Everyone knows that Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon. But a local man says he knows the reason there are hardly any pictures of that famous walk.
Richard Underwood, a former East Haven resident and University of Connecticut graduate, says he was the man who practically ran the photography department at NASA in Houston, Texas, and claims that Buzz Aldrin took no pictures of his crewmate, Armstrong, because he was jealous.
“It’s one of the greatest tragedies of the twentieth century,” Underwood said in an exclusive interview.
There are a few very low-quality pictures of Armstrong taken from stationary and television cameras meant to capture the landing and the first step. However, none were taken with the specially designed, high-quality, 70-millimeter Hasselblad cameras that both Armstrong and Aldrin carried on the surface of the moon, Underwood said.
“Nobody wondered why we never released any pictures of Neil Armstrong on the Moon. There weren't any. But we were told, 'Don't mention it'" And nobody in the news media picked this up," Underwood said when interviewed for the Johnson Space Center Oral History Project. "Buzz was mad at Neil and didn't take his picture. Got hundreds of the other 11 guys who walked on the Moon, none of number one.”
At the time, when the NASA Public Affairs Office wanted to fudge it and just say some of the pictures were of Armstrong, Underwood said, “There's some 9-year-old kid out there who's a space groupie and he knows every aperture and wire and seam in a spacesuit. The day after you publish it, the New York Times is going to have a letter from a 9-year-old kid saying, 'No, you're wrong. That's Buzz Aldrin.'"
This week, NASA spokesman John Yambrick said the account that jealousy played a role is "100 percent not true." The reason, he explained, "was because that was Neil's job, (taking pictures.) It wasn't a conspiracy."
Underwood's emergence to space photography began in Connecticut.
He graduated from UConn in 1951 with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Geology and that's where he got his start in aerial photography. It was for a school paper that he and his buddy rented a plane from Willimantic Airport for $4 dollars, and that was the beginning of his career.
Underwood hung out the open door, taking pictures of Connecticut’s railroads.
“Some of the greatest times in my life were at UConn. It’s where I got my start,” he said.
While at NASA, Underwood personally trained every astronaut who went into space in photography, from Apollo 8 in 1968 to the time he retired from NASA in 1985.
“It was not work, it was all fun,” he said.
Underwood hand-delivered the first photos to the media as soon as he developed them.
“I got on my bike that I rode to work everyday, and went to the hotel down the street and hand-delivered the photos to Walter Cronkite.”
Despite that fact that most of the images were not of Armstrong, the ones that returned from the moon’s surface changed history.
Underwood always told astronauts right before they left that “the key to immortality would be their photography.”
And immortal they are.