft that they couldn’t get home because they were testing the lunar module and it didn’t have a heat shield.
“So if they hadn’t docked, they couldn’t have come back. It’s an incredibly precious moment, an intense moment, a historic moment.”
Saunders spoke to astronauts and sifted through voice recordings to uncover details about light and color to make the photos as realistic as possible.
They described the eerie blackness of the sky and the brightness of the sun, which he recaptured in the images.
Tim Peake told The Guardian: “Looking at these revised images from the Apollo missions reminds me of what I experienced during my six months in space.
The images are included in a new book, Apollo Remastered, which will be published by Particular Books tomorrow.
Saunders can also be found on Twitter and Instagram.