Inside Nasa: unprecedented images of astronauts training for a mission

In 1995, while 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 advertising pictures, and I actually accepted. On December 6, I entered Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, the only control center that had made history with the Apollo moon landing in 1969.

Six astronauts were preparing for the STS-72 mission, which would take off from Earth on the Endeavor Space Shuttle with a mission to retrieve a Japanese research spacecraft from orbit. Brian Duffy, a former Air Force pilot, led the mission.

Over the next month, the film crew and I traveled between the Nasa space stations in Florida and Texas on several budget trips. The astronauts, on the other hand, traveled in their personal Nasa T-38 supersonic jets. Many of the images I made were in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, a large swimming pool where the astronauts took part in complex and dangerous training exercises mimicking the weight they would gain when they would travel into space.

The team was welcoming, although focused on the quick start day and their challenging schedule. I was honored to see this closely related group at a critical time in the history of the Space Shuttle program. Each shuttle mission was plastered with technical issues and a sustained battle with the U.S. Congress to secure the necessary funding. The program cost around $ 209bn over its 30-year history until it closed in 2011.

The main aim of the mission was to test the new design capability of space clothing to withstand the extreme cold of space © John Angerson

Angerson photographed Endeavor connected to the main space shuttle engines at the Kennedy Space Center © John Angerson

The pictures show the team’s companion; I thought their company was calm and well-respected. Mission expert Daniel T Barry was affectionately named Doctor Who because of his two doctorates; Koichi Wakata was known simply as The Man.

My first series of pictures from the STS-72 project were used on the television list pages of magazines and newspapers when the documentary was released in 1996. I revisited the work this year at a time locked and found many images I have viewed that are now visible. for the first time. Additionally, while studying mission history at the U.S. National Archives, I discovered hundreds of images taken by the STS-72 crew in Earth’s orbit.

Twenty-five years later, reflecting on these images, I believe that my access allowed me to capture a unique intimacy among the rarely seen astronauts.

Koichi ‘The Man’ Wakata spent over 11 months in space over his career and was the first mission expert in Japan © John Angerson

Winston E Scott with the space suit designed to protect against extreme temperatures during spacewalks © John Angerson

Nasa image of the Earth viewed from the Endeavor Space Shuttle during its 1996 STS-72 mission © Nasa images courtesy of the National Archives

This image by Angerson shows astronaut Winston E Scott being taken into a diving pool in a neutral training exercise.

This image by Angerson shows Scott being taken down to a diving pool in a neutral driving exercise © John Angerson

A view of the Earth captured by the STS-72 crew

View of the Earth captured by the STS-72 team © Nasa images courtesy of the National Archives

On the day, the close-up crew seals the astronauts inside the shuttle. © John Angerson

The control room at Johnson Space Center, Texas, where astronauts trained for STS-72 © John Angerson

“STS-72” by John Angerson (£ 28) is available at

Lean @FTMag on Twitter to find out about our latest stories first. Listen to our podcast, Call Culture, where IT editors and special guests discuss life and art during the coronavirus. Subscribe him Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen.