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"For All Mankind: Vintage NASA Photographs 1964 - 1983" opens at Breese Little
Eclipse of the Sun by the Earth, Apollo 12, November 1969, Vintage chromogenic print, 20.2 x 25.4 cm.
LONDON.- This exhibition comprises an overview of space exploration from 1964 to 1983, providing a comprehensive selection of over 100 rare and vintage NASA photographs. The achievements of NASA and the Apollo programme languished in the popular imagination from the end of the 1970s until the early 2000s, neglected in the wake of previous euphoria. The exploration of Mars, space tourism, the commercial satellite market and China’s recent rover landing on the Moon are clear signals that space exploration is once again at the very forefront of public and, increasingly, private agendas. The exploration of space has likewise renewed its grip on the popular consciousness. Motion pictures such as Moon (2009), Gravity (2013) and Interstellar (due for release 2014) are fresh examples of the narrative possibilities of space in the Hollywood science fiction tradition.

The ennobling rhetoric employed by JFK to launch the American space programme has been superseded by a new reality. According to Richard Branson ‘many more people have paid and signed up to travel to space with us than have actually been to space in history’. While evidently a commercial endeavour, Virgin retains the notion of ‘mankind’ as a guiding ideological principle: ‘Our mission is to transform access to space for the benefit of life on Earth’. Other nations such as China and India are now reaching for their own galactic dream. And yet the same problematic moral quandary remains: should such significant sums of money be spent on space exploration ahead of social welfare?

Despite this, the exploration of space is undoubtedly one of the single most important endeavours in humanity’s quest for self-knowledge. As Stephen Hawking writes in A Brief History of Time (1988): ‘Today we still yearn to know why we are here and where we came from. Humanity's deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest. And our goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in.’ Intriguingly, joint research recently released by the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Hawaii suggests that there are likely to be 40 billion ‘earth-like’ planets capable of, or with the potential to, support life in the Milky Way alone. The chances of a solitary existence are clearly dwindling and the photographs included here are important historical artefacts from the dawn of the space age and this quest to know what lies beyond.

The vintage photographs on display, many of which retain original NASA catalogue stamps on the reverse, were taken by the men, women and machines of NASA over a period of 20 years. They include photographs from the Gemini 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 missions; Apollo 4, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17; the Mars Viking missions and the Jupiter Voyager missions. They also include historic images such as the world’s first picture of the Earth taken from the vicinity of the Moon (December, 1966), and iconic images such as the ‘Earthrise’ view taken from Apollo 8 and the ‘Blue Marble’, the first ever full Earth view (Apollo 17, December 1972).

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