In 1995, while I was working as a photographer, I had the opportunity to meet in Berlin with a producer who was filming a documentary about NASA astronauts. I was asked to take some publicity photos, and of course I accepted. On December 6, it entered the Mission Control Center at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, the same control center that made history with the Apollo moon landing in 1969.
There were six astronauts preparing for the STS-72 mission, which will leave Earth aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor with the mission to return a Japanese research spacecraft from orbit. Brian Duffy, a former Air Force pilot, was the mission commander.
Over the next month, the film crew and I traveled between the two NASA space centers in Florida and Texas on several economic flights. On the other hand, the astronauts flew aboard their NASA T-38 supersonic jet. Many of the pictures I took were in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, a large swimming pool where astronauts participated in complex and dangerous training exercises to simulate the weightlessness they would experience while traveling to space.
The crew was welcoming, albeit the focus was on the approaching launch day and the difficult schedule. I was in a privileged position to observe this closely related group at a critical time in the history of the space shuttle program. Each shuttle mission was plagued by technical problems and an ongoing battle with the US Congress for funding. The program cost an estimated $ 209 billion over its 30-year history until it closed in 2011.
The photos depict the team’s camaraderie. I found their company comfortable and playful. Mission specialist Daniel T. Barry affectionately called MD due to my PhD; Koichi Wakata was known simply as the man.
The initial running of my photos from the STS-72 project was used on the pages of TV listings for magazines and newspapers when the documentary was released in 1996. I came back to work this year during the shutdown and found many of the pictures that I had overlooked that are now showing for the first time. Moreover, while researching mission history at the US National Archives, I discovered hundreds of photos that the STS-72 crew had taken in Earth orbit.
Twenty-five years later, looking at these photos, I think my arrival has allowed me to capture a unique intimacy between astronauts that is rarely seen.
The STS-72 is available by John Ingerson (£ 28) at johnangerson.com
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