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.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
An 11-Day Earth Orbit to Test the New Spacecraft — October, 1968
Orbit the Moon, Return Safely — December, 1968
Orbit Earth, Test the New Lunar Module, Return Safely — March, 1969
Dress Rehearsal for Apollo 11’s Landing — May, 1969
The Main Event — July, 1969
Apollo 11 with Twice as Many Moonwalks. November, 1969
Return Safely — April, 1970
Land on the Moon, Grab Some Rocks, Hit Some Golf Balls, Return Home — January, 1971
Nearly 20 Hours on the Lunar Surface, and a Car! — July, 1971
More than 20 Hours in the Lunar Highlands — April, 1972
That’s a Wrap — December, 1972
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.