HASSELBLAD IN SPACE

View from Apollo 11 spacecraft
Earth rising above moon's horizon
© NASA

Over forty years ago, a then-unknown Walter Schirra entered a Houston photo supply shop and purchased a Hasselblad 500C. The camera was a standard consumer unit with a Planar f/2.8, 80mm lens. Schirra was a prospective NASA astronaut; thinking to take his new purchase with him on a space mission, Schirra stripped the leatherette from the body of the Hasselblad and painted its metal surface black in order to minimise reflections. And when he climbed aboard a Mercury rocket in October 1962, he had the Hasselblad alongside him. Using his consumer model Hasselblad, Schirra took the first space photographs. Thus began the first page of a new chapter in the history of Hasselblad and photography and a long, close, and mutually beneficial cooperation between the giant American space agency and the small Swedish camera manufacturer.

Walter Schirra and the Hasselblad 500C

CAMERAS MADE FOR SPACE

As NASA’s photo department grew rapidly, contact with the Swedish camera manufacturer broadened. In turn, Hasselblad modified and refined its cameras to make them even more suitable for space use, experimenting with different constructions and lenses. For many years, NASA was determined to cut every superfluous gram from the payload, meaning that the Hasselblads onboard were forced to be as lightweight and lean as absolutely possible and still maintain the famous Hasselblad quality. And this they did.

The Hasselblad 500C stripped of all leather covers

Astronaut Edward H. White floating in zero gravity with Earth behind him, June 1965
© NASA

The images that the astronauts took with the boxy, black Hasselblads have become true classics. And the moments they captured were not just inspiring, they were historic. During the Gemini IV mission in 1965, for example, the first spacewalk was made. And with Hasselblad in hand, James A. McDivitt took a series of pictures of his space-walking colleague, Edward H. White. These pictures were quickly published in leading magazines around the world.

Gemini-11 Spacecraft orbiting earth, 26th revolution
India and Ceylon in view, 1966
© NASA

People were surprised over the amazing sharpness of the photos produced by the Hasselblads. Most people probably didn’t give too much thought to the demands that space travel made upon the cameras and their reliability. The cameras had to work perfectly under the most trying conditions, over 120° C in the sun, and minus 65° C in the shade. Not to mention the lack of gravity and a myriad of unknown hazards. And the cameras had to work with absolute consistency. Each and every shot was a historic treasure, a once in a lifetime opportunity that would never be able to be captured again. And time and time again, Hasselblad met the challenge.

Hasselblad 500EL Data Camera
used on Apollo 8, 9, 10, 11 flights

Hasselblad 203FE used in space

HASSELBLAD ON THE MOON

What could be deemed as one of the most iconic moments of Hasselblad in space was when the Apollo 11 actually landed on the Moon, signifying man’s first steps off our own planet. A Hasselblad 500EL Data Camera with Reseau plate, fitted with a Zeiss Biogon 60mm ƒ/5.6 lens, was chosen for the job. The journeys home from the Moon made very special demands on what could return regarding weight; from Apollo 11 to the final Apollo 17 mission, a total of twelve camera bodies were left behind on the lunar surface. Only the film magazines containing the momentous images were brought back. The resulting photographs captured the history of mankind in the making.

Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin on the moon's surface, 1969
© NASA

Astronaut's footprint in the lunar soil
Apollo 11 mission, 1969
© NASA

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin
Apollo 11 mission, 1969
© NASA

THE FIRST CONSUMER CAMERA

As a passionate bird photographer, Victor Hasselblad wanted to create a camera that could capture the beauty of nature and easily fit in his hand.

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