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A Detailed Look at the Camera Gear Behind the Historical Apollo 11 Moon Landing

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin salutes the United States flag while Neil Armstrong photographs him. A moment caught on 16mm film here.

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin salutes the United States flag while Neil Armstrong photographs him. A moment caught on 16mm film here.

Only NASA could turn photography into literal rocket science. As Reddit user truetofiction points out in a resource-rich post, NASA meticulously decided upon a number of factors that determined the fate of the space-bound Hasselblads and the resulting images.

When Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong separated from the Command Module of the Apollo 11 mission, their moonscape-destined Lunar Module had two Hasselblad cameras in it. Each served a distinct purpose and each had a number of features purpose-built for their individual endeavors. Before we break down the differences though, we’ll establish what the two models had in common.

Both built around the Hasselblad 500EL body, these two cameras featured a mostly-automated process, thanks largely in part to the electronic motor. The astronauts needed only to set the distance, aperture, and shutter speed. Once the shutter was pressed, the frame was exposed, the film was wound to the next frame, and the shutter was reset.

Other features present to these two cameras was the use of special-designed locks for the film magazines, levers for the aperture and distance settings and featured a simple sighting ring, rather than a reflex mirror viewfinder.

apollo11_4

The first of these was for use inside of the Lunar Module cabin. It was called the IntraVehicular Camera (IVA). This particular Hasselblad featured a black paint scheme, lacked a reseau plate (the grid you often see in the photographs from early space missions) and packed an Planar 80mm f/2.8 lens.

The second of these was for use outside the Lunar Module cabin and featured a number of more precise additions. Called the ExtraVehicular Camera (EVA), this beauty had anodized surfaces to prevent the possibility of overheating, included a reseau plate, and used a wider, Planar 60mm f/2.8 lens. In addition to those features, this model needed to get rid of the conventional lubrication within the camera’s mechanical parts, as it would boil off in the atmosphere and potentially condensate onto the optical elements.

With all film magazines painted to match their respective camera bodies, the astronauts had three magazines loaded with 70mm film: two color and one black and white. While the specifics of the film used in Apollo 11 aren’t noted, records indicate the same emulsion used on Apollo 8 was used in the Apollo 11 mission.

The first photo Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong took after setting foot on the Moon.

The first photo Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong took after setting foot on the Moon.

Thus, we can conclude that the magazines were loaded with the special-designed film NASA contracted Kodak to develop. For black and white they used 70mm perforated Kodak Panatomic-X ‘fine-grained’ film with an ASA rating of 80. For color, they could’ve used any combination of Kodak Ektachrome SO–68, Kodak Ektachrom SO–121, and Kodak 2485, the latter of which featured a ‘super light-sensitive’ ASA rating of 1,600.

It’s incredible to think about how much work went into the creation of special-designed equipment for the documentation of our endeavors to the moon. Whether you’re a believer of it or not (and Buzz Aldrin has a little surprise for those of you who aren’t), it’s an astonishing feat.

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin sets up a solar wind experiment on the moon.

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin sets up a solar wind experiment on the moon.

As pointed out by Reddit user seriouslyawesome, it’s interesting to think about how integral photography has become to almost all space-related sciences. Up until the advent of the ability to capture light via photographic means, it was almost entirely up to human representation and replication, albeit with the help of other scientific tools.

To roughly paraphrase the late Steve Jobs: Here’s to the crazy ones. The astronauts. The scientists. The literal rocket scientists amongst us plebs.

To read up more on the camera tech behind the Apollo 11 mission and more, you can check out a number of resources, here, here and here.

(via Reddit)


Image credits: Public Domain images provided by NASA


 
  • http://www.ceaserphotography.com/ Sid Ceaser

    Good stuff.

    Back in the summer of 2008, I bought one of the last used/refurbished Hasselblad’s from John Kovacs a.k.a “Hilton Command Expoures” before he retired and moved to Florida. John was a Hasselblad Master Technician, who also owns US Patent US 4232957 A; A multiple exposure control mechanism for Hasselblad film backs.

    John was also one of the people that retrofitted the Hasselblads that went up with the Astronauts. When I bought my camera from him, I asked him about his involvement with those cameras and the space program, and, with his old cranky attitude said “Those damn astronauts, they couldn’t operate the cameras because of their big, stupid space gloves, so I had to make a button that they could hit to take the picture”.

    John died at the start of 2013. He had a whole lifetime of stories that I wish I could have heard from him. He was a Hasselblad Wizard, if there ever was one.

    Cheers,
    Sid

  • docholliday666

    Um, wrong. The 500 EL was called the HEDC (Hasselblad Electric Data Camera). And, it was a 60/3.5 C T* – there isn’t a 2.8 60mm. And, it was a special Biogon, not a Planar. The standard is a Planar, but the HEDC used on the moon in 1969 was a Biogon.

    Fail.

  • docholliday666

    Um, wrong. The 500 EL was called the HEDC (Hasselblad Electric Data Camera). And, it was a 60/3.5 C – there isn’t a f2.8 60mm C. And, it was a special Biogon, not a Planar. The standard is a Planar, but the HEDC used on the moon in 1969 was a Biogon.

    EVA/IVA is the abbreviation for the TYPE of activity.

    There is NO sight ring on a HEDC. It was a solid baffle plate in place of the WLF. The sight ring was only used on the SWC for Gemini 9.

    The leather was removed for plating to handle the stress of space and the lubricants were replaced/removed to prevent evap. Interior flocking was removed to reduce weight, as well as the mirror mechanism.

    Fail. Damn Reddit idiots, can’t even get their facts right.

    Maybe instead of referencing third-party sites, they should have looked at the site for the company who manufactured/modified the actual units, Hasselblad.

  • SlvrScoobie

    Wait, I am confused. How did they keep the film from blistering if it was so hot that the lubricants would boil if not removed?

  • docholliday666

    It’s not the heat. It’s the vacuum of space. Evap, not boil. That’s why people shouldn’t write articles if they have no clue what they’re talking about.

  • docholliday666

    BTW, what’s an ‘austronauts’?

  • TSY87

    How does an andonized surface prevent overheating?

  • EMKOEMKO

    basic science man, its the lack of pressure that makes the liquid boil not temperature. On earth we have pressure pushing on the molecules so we have to introduce more energy to get the molecules to separate causing them to move independent as a gas. Same effect when we make liquid gasses we compress them with very high pressure.

  • docholliday666

    It doesn’t – it wasn’t anodized, it was just that the leather was removed for weight purposes.

  • SlvrScoobie

    Roger that, forgot my Space Science 101. I got tripped up because of ‘ In addition to those features, this model needed to get rid of the conventional lubrication within the camera’s mechanical parts, as it would boil off in the atmosphere and potentially condensate onto the optical elements.’
    But yea, its cold as ice in space until the sun hits it. Film would be under low pressure which wouldnt affect it, but the oils could evap/boil off (outgas) but the film would still be ok because the temps would be low.

  • EMKOEMKO

    yea it should say cosmonaut

  • docholliday666

    Nah, must be them pesky astronauts that flew on Apollo from down under.

  • sascharheker

    What is “detailed” about this article?

  • http://www.facebook.com/cesarakg Cesar Grossmann

    Reflecting surfaces absorbs less heat from the sun.

  • docholliday666

    The “wrong” ones.

  • jimfelt

    Why would an unvetted piece on Redditt be worth reposting?

    Oh. It’s free. Silly me.

  • docholliday666

    Why would *most* things on Reddit be worth reposting? Most of their readers are outsmarted and outwitted by the average 3rd grader, including the ones in the US education system!

  • Mark

    BAM! Smack ‘em with some knowledge!

  • hilowcaugo

    Why are there no stars in the distance and why is the flag waving when it is in space (an airless atmosphere)

  • Avishek

    Also, where’s the shadow of the flag?

  • Uniblab

    It’s there. The flag “pole” is so thin that it’s not easy to see the shadow on the uneven ground, but it is visible behind Aldrin and to his right, as it should be. The sun was so low in the sky that all shadows are very elongated (look at the shadow of Aldrin’s legs) and the shadow of the flag itself is out of the frame.

  • Uniblab

    Stars are extremely dim compared to sunlit objects (on both earth and moon) and since the film was exposed for the daytime scene no stars are visible. If the film had been exposed for the stars everything else would have been vastly overexposed.

  • 1000nunsandorphans

    The flag was not waving. I am old enough to know (I watched the moon landing as a child) that the lack of gravity allowed for the flag to be erect. You could probably find videos of the events on the first moon landings that will show this.

  • Lee Sutton

    you mean when they faked it in a studio don’t you?

  • hilowcaugo

    But there’s still gravity on the moon isn’t there?And I heard NASA said it was an air pocket in the ground…hmm interesting.

  • ksporry

    hang on, motor rewind is considered “mostly automated”? When was this article written? 1803? because anno 2014, such a camera would be classified as 90% manual…

  • 1000nunsandorphans

    Take off the tin foil hat and please cite the “air pocket in the ground” comment before any rational person should take you seriously….

  • Jay Rider

    are you familiar with the concept of dynamic range in photography? This is why you can’t see the stars.

  • Krokodil Dundee

    The real story is the classified time travel device they used to obtain the CGI technology to create the fake video.

  • docholliday666

    You mean motor winder….there is no such thing as “rewind” in MF.

  • kbb

    “The crosses on the plate that contact the film imaged the crosses so that photogrammetrically, distortions and other issues could be corrected later, as well as establishing measurements and other functions. It kept the film as flat as possible – it also prevented the film from getting sucked into the body away from the pressure plate.”
    Actually, the crosshairs on the Reseau Plate were there so that photogrammetric measurements could be made directly from the film. Kind of like aerial mapping.
    That’s how little distortion the 60mm Biogon had.

  • ksporry

    yes