Recreating Space Cameras

[Cole Price] describes himself as a photographer and a space nerd. We’ll give that to him since his web site clearly shows a love of cameras and a love of the NASA programs from the 1960s. [Cole] has painstakingly made replicas of cameras used in the space program including a Hasselblad 500C used on a Mercury flight and another Hasselblad used during Apollo 11. His work is on display in several venues — for example, the 500C is in the Carl Zeiss headquarters building.

[Cole’s] only made a detailed post about 500C and a teaser about the Apollo 11 camera. However, there’s a lot of detail about what NASA — and an RCA technician named [Red Williams] — did to get the camera space-ready.

If you are familiar with how government projects work today, you’ll smile when you read that [Wally Schirra] just bought the original 500C at a local camera store. However, it wasn’t suitable for use on orbit.

The Mercury capsule was tiny, so the camera got an external viewfinder. The leather covering had to go too, since it could outgas in a vacuum. Fearing shiny reflections in the capsule window, the camera also got a coat of black paint. The lens had some modifications, too, to make it easier to work with gloved hands. They even bolted down the film back to prevent accidental opening ruining pictures while fumbling with the camera in the tiny craft.

We are looking forward to hearing more about the Apollo camera reconstruction. Usually, we are thinking about their computers, but the cameras were a great piece of tech, too. We know Apollo launched a lot of engineers, but maybe it also spawned some photographers.

17 thoughts on “Recreating Space Cameras

  1. “The Mercury capsule was tiny, so the camera got an external viewfinder. The leather covering had to go too, since it could outgas in a vacuum. Fearing shiny reflections in the capsule window, the camera also got a coat of black paint.”

    The external viewfinder made the camera smaller? The camera was inside the capsule? Being in a vacuum would be due to a catastrophic failure, no? Would then outgassing matter much? The camera was used to take pictures through the window? so it wouldn’t see itself anyway?

    Sorry, but I don’t get it. These points are not self evident, not to me at least.

    1. Perhaps if you would like more detail you could read the article? It’s spelled out there.
      As for the outgassing, making a bad situation worse by coating everything in schmoo is probably not optimal.

      1. Well yeah, perhaps, or more likely in my experience, perhaps I could read the article and find no explanation whatsoever forthcoming. Much easier to RFC here than to risk wasting that time, especially given all the other articles competing for my attention and limited time: discernment is the key. In my opinion, these non-sequiturs in this HAD article need some sort of resolution spelled out in the article itself, even if that’s just telling that the original article, ie the one being reviewed, contains them. And thereby making the enjoyment of many people’s lives fuller and, in general, improving the quality of HAD articles for both us in the here and now and for the generations to come. And, BTW, never start a sentence with an and.

        1. My browser is very special. It has a function called ‘find’. It allowed me to ‘find’ the following in the original article:

          “Due to the tight constraints of the mercury capsule, looking through the mirror and focusing screen was impossible, so a cold shoe (removed from the camera of the previous mission) was added a for an accessory viewfinder that allowed the camera to be shot close to the head while rotated 90 degrees to the right. “

          1. The camera was an SLR design where the user looked at a ground glass screen on the top of the camera to compose and focus. It had to be held away from your face far enough for your eyes to focus on the screen. (These are often called waist level finders, because of the tendency to hold the camera at your waist) The replacement finder was just a frame you looked through to compose the picture, so the camera could be held in a manner similar to using a viewfinder style camera.
            Yes, the camera will see its own reflection in the window, but that reflection is much less visible if the camera is black.
            Mercury astronauts wore pressure suits for the entire mission, so they could survive a pressure loss if something went wrong. Having the camera outgassing would just complicate the situation.

    2. External viewfinder means you can hold the camera in positions where you couldn’t look at the normal focussing screen. The capsule had only low-pressure pure oxygen atmosphere, maybe that was meant by “vacuum” in the article?

    3. My memory of the Mercury program is that they wore spacesuits all the time, because no oxygen inside.

      It was a primitive capsule, and no real room to put on a spacesuit. No flight was very long either. So it was simple, and safest.

      I think the Gemini program had oxygen inside, but I also remember photos of them opening the door to look oht, and doing space walks. I don’t recall an air!ock, though we did see that on Apollo.

      As for a veiewfinder, may e it was added becase with a spacesuit helmet on, something was needed to help the astronaut aim the camera.

    4. I’ll bite. The camera had a pop-up focus hood and glass on top. It nearly doubles the size of the body, requires viewing at an odd angle, and would be near impossible to manipulate with the heavy gloves. It has been a number of years since I used one, so I won’t bother trying to remember more detail, other than I tended to use a low power loupe to help when focusing at low aperture.

      There are undoubtedly images with the focus hood in the focus position somewhere on the web.

      1. When you write “Carl Zeiss HQ” without further clarification, people probably don’t expect that you’re talking about the HQ of a subsidiary of a subsidiary of Carl Zeiss.

        1. Well now..
          I assume you’ve never heard of the popular “Branch Office? Why order parts from
          Carl Zeiss AG
          Carl-Zeiss-Straße 22
          73447 Oberkochen
          Deutschland – Germany
          When you can walk over to the local office in San Diego.
          Geeze guys, argue about something that makes sense.

  2. This reminds me of something I’ve wondered for a while. I saw a [normal, non-conspiracy] documentary where someone from Hasselblad was discussing the Apollo 11 mission. He said that NASA was told they’d need shielding of the film for radiation, but NASA declined and said it wasn’t necessary, and he couldn’t understand how it worked out. NASA has since stated that the astronauts received about the same radiation exposure as a medical x-ray when traveling through the van allen belt. So my [genuine] question is: why wasn’t the film all fogged up and useless?

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