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Mi Gente: CC photographer helped NASA bring photos of the moon to the public

Ruben Rodriguez said his dad, Raul, locally pioneered color photo processing, a capability that NASA didn't have after Apollo 8 returned in 1968.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — In 1968, three NASA astronauts became the first humans to orbit the moon.

The Apollo 8 mission also captured the first photograph of earth from a "point of view" that forever changed the way we saw ourselves.

Did you know that photo has a Corpus Christi connection?

I didn’t either, until I met Ruben "Radar" Rodriguez.

The story, however, is not so much about him, as it is about his dad.

December 21, 1968, was an historic day in American history: Apollo 8 would be the last test flight of the Saturn V rocket before man's first landing on the moon.

Apollo 8 would, for the first time, circled around the dark side of the moon -- a demonstration of lunar trajectory.

As Apollo emerged from behind the moon, this was the crew's reaction.

A few days later the Apollo 8 crew returned home safely with the film.

Now comes the Corpus Christi connection.

Ruben’s father’s fascination with photography started out when Raul was a child at picture day, and it continued into adulthood.

"He was born and raised in Mexico,” Ruben said. “Both my parents were, and there was -- he had a fascination as a kid."

Eventually Raul moved to Texas and became an electrician, but he still dabbled in photography -- even building a darkroom and photo studio in his home.

"The closets were where he developed the negatives, where they required a total darkness,” Ruben said. “And eventually he started doing wedding pictures, built a large cinder block garage in the back that became the main photo studio."

As his clientele grew, so did the Rodriguez photo business, eventually moving to a building on Ayers Street where R&R Photo Studio was established.

"He installed the first color processor for South Texas," Ruben said.

At the time, that was a big deal. Word spread of the color technology at R&R in Corpus Christi, eventually making its way to NASA, whose astronauts had just returned from the Apollo 8 mission.

"A few days later, a couple of guys showed up from NASA at my dad's studio,” Ruben said. “Somehow they found out he had both ektachrome and the color photo-processing."

Raul Rodriguez was given the job to develop, process and print the pictures taken by the Apollo 8 crew, and that, his son said, is what he did.

Ruben, who was 12 years old at the time, even got some say-so in the production.  

"So he showed me the first one, and I said the moon looks a little bit tan,” Ruben said. “He said, ‘OK, and he went in and adjusted the filters and made it a little more gray, and then he printed the final ones and the guys from NASA took their negatives, the slides and the pictures and paid and took off.”

Ruben kept the first copy of the iconic picture his dad printed and the rest, as we all now know, is history.

"Basically, to us locally, it’s the height of achievement of an Hispanic born in Mexico in a poor farm that never knew he would be holding astronauts film in his hands doing a process that would benefit the world," Ruben said.

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