How NASA Chose The Camera That Went To The Moon

In the summer of 1962, Walter Schirra — who would soon become America’s third man to orbit the Earth — walked into a Houston photo supply shop looking for a camera he could take into space.

He came out with a Hasselblad 500C, a high-end Swedish import that had been recommended to him by photographers from Life and National Geographic.

“He was sort of an amateur photographer,” Jennifer Levasseur, a curator in charge of the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum’s astronaut cameras, says of Schirra. “Somewhere along the line, the decision was made that he could select what camera was flown on his flight.”

Schirra’s was a much more sophisticated — and pricey — choice than the simple Ansco Autoset that John Glenn bought for $40 at a Cocoa Beach, Florida, drug store. Glenn used it to take pictures from orbit on Friendship 7 in February 1962. The Hasselbladretailed for about $500 and used a much larger negative than Glenn’s 35 mm camera. It also sported interchangeable, Carl Zeiss lenses and removable film magazines.

An “astronaut-proof” Hasselblad

When NASA got a look at Schirra’s Hasselblad, they liked what they saw. The space agency purchased at least one more. Engineers tore into the off-the-shelf consumer model to make it space-worthy. They stripped it down to save weight and painted it dull black to reduce reflections. They also had to “astronaut-proof it,” says Cole Rise, a photographer and filmmaker who builds custom reproductions of the Hasselblad space cameras. (source)

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