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days before the Cuban Missile Crisis began, on October 3rd, 1962, as Walter Schirra sat at the top of his Mercury rocket (call sign Sigma 7) waiting to be the fifth American in space, not far from reach was the first of dozens of Hasselblad cameras to slip the bonds of Earth. Schirra had purchased a Hasselblad 500C in the late ‘50s from a local Houston camera shop and had become so smitten by the Swedish camera’s design and operation that he requested NASA find a way to get one into space. Luckily, the camera’s signature modular, building block design lent itself well to modification, and NASA ended up pulling out the internal mirror, focusing screen and anything that proved to be purely aesthetic, like the distinctive black leatherette that covers the camera’s body.

While the Hasselblad’s first trip into space wasn’t a screaming success (Schirra flubbed the exposures for most of the pictures), the camera was a standout hit. Medium format meant the image quality was fantastic, the modular design meant that lots of the camera — including things like the viewfinder and focusing mirror — could be removed to save weight (focus would have to be done using a technique called scale focus), and Hasselblad’s signature interchangeable film backs meant that film could be pre-loaded into magazines to save time and effort better spent elsewhere.

Wally Schirra with his space-bound Hasselblad 500c. We've got no idea why he's wearing two watches.

Wally Schirra with his space-bound Hasselblad 500c. We’ve got no idea why he’s wearing two watches.

Hasselblad quickly became the tool of choice for keeping a visual record of a place that so few people would get to physically visit. The camera would go on to be modified for use on the Gemini missions, and eventually a modified version of Hasselblad’s electric 500 EL would accompany all of the Apollo missions, six of which would eventually touch the moon (and to save weight, 12 cameras remain on the surface today).

There’s a psychological shift that strikes many astronauts called the “overview effect”. The very act of seeing the earth from a distance, as a fragile harbor of life without national borders and surrounded by a vast, empty universe causes an imperative desire to nourish and protect our “blue marble” and find a way for humanity to peacefully coexist on it. While only a small handful of men and women will be able to physically experience this effect, it’s hard to argue that the pictures they returned with (and the cameras that captured them) don’t inspire something similar.

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Pre-Apollo

Mercury and Gemini Prove the Technology Necessary to Head to The Moon
October, 1963: Mercury 8 passes over South America during one of its 6 orbits. One of the first medium format photos from space.

October, 1962: Mercury 8 passes over South America during one of its 6 orbits. One of the first medium-format photos from space.

June, 1965: Ed White takes the first U.S spacewalk on Gemini 4

June, 1965: Ed White taking the first US spacewalk on Gemini 4

Apollo 7

An 11-Day Earth Orbit to Test the New Spacecraft — October, 1968
Docking practice at 17,500 MPH

Docking practice at 17,500 mph

Walter Cunningham

Walter Cunningham

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Walter Cunningham (looking much cooler after donning shades)

Walter Cunningham (looking much cooler after donning shades)

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Donn Eisele proving that it's hard to be too stoic in space.

Donn Eisele proving that it’s hard to be too stoic in space

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Apollo 8

Orbit the Moon, Return Safely — December, 1968
Humanity's first glimpse at the Lunar far side came as Borman, Lovell and Anders orbited the Moon.

Humanity’s first glimpse at the Lunar far side came as Borman, Lovell and Anders orbited the Moon

The first photo from Frank Borman of "Earthrise". Anders would take the color photo soon after that would become one of the most iconic photos in history.

The first photo from Frank Borman of “Earthrise”. Soon after, Anders would take the color photo that would become one of the most iconic photos in history.

"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam." - Carl Sagan, Cosmos

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” — Carl Sagan, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage

Apollo 9

Orbit Earth, Test the New Lunar Module, Return Safely — March, 1969
Dave Scott heads out for a one-hour EVA

Dave Scott heads out for a one-hour EVA.

The Apollo Lunar Module (callsign: Spider) with its eventual destination behind it.

The Apollo Lunar Module (call sign: Spider) with its eventual destination behind it

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Command Module pilot David Scott getting a look outside.

Command Module pilot David Scott getting a look outside

The Command Service Module (callsign: Gumdrop) seen from the Lunar Module.

The Command Service Module (call sign: Gumdrop) seen from the Lunar Module

Apollo 10

Dress Rehearsal for Apollo 11’s Landing — May, 1969
Apollo 10 would get within 9 miles of the lunar surface. So close that NASA intentionally under-fueled the Lunar Module so the two occupants, Stafford and Cernan, wouldn't be able to get home if they were tempted into landing.

Apollo 10 would get within nine miles of the lunar surface — so close that NASA intentionally under-fueled the Lunar Module so the two occupants, Stafford and Cernan, wouldn’t be able to get home if they were tempted into landing.

Apollo 11

The Main Event — July, 1969
The view from Apollo 11 as it heads to the moon.

The view from Apollo 11 as it heads to the moon

Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin. This photo has (and forever will be) Omega's best marketing moment.

Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin. This photo is (and forever will be) Omega’s best marketing moment.

Inspection of the lunar module (callsign: Eagle) before it starts its descent to the Lunar surface.

Inspection of the Lunar Module (call sign: Eagle) before it starts its descent to the Lunar surface

Neil Armstrong captures Buzz Aldrin descending on to the Lunar surface.

Neil Armstrong captures Buzz Aldrin descending on to the lunar surface.

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The iconic lunar bootprint left on the powdery surface.

The iconic lunar boot print left on the powdery surface. The hashmarks on the photo are exactly 10mm apart (to an accuracy of .002mm) and are used to judge distances between objects in the frame.

The Lunar Module pointing towards its eventual destination.

The Lunar Module pointing towards its eventual destination

Aldrin unpacking experiments during their 2.5-hour moonwalk.

Aldrin unpacking experiments during the pair’s 2.5-hour moonwalk

Neil Armstrong after becoming the first man to set foot on the moon.

Neil Armstrong after becoming the first man to set foot on the moon

Buzz Aldrin after becoming the second man to set foot on the moon

Buzz Aldrin after becoming the second man to set foot on the moon

Apollo 12

Apollo 11 with Twice as Many Moonwalks. November, 1969
The Lunar Module (callsign:  Intrepid) descends towards a perfect landing (unlike Apollo 11)

The Lunar Module (call sign: Intrepid) descends towards a perfect landing (unlike Apollo 11).

Alan Bean traversing the Lunar Surface. LM in background.

Alan Bean traversing the Lunar Surface; LM in background

Just because they're on the moon doesn't mean they don't accidentally push the shutter button like everyone else.

Just because they’re on the moon doesn’t mean they don’t accidentally push the shutter button like everyone else.

Apollo 13

Return Safely — April, 1970
After an oxygen tank exploded in the Service Module Apollo 13 had to abandon its original mission and try to limp home while seeking refuge in the Lunar Module.

After an oxygen tank exploded in the Service Module Apollo 13 had to abandon its original mission and try to limp home while seeking refuge in the Lunar Module.

The crew's view of the moon from the Lunar Module. Worth noting is that they switched to the two Lunar Module Hasselblads that were supposed to be used and discarded on the moon.

The crew’s view of the moon from the Lunar Module. Worth noting is that they switched to the two Lunar Module Hasselblads (note the hash marks on the film) that were supposed to be used and discarded on the moon.

After CO2 levels became dangerously high in the Lunar Module NASA engineers on the ground had to come up with a way to adapt the square shaped CO2 filters from the Service Module.

After CO2 levels became dangerously high in the Lunar Module NASA engineers on the ground had to come up with a way to adapt the square-shaped CO2 filters from the Service Module.

Apollo 14

Land on the Moon, Grab Some Rocks, Hit Some Golf Balls, Return Home — January, 1971
Alan Shepard on the lunar surface.

Alan Shepard on the lunar surface

Shepard with the mission's TV camera.

Shepard with the mission’s TV camera

Apollo 15

Nearly 20 Hours on the Lunar Surface, and a Car! — July, 1971
Dave Scott on the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV).  The LRV had one horsepower, a top speed of eight MPH and a range of six miles but it did just the trick.

Dave Scott on the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV). The LRV had 1 horsepower, a top speed of 8 mph and a range of 6 miles, but it did just the trick.

Apollo 16

More than 20 Hours in the Lunar Highlands — April, 1972
By the time Apollo 16 rolled around, John Young had to get pretty creative with his salute photo.

By the time Apollo 16 rolled around, John Young had to get pretty creative with his salute photo.

Lunar Module Pilot Charlie Duke left a small family portrait on the lunar surface.

Lunar Module Pilot Charlie Duke left a small family portrait on the lunar surface.

John Young next to the LRV.

John Young next to the LRV

Apollo 17

That’s a Wrap — December, 1972
Harrison Schmitt at the beginning of the third and final moonwalk.

Harrison Schmitt at the beginning of the third and final moonwalk

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The Apollo 17 CSM (callsign: America) from the lunar module.

The Apollo 17 CSM (call sign: America) from the Lunar Module

Gene Cernan taking the LRV for a spin.

Gene Cernan taking the LRV for a spin

The moon buggy alone in the distance.

The moon buggy alone in the distance

Right before snapping portraits of each other, Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt took a photo of their moon suits. After those two no living creature has set foot on a heavenly body.

Right before snapping portraits of each other, Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt took a photo of their moon suits. After those two, no living creature has set foot on a heavenly body.

A huge heap of gratitude is owed to The Project Apollo Archive who’ve taken on the incredible task of archiving and preserving the collective mementos from Humanity’s greatest adventure.