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NASA’s Past, Present and Future - A Rare Capture By Photographer Benedict Redgrove

This British photographer’s decade-long journey capturing NASA’s sites and archives highlights the immeasurable amount of innovation required to advance space exploration, how far we have come by doing so, and how this limitless quest will always continue.

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Space Shuttle Atlantis Engines | Location: Kennedy Visitor Centre | Photograph © Benedict Redgrove ‘NASA - Past and Present Dreams of the Future’

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Lunar Test Article 8 (LTA8) | Location: Space Centre Houston | Photograph © Benedict Redgrove ‘NASA - Past and Present Dreams of the Future’





The National Aeronautics and Space Administration – or NASA, as the world knows it – is an independent agency part of the US federal government, much like the United States Postal Service or the Environmental Protection Agency. But that’s about all those three have in common. Since its inception in 1958, at the height of the Cold War, the work produced by NASA and its engineers has been at the forefront of human aspiration, of our desire to explore and discover places that are, quite literally, hundreds of thousands of miles outside of our comfort zone.
The world of NASA, whether that’s their quiet labs or the roaring launch sites, fascinates people of all ages from all over the world. Our obsession stems from the fact that space travel is the perfect mixture of science, politics, engineering, history, future, danger and courage, but few people outside of the NASA bubble get to experience that world, to enter it and intimately study those objects up close. British photographer Benedict Redgrove, however, has been one of those lucky few.
Through a nine-year-long journey, Redgrove travelled to each of NASA’s locations across the US, frequenting the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, the Michoud and Marshall Flight Centre in Louisiana and Smithsonian archives, capturing the innovations that continue to fascinate us even though the ‘race for space’ is long gone. But no one can just walk up, knock on the NASA door, and expect to be let in: Redgrove spent four and a half years liaising with NASA, ensuring to meet their stringent standards. With access into restricted areas, his photography was able to shine a light on historical NASA artifacts that have never been shown to the public. Redgrove was able to document everything, in a painstakingly detailed fashion, from the intricate details of life-or-death technology to the monstrously big engines that make space travel possible.

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Space Shuttle Atlantis Nose, Kennedy Visitors Centre | Photograph © Benedict Redgrove ‘NASA - Past and Present Dreams of the Future’

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Space Shuttle Discovery Engines, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington | Photograph © Benedict Redgrove ‘NASA - Past and Present Dreams of the Future’

Utilising his own technical equipment in situ, Redgrove’s photographs capture a close-up encounter with NASA’s innovative designs such as the Apollo 11 Command Module, Saturn V Engines or the Atlantis Space Shuttle, to the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) Space Suit designed in the 1980’s that is still currently used by astronauts today. The EMU Space Suit’s design details are evident in Redgrove’s photographs - controls on the front of the white suit have text written backwards so astronauts can see them when viewed through the mirror attached to their sleeves, whilst the colour white is used to reflect heat and visibility against the blackness of space. 

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Destiny Module - International Space Station (ISS) Trainer | Location: Johnson Space Centre | Photograph © Benedict Redgrove ‘NASA - Past and Present Dreams of the Future’

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Space Shuttle Training Cockpit | Photograph © Benedict Redgrove ‘NASA - Past and Present Dreams of the Future’

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Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia | Location: National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institute Washington | Photograph © Benedict Redgrove

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Robonaut Hand | Location: Space Centre Houston | Photograph © Benedict Redgrove ‘NASA - Past and Present Dreams of the Future’

Rare access to NASA’s sites and archives proved to offer more than was expected. “One of my favourite moments was walking past a glass cabinet and seeing a helmet from a 1980s space shuttle launch and the iconic Apollo bubble helmet. But the NASA staffers couldn’t find the key for the cabinet, so they had to essentially break into it” Redgrove explains. Once in the cabinet, there was another magical moment: “Surprisingly we also found rubber stamps that had individual names of the astronauts on them, such as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.” All of sudden it be-came less about the big rockets and more about the people who made it all happen.

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Rubber Stamp Used On All Neil Armstrong Space Suits | Location: Johnson Space Centre | Photograph © Benedict Redgrove ‘NASA - Past and Present Dreams of the Future’

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Vehicle Assemble Bay Being Fitted Out For SLS Artemis | Location: Kennedy Space Centre | Photograph © Benedict Redgrove ‘NASA - Past and Present Dreams of the Future’

With the photo series now immortalized in Redgrove’s ‘NASA: Past and Present Dreams of the Future’ photo book, the breadth of his monumental feat is evident. Looking back at the project now, and his continuous interest in space and the work NASA carries out there, Redgrove takes a philosophic, almost religious, view. “The space program is all about improving how we live our lives, it’s for the greater good of humankind” he sums it up. “I believe in what they say and do, I believe in their motives - it’s like a religion for me but one where Houston is my Mecca.” Much like most religions, space exploration is about our individual and collective journey here on Earth and beyond - among the stars and planets - searching for the answers to the big questions in life, hoping to find the answers. 

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Lunar Roving Vehicle Tyrainer (LRVT) | Location: Space Centre Houston | Photograph © Benedict Redgrove ‘NASA - Past and Present Dreams of the Future’

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Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) Space Suit Torso | Photograph © Benedict Redgrove ‘NASA - Past and Present Dreams of the Future’

Text: David Hellqvist

Images: © Benedict Redgrove ‘NASA - Past and Present Dreams of the Future’

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