Armstrong Was Moon Photographer: Gear Good Enough for Outer-space & Here on Earth

neil armstrong

Astronaut Neil Armstrong is visible at the right edge of the frame, by the lunar lander.

With all the special programs and articles commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, which marked the first spacewalk, did you notice that there were no good photos of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the Lunar Surface?

This is because Armstrong, who famously said, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” was also the dedicated photographer for most of the mission. He used three Hasselblad 500EL cameras and 70mm Kodak film. This is why most of the historic photographs taken during the Apollo 11 mission show Buzz Aldrin. The only quality image of Armstrong is a 70mm photo of the astronaut’s back in a panorama.

According to NASA’s Lunar Surface Journal: one of the three Hasselblads was modified to be used as the data camera. And it was totally tripped out! They fitted it with a Reseau plate, which was made of glass, and fitted to the back of the camera body, extremely close to the film plane. The plane was engraved with a number of crosses to form a grid. The crosses were recorded on every exposed frame and provided a means of determining angular distances between objects in the field-of-view.

The Data Camera was also fitted with a new Zeiss lens, a Biogon f-5.6/60 mm, specially designed for NASA, which later became available commercially. Careful calibration tests were performed with the lens fitted in the camera in order to ensure high-quality, low-distortion images. Furthermore, the lens of the camera was fitted with a polarizing filter which could easily be detached.

Hasselblad data camera

Hasselblad data camera

This camera was given a silver finish to make it more resistant to thermal variations that ranged from full Sun to full shadow helping maintain a more uniform internal temperature. It was further modified to prevent accumulation of static electricity. When film is wound in a camera, static electricity is generated on the film surface. Normally, this electricity is dispersed by the metal rims and rollers that guide the film, and by the humidity of the air. In a camera fitted with a Reseau plate, however, the film is guided by the raised edges of the plate. As glass is a non-conductor, the electric charge that builds up at the glass surface can become so heavy that sparks can occur between plate and film—especially if the camera is used in a very dry environment or in a vacuum. Sparks cause unpleasant patterns to appear on the film and can be a hazard if the camera is used in an atmosphere of pure oxygen. To conduct the static electricity away, the side of the plate facing the film is coated with an extremely thin conductive layer which is led to the metallic parts of the camera body by two contact springs.

While the Reseau plate was not new in photography, the application of it to a small camera was. This camera is not only useful in space photography, it is good for aerial photography. In the past, cameras for aerial photography were very expensive since they were large and intended for a large negative-formats. The Hasselblad 500EL Data Camera with its Reseau plate produced a small and comparatively low-cost camera which gave satisfactory results in aerial photographic work.

Consider it for space or sky!

Alysha Sideman

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