The spring of 1962 was a heady time for the men and women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. They had just sent the first American into orbit and were busy with plans to meet President John F. Kennedy’s goal of sending human beings to the Moon and returning them safely home by the end of the decade. With some noteworthy successes under his belt, and with the prospect of an even brighter future, NASA administrator James Webb paused to consider how his agency could best capture and communicate the excitement, energy, and significance of the US space effort.

He reasoned that while NASA would document every phase of its work with photographs, there would be moments, messages, and meanings that could not be captured on film. On 16 March 1962, Webb sent a memo to his staff suggesting that they consider “just what NASA should do in the...

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