NASA’s First Photographer

Bill Taub created an intimate historical record of the first Americans in space.

Gus Grissom, in cufflinks and crew cut, is intent on a gimbaled training device designed to demonstrate how astronauts would regain attitude control should their spacecraft tumble. He’s explaining the equipment to the young sons of his fellow astronauts. Note the upturned face of the smallest one, barely visible to Grissom’s right. Bill Taub caught it: We were all that captivated by Mercury.
John Glenn’s crisp white shirt is sharp against a soft-focus control center. He’s watching the unpiloted Mercury-Atlas 4 flight in September 1961, just months before he would climb aboard the Friendship 7 spacecraft and ride an Atlas rocket on the same profile to orbit.
Laid-back Al Shepard, already aware that he would be the first American to ride a rocket to space, chats with ABC reporter Jules Bergman, who was at Cape Canaveral that day to film Shepard, Glenn, and Grissom after word leaked that one of them would get the nod. Taub, NASA’s first photographer, by then knew that he was photographing America’s first astronaut.
NASA Senior photographer Bill Taub on a ladder at Edwards Air Force Base in July 1963, next to a B-52 used in the X-15 program.
Wernher von Braun peers through a periscope in the blockhouse at Pad 37 as the countdown proceeds for a Saturn 1 launch on February 16, 1965.
NACA, the aeronautics research agency that preceded NASA, unveils the recently completed 8-ft by 6-ft supersonic wind tunnel at the Lewis Research Center in September 1949.
A woman is surrounded by data tape in a 1959-60 photo taken at NACA's Langley research center. The IBM 700 series were large-scale mainframe computer systems that used vacuum tubes.
Pete Conrad prepares for parasail training at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston in September 1963.
Buzz Aldrin stands in front of Launch Pad 37 during an orientation trip to Cape Kennedy for his class of new astronauts in April 1964.
NASA suit technician Alan Rochford performs suit pressure checks with Mercury-Atlas 8 backup Gordon Cooper, with an empty suit nearby.
In the suit-up room at Cape Canaveral, Scott Carpenter and Taub go over details of the modified 35mm camera Carpenter will use while in space.

He was with the space program before the astronauts were—the official photographer of the Langley Research Center in 1958, when a brand new entity called the “Space Task Group” was created. In the early days of U.S. human spaceflight, William Paul Taub was like the local newspaper photographer in a small town that suddenly became the center of the universe. Everybody knew him, especially the Mercury astronauts, whom he photographed often. They were so accustomed to his presence that they appear unaware of him in these three photographs—portraits of the pre-great, going about the new business of space travel.

See more photos at billtaubphotos.com