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New book brings readers face-to-face with the first man on the Moon


Neil Armstrong as in "Voices from the Moon" (Viking Studio)
June 9, 2009 — Ever since Neil Armstrong took his "one giant leap" onto the Moon's surface forty years ago this July, the world has never gotten a good look at him during that momentous event. Neither the fuzzy black-and-white TV images transmitted to Earth, nor the handful of still photos taken of him on the Moon show Armstrong well.

Now, in a new book by Apollo historian Andrew Chaikin, a new image of the Apollo 11 astronaut taken early in the moonwalk brings readers face-to-face with Armstrong on the Moon. The book, "Voices from the Moon: Apollo Astronauts Describe Their Lunar Experiences," which is now on store shelves, draws on the extensive interviews Chaikin performed with 23 of the 24 moon voyagers while researching his 1994 Apollo book "A Man on the Moon."

Chaikin, who co-authored the new book with wife Victoria Kohl, first saw the new image of Armstrong in 1986 while researching A Man on the Moon, which became the basis for Tom Hanks' HBO miniseries, "From The Earth to the Moon."

At the time, Chaikin was screening Apollo film footage at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. "When I looked at the footage of the Apollo 11 moonwalk, I saw something that really got my attention," Chaikin recalled in an interview with collectSPACE. In the scenes of Armstrong collecting the first sample of moon dust, Chaikin saw something he was not expecting: the astronaut's face.

"I could see that Armstrong had raised his outer visor, the gold visor that normally obscures an astronaut's face from view, and that was something that always stayed with me as something that was very cool," said Chaikin. "So, when I got into 'Voices from the Moon' and I wanted to make use of the best mission photography that I could get my hands on, one of the prime things I wanted to put in the book was a high definition scan of [that scene] with Neil Armstrong standing on the Moon."


Neil Armstrong stands on the moon shortly after collecting a sample of lunar dust and rocks. At his feet is the handle for the sample collection tool. "Up to now, we haven't had a good picture of Neil Armstrong on the moon," Chaikin says, "but now we have one." Click see the full frame. (NASA / Andrew Chaikin)
Chaikin obtained a high-definition scan made by NASA of the Apollo 11 on-board motion picture footage from Spacecraft Films, a company that has been remastering the original footage for release on DVD.

"I was able to get several, really good screen grabs from that sequence... and from those individual frames I chose what I thought was the best," described Chaikin. "You can clearly see his face within the spacesuit. To me, this one was the real keeper." Chaikin made "minimal color correction and processing" to the image in producing it for the book. The image, in his opinion, is better than any of the 70 millimeter photography taken of Armstrong on the surface.

"There were other photographs of Neil Armstrong on the Moon of course, taken with the Hasselblad camera. But none of those photos shows him from the front in very good light," he explained. "Even though the Hasselblad photography is inherently higher resolution then [the] 16 millimeter movie footage still, in order to get the best view of Armstrong on the Moon we have to go to [that film]."

"That's why I feel these frames — in particular, the one I put in 'Voices from the Moon' — really are the best view we have of Armstrong on the Moon," declared Chaikin.

Chaikin's use of the movie stills was not limited to Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong. In "Voices from the Moon," he presents other missions' and other astronauts' images as a combination of still photography and film stills to accompany the extensive quotes from his interviews.

"I've always loved the type of storytelling where you can combine words and pictures," admitted Chaikin. "I have done it before in other space photography books and I really enjoyed getting back to that with 'Voices from the Moon'."

"As I looked at these pictures, I began to want to hear the astronauts' voices talking about the experience. So, that was really the inspiration for 'Voices from the Moon'," said Chaikin.

To learn more about "Voices from the Moon", see author Andrew Chaikin's website and blog at andrewchaikin.com.

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Chaikin: Voices from the Moon
Video credit: collectSPACE