NASA’s Apollo Program was an audacious mission to send astronauts to the moon — a national goal set by President John F. Kennedy’s in a bold speech in 1961 that was an ongoing part of the Cold War.
NASA’s use of photography aboard spacecraft originated during the Mercury Program when John Glenn carried two cameras during his Mercury-Atlas 6 program: 1) a Leica 1g for ultraviolet spectroscopic photos, and 2) a modified Ansco Autoset (which was a rebadged Minolta Hi-Matic by the Ansco Company) which took the first human-shot, color still photos.
Astronaut Wally Schirra had been using a Hasselblad 500c for his personal photography and suggested medium format to the NASA managers in charge of photographic equipment. NASA engineers modified the camera for space – removing excess weight, modifying the controls to accommodate space suits, and commissioning a custom back to hold more film. The results were so satisfying that NASA contracted Hasselblad to build kits designed specifically for space missions.
By the time Apollo 11 made man’s maiden voyage to the lunar surface, as depicted in First Man, Hasselblad had been an important part of the space program. Neil Armstrong carried a Hasselblad 500EL Data Camera with Reseau plate, a glass plate with precise etchings that were exposed onto each shot to allow for photogrammetry. The lens of choice was a Zeiss Biogon 60mm f/5.6 lens which has a field of view roughly equivalent to a 35mm full-frame lens.
Although Schirra’s original Hasselblad sold at auction in 2014 for $275,000 along with its Planar f/2.8 80mm lens, you won’t ever find cameras that have made it to the lunar surface on auction.
The reason? Weight.
The journeys home from the moon made very special demands on what could return regarding weight, etc. So, having fulfilled their mission, a total of thirteen cameras were deemed as an encumbrance and therefore left behind. Only the film magazines containing the precious latent images were brought back.
About the author: Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter, which regularly publishes resources for photographers. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Allen is a graduate of Yale University, and flosses daily. This article was also published here.