Space and Beyond: Locating NASA Photographs Using Online Indexes

Photograph of Gordon Cooper during Simulated Mercury Redstone Rocket Flight
Photograph of Gordon Cooper during Simulated Mercury Redstone Rocket Flight. Local Identifier: 255-G-61-MR3-61; National Archives Identifier: 17409778

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) photographic records is one of the largest groups of records within the holdings of the Still Picture Branch. The photographs range in date between 1903 and 2011, and include subject matter such as daily operations, personnel, events, facilities, and come in the form of both analog and born-digital records. With such a wide array of photographs, it can be difficult to locate a specific photograph related to your research. However, online photographic indexes on the Access to Archival Databases (AAD) can help find those hard-to-locate NASA photographs. 

First and foremost, there are two main indexes for the photographic records of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, also known as Record Group 255. The indexes are split between Black and White Photographs and Color Photographs. Because there is some overlap between the two indexes, it is always the best practice to search both in the course of your research. It is important to note that these indexes do not include all of the NASA holdings within the Still Picture Branch, and you should still consult our online catalog to locate additional series of records. In addition, new series of photographic records from NASA are continually accessioned into Still Picture Branch holdings and will be updated in our online catalog as soon as they are processed.

While the indexes to the photographs are consolidated into one location online, the photographs themselves have been organized into different series of records within the holdings of the Still Picture Branch. The indexes and the series of records listed below are the main records from NASA Headquarters, which are comprised of select photographs from various NASA centers or taken by headquarter photographers. The vast majority of NASA photographs have not been digitized and are only available onsite in the Still Picture Research Room. The bulk of the images that are not digitized are institutional in nature, while the majority of the photography taken during manned missions have digital copies in mission specific series. The Still Picture Branch is unable to provide reproduction services and has limited access to records at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, so please plan your research accordingly.

Read more about NASA records at the Still Picture Branch

 

Main Series of NASA Photographs:

255-G: Historical Photograph Files, 1958 – 1964

Black and White NASA Photographs taken before 1964.

This series is organized by subjectTherefore, when using AAD/NASA online index, researchers should take note of the photo’s subject matter as well as the identifier number in order to locate the image.

255-GC: Color Photograph Files Relating to Projects, Astronauts, and Events, 1963 – 1965

Color NASA Photographs taken before 1964.

This series is organized by subjectTherefore, when using AAD/NASA online index, researchers should take note of the photo’s subject matter as well as the identifier number in order to locate the image. 

255-CB: Black and White Photograph Files, 1965 – 1991

Black and White NASA Photographs taken after 1964.

This series is organized by the photograph’s identifier numberWhen using AAD/NASA online index, researchers must note the identifier number in order to locate the image. If the identifier number has an “H,” it will likely be in this series.

255-CC: Color Photograph Files, 1965 – 2002

Color NASA Photographs taken after 1964.

This series is organized by the photograph’s identifier numberWhen using AAD/NASA online index, researchers must note the identifier number in order to locate the image. If the identifier number has an “HC,” it will likely be in this series.

 

 

How to Locate NASA Photographs using AAD:

1. To begin your search, navigate to the below webpage links for the index you would like to start searching. Alternatively, you may locate the indexes via AAD’s homepage under “Indexes to Photographs.”

Index to Black and White Photograph Files (Documenting the period 1958 – 1991): https://aad.archives.gov/aad/series-description.jsp?s=1040&cat=IT40&bc=,sl

Index to Color Photographs (Documenting the period 1958 – 1983): https://aad.archives.gov/aad/series-description.jsp?s=1041&cat=IT40&bc=,sl

 

2. Then, simply enter your related keyword into the search box at the top of the page. After you hit enter, you will see a page stating how many records have been located from your search. After reviewing the information, click “view records.”

 

 

3. After clicking “View Records,” the search results will appear in a list with all the related metadata. You can review a brief caption under the “Label” field. If you locate a photograph that is of interest, click the paper icon under “View Record.”

 

 

4. Once you view the full record, the most important fields to note are (1) the caption under “Label” or “Caption,” (2) the photograph identifier number under “B W ID” or “Color ID,” and (3) the status labeled under “Active.”

The Still Picture Branch holds the photographs listed as “Transferred to NARA.” For black and white photographs listed as “Still in Use by NASA HQ Public Affairs Office,” the records have not yet been transferred to NARA. The color photographs listed as “Still in Use by NASA HQ Public Affairs Office,” have been transferred to NARA. However, a selection of color photos were damaged prior to being transferred, and therefore are not within Still Picture holdings.

 

 

5. Now you have found all the relevant information needed to locate the photograph. While the vast majority of NASA photographs are not digitally available in our online catalog, you can plan what series of records you should look at while onsite in the Still Picture Research Room.

 

 

Example 1:

 

This photo was located after searching for the date “May 5, 1961”–the day Alan Shepard was launched into space–within the Black and White Index. The black and white photo was taken before 1964, and is confirmed as “Transferred to NARA,” which means it can be located within the series 255-G. In order to locate the photo within 255-G, you must note that the subject is the “Mercury-Redstone III,” and the photograph’s identifier number is 61-MR3-72D. Therefore, the full item number is 255-G-61-MR3-72D.

 

Photograph of the Mercury-Redstone 3 Launch
Photograph of the Mercury-Redstone 3 Launch. Local Identifier: 255-G-61-MR3-72D; National Archives Identifier: 17409779

 

Example 2:

 

This photo was located in the Color Photographs Index after searching for the “USS Donner,” which was involved in launching Ham the Chimpanzee into space in January, 1961. The color image was taken before 1964, and was “Transferred to NARA.” With this information, the photo is located within the series 255-GC. To locate the image, note the subject matter as related to the “Mercury-Redstone II,” and the identifier number is MR 2-6. Therefore the full photograph’s number is 255-GC-MR2-6.

 

Photograph of the Chimpanzee Ham on the Deck of the USS Donner
Photograph of the Chimpanzee Ham on the Deck of the USS Donner. Local Identifier: 255-GC-MR2-6; National Archives Identifier: 17409814

 

Example 3:

This image was found after searching “Edward White” within the Black and White Photographs Index. This black and white photo was taken after 1964 (the Apollo 1 mission started in 1966) and was officially “Transferred to NARA.” Using this information, the image is located in 255-CB. To find the photo, note the identifier number as 67-H-103, which means the full image number is 255-CB-67-H-103.

 

Photograph of Astronauts for the First Manned Apollo Mission
Photograph of Astronauts for the First Manned Apollo Mission. Local Identifier: 255-CB-67-H-103; National Archives Identifier: 175539541

 

Example 4:

 

This photo was found after searching “Richard Nixon” within the Color Photographs Index. The color image was taken after 1964 (Apollo 11 landed in 1969), and was “Transferred to NARA.” Since the image was taken after 1964 and in color, it will be located within 255-CB. The identifier number is 69-HC-802, which means the full number is 255-CB-69-HC-802.

 

Photographs of President Richard Nixon Greeting the Apollo 11 Astronauts on the USS Hornet
Photographs of President Richard Nixon Greeting the Apollo 11 Astronauts on the USS Hornet. Local Identifier: 255-CC-69HC-802; National Archives Identifier: 17409727

 

Related Blog Posts 

Pushing the Limits: The NASA Space Shuttle (Photos) 

Images of the Week: NASA Digital Images 

Shooting the Moon: Photos of the Lunar Surface and Beyond 

 

The photographs included in this post have no known copyright restrictions. If you have any questions about the images in this post or the holdings of the Still Picture Branch, please contact us at stillpix@nara.gov.

 

PUBLICATION OF PHOTOGRAPHS FURNISHED BY THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES STILL PICTURE BRANCH-RRSS

Generally, copies of photographic records held by the National Archives may be published without special permission or additional fees. The National Archives does not grant exclusive or non-exclusive publication privileges. Copies of Federal records, as part of the public domain, are equally available to all. A small percentage of photographs in our holdings are or may be subject to copyright restrictions. The National Archives does not confirm the copyright status of photographs but will provide any information known about said status. It is the user’s responsibility to obtain all necessary clearances. Any use of these items is made at the researcher’s or purchaser’s own risk.

Proper credit lines are encouraged in the interest of good documentation. They also help inform the public about government photographic resources that are available.

*Because so many of our requests for information cite credits and captions that appear in published works, the inclusion of a photo number in hard copy and electronic publications is of great assistance to both us and the public.

Examples of preferred credit lines are as follows:

  • National Archives photo no. 210-G-C241
  • Credit National Archives (photo no. 83-G-41368)
  • Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 83-G-41430
  • National Archives (210-G-A14)

If using a large number of our images, the National Archives will appreciate receiving copies of publications that contain our photographs. Such copies can be sent to the Still Picture Branch or the Library, National Archives and Records Administration.

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