11 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.
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.
Mercury and Gemini Prove the Technology Necessary to Head to The Moon
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 taking the first US spacewalk on Gemini 4
An 11-Day Earth Orbit to Test the New Spacecraft — October, 1968
Docking practice at 17,500 mph
Walter Cunningham (looking much cooler after donning shades)
Donn Eisele proving that it’s hard to be too stoic in space
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
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: A Personal Voyage
Orbit Earth, Test the New Lunar Module, Return Safely — March, 1969
Dave Scott heads out for a one-hour EVA.
The Apollo Lunar Module (call sign: Spider) with its eventual destination behind it
Command Module pilot David Scott getting a look outside
The Command Service Module (call sign: Gumdrop) seen from the Lunar Module
Dress Rehearsal for Apollo 11’s Landing — May, 1969
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.
The Main Event — July, 1969
The view from Apollo 11 as it heads to the moon
Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin. This photo is (and forever will be) Omega’s best marketing moment.
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.
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
Aldrin unpacking experiments during the pair’s 2.5-hour moonwalk
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
Apollo 11 with Twice as Many Moonwalks. November, 1969
The Lunar Module (call sign: Intrepid) descends towards a perfect landing (unlike Apollo 11).
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.
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.
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.
Land on the Moon, Grab Some Rocks, Hit Some Golf Balls, Return Home — January, 1971
Alan Shepard on the lunar surface
Shepard with the mission’s TV camera
Nearly 20 Hours on the Lunar Surface, and a Car! — July, 1971
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.
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.
Lunar Module Pilot Charlie Duke left a small family portrait on the lunar surface.
John Young next to the LRV
That’s a Wrap — December, 1972
Harrison Schmitt at the beginning of the third and final moonwalk
The Apollo 17 CSM (call sign: America) from the Lunar Module
Gene Cernan taking the LRV for a spin
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.
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.
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