Space & Innovation

Return to Earth: Rarely Seen Photos Inside Apollo 11

On July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left the moon to begin their journey back to Earth with Michael Collins. Here are some photos inside the mission that are rarely seen.

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Trans-Lunar: Rarely Seen Photos Inside Apollo 11

Moon Landing: Rarely Seen Photos Inside Apollo 11

On July 21, 1969, after only 22 hours on the lunar surface, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left the moon, launching inside the Lunar Module's ascent stage to rendezvous with Command Module pilot Michael Collins, who had remained in lunar orbit for the whole mission. During the voyage to the moon, extravehicular activities on lunar surface, and during the three day journey back to Earth, three Hasselblad 500EL cameras were used to chronicle the historic mission. Painstakingly collected David Woods, Ken MacTaggart and Frank O'Brien of NASA's History Division,

photographs recovered from the numerous reels of film from these cameras have been digitized and archived to the online Apollo Flight Journal

. To commemorate 45 years to the day since Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins made history, here is a small selection of photographs from the Journal that aren't so commonly seen online. In this photo, the Apollo 11 ascent stage, carrying Armstrong and Aldrin from the moon's surface, catches up with the Command Module (with Collins inside), to dock and begin the return trip back to Earth.

Special thanks to space historian Amy Shira Teitel.

The Lunar Module's thrusters are visible in this photo from lunar orbit, Crater King below.

The Lunar Module's rendezvous radar is in shot (right) as the crew take photos of Western Mare Nectaris. The large Crater Theophilus is to the right.

Earth hangs above the moon's horizon as the crew prepare for the return trip.

The cratered lunar surface.

The familiar craters Messier (upper left) and Messier A (lower right) as photographed from orbit. It is thought Messier was created when a fast-moving object struck the lunar surface at a shallow angle and that Messier A may have been formed after the rebounding body crashed back down to the surface, creating the secondary crater.

The Earth rises over the lunar horizon during one of Apollo 11's orbits before returning.

The Apollo 11 astronauts witness a full moon as they depart lunar orbit and head home.

Half of the Earth is in sunlight as the crew continue their trans-Earth journey from the moon.

On July 23, 1969, the Apollo 11 mission returns to Earth orbit. Shown here, shortly before the crew begins preparation for reentry and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, the coast of Somalia can be seen along with a glistening ocean.