Space Exploration: Films at the National Archives in College Park, MD
Among the largest and most technically challenging groups of audiovisual holdings in the Motion Picture, Sound and Video Branch are the holdings of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which can be found in National Archives Record Group 255. The NASA holdings date to the inception of the agency on July 29, 1958, when the National Aeronautics and Space Act was signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and "provided for research into the problems of flight within and outside the earth’s atmosphere."
The audiovisual holdings held by the National Archives document the history of numerous programs and activities of the agency, including:
- astronaut selection and training
- manned mission preparations
- onboard misison films
- downlink mission films and video recordings
- audio recordings of mission control activities
- press conferences
- test flights
- rocket development and launches
- satellite programs
- scientific research and development programs
- activities of NASA leadership
- Congressional and other government involvement and oversight of the American space program
- Presidential speeches
- VIP visits to NASA centers
- a wide variety of NASA center activities
The holdings contain extensive coverage of the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Space Shuttle programs. In addition to documentary footage covering NASA programs, the agency also created a large volume of edited films for public distribution, designed to educate the public about the agency’s activities, which are now also held by the National Archives. Many of these films were used for educational purposes in schools, universities and industry. Others were theatrical releases which garnered worldwide audiences and won numerous awards for achievement in filmmaking.
Each NASA center created and maintained film, audio and video collections, which are now reflected in the arrangement of the holdings of the National Archives. Some of the most heavily used series of holdings are now searchable in the National Archives Catalog. You can browse or search 59 series currently described in the online Catalog, or select from the following:
- Record Group 255: Records of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Series: NASA Headquarters Stock Film Library, ca. 1960 - ca. 1987 (Local Identifier: 255-S)
This series of motion picture film and audio recordings contains approximately 10,000 reels, was assembled by NASA Headquarters, and is considered a master source covering activities from all NASA centers, programs, and missions. The coverage of the collection dates from the agency’s origins in 1958 and ends with the STS-8 mission in 1983).
- Record Group 255: Records of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Series: Moving Images Relating to Documentary Stock Footage, 1959 - 1993 (Local Identifier: 255-FR)
This series of motion picture film and audio recordings was created and maintained by the Johnson Space Center (JSC) prior to transfer to the National Archives. It documents all aspects of JSC activities, most notably the manned spaceflight programs Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle.
- Record Group 255: Records of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Series: Master Film of Manned Spaceflight Mission Moving Images, 1961-1983 (Local Identifier: 255-WS)
This series of motion picture films contains onboard 16mm films shot by the astronauts during the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and early Space Shuttle missions. Note: original onboard films are held by NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
- Record Group 255: Records of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Series: Voice Recordings Relating to Apollo Missions, 11/9/1967 - 1/10/1973 (Local Identifier: 255-AVT)
This series of audio recordings contains onboard audio voice recordings of the astronauts during the various Apollo missions.
- Record Group 255: Records of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Series: Sound Recordings Relating to News Media Files, 1961 - 1993 (Local Identifier: 255-PAO)
This series of audio recordings contains coverage of a wide variety of NASA programs and events, including air-to-ground audio from the manned spaceflight programs, press conferences, astronaut interviews, and sound associated with NASA motion picture film productions.
NASA activities in other National Archives Record Groups include:
- Record Group 306: Records of the United States Information Agency, Series: Production Library Audio Recordings, 1999 - 2005 (Local Identifier: 306-VOA)
- Record Group 428: General Records of the Department of the Navy, Series: Moving Images Relating to Military Activities, ca. 1947 - 1980 (Local Identifier 428-NPC)
- Record Group 342: Records of United States Air Force Commands, Activities, and Organizations, Series: Moving Images Relating to Military Aviation Activities, 1947 - 1984 (Local Identifier: 342-USAF)
- Collection: MCA/Universal Pictures Collection, Series: Motion Picture Releases of the Universal Newsreel Library, 1929 - 1967 (Local Identifier: UN-UN)