It was my birthday last weekend. I’m 38 and we celebrated it by going to see a fantastic show (Ghost Stories), eating a fantastic burger, buying lots of fantastic shoes and Lego and going to an exhibition of fantastic NASA photos. It was great. Especially the photos. They were at the Breese Little Gallery in London and are still there until the 25th of October. If you can, get out there because there’s some beautiful shots in the collection. If you’ve got £1000 or so spare, you can buy an original too.
There are some of the usual suspects on display, from the first Martian sunset photographed by the Viking lander to some breathtaking Apollo shots. It’s exactly the sort of stuff I love, all functional 1960s tech that’s largely made of tinfoil, endeavor and stark, beautiful landscapes. I’m a mark for manned spaceflight, that’ll never change and these photos are a big reason why.
But, in amongst the usual shots are a few less well known ones. Less well focused too. These are shots taken by astronauts in mid-flight and they’re, I think, more affecting than the perfect ones. Take a look at this:
That’s Ed White, who would die a few years later in the horrific Apollo 1 fire. He’s being filmed by James McDivitt during a spacewalk on their Gemini 4 mission in 1965. He’s in space, tethered to what amounts to the world’s first and to date only convertible spaceship, pointed nose down at New Mexico traveling at genuinely astonishing speeds around the planet he was born on. It’s an extraordinary view, from an extraordinary craft of an extraordinary moment and the thing that makes it for me?
It’s a bit of a crap shot.
White’s off to one side, there’s a hint of motion blur and the whole thing’s out of focus and that makes it truly beautiful. This isn’t just a photograph of an amazing moment, it’s a photograph of an emotional state. This is the fizzing joy of discovery and adventure and pushing the envelope encoded into one man’s excited, gauntleted hand and caught in amber. This is the spirit of adventure, jittery and excited and desperate for more even as it stops to take in the amazing world around it. This is why I love spaceflight and this is, of course, this week’s Sunday Moment of Zen.