Fifty years ago Hasselblad sent the first cameras to the moon

Astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong used them to document the moon and life aboard Apollo 11.

View of Earth rising over Moon's horizon
View of the Earth rising over the moon's horizon taken from the Apollo 11 spacecraft.NASA

On July 20th Hasselblad celebrates its fiftieth anniversary as the maker of the camera that documented the historic moon landing. NASA and Hasselblad began working together in 1962 during the Mercury program, seven years before the moon mission, to ensure that the cameras would function properly in the intense cold temperatures and decreased gravity in space.

Project Mercury astronaut Walter Schirra actually owned a Hasselblad 500C and suggested that NASA and Hasselblad work together to document the missions to space. To prepare the cameras for the journey, Hasselblad had to remove a number of elements to reduce the overall weight of the camera, including the leather covering, auxiliary shutter, reflex mirror, and the viewfinder. The custom film magazine held enough film for 70 frames instead of the normal 12. The cameras were then painted matte black to minimize reflections from the window of the orbiter. The camera first accompanied astronauts into space on Mercury 8 in October 1962.

Neil Armstrong's footprint in lunar soil
Neil Armstrong's footprint in lunar soil.NASA

The cameras that captured the first frames from the moon in 1969 was a Hasselblad Data Camera (HDC) with a Zeiss Biogon 60mm f/5.6 lens and a 70mm film magazine, and a Hasselblad Electric Camera (HEC) with a Zeiss Planar 80mm f/2.8 lens. The HDC included a Réseau plate, which imprinted the fixed cross-marks on the negatives and allowed for photogrammetric measurements to be made from the images. It was painted silver to regulate its performance as it moved from the temperatures that ranged from -85° F to 248° F. Armstrong shot all of the photos from the moon landing with the HDC attached to the chest of his space suit.

Buzz Aldrin
Buzz AldrinNASA

After the film magazines were successfully removed from the cameras, the astronauts had to leave the cameras and lenses behind—the weight requirements to successfully return to Earth were very strict and so any ancillary objects had to be tossed. The “garbage heap” left behind was worth about 1 million dollars according to a 1969 press release about the successful mission. Cameras and lenses were discarded after all of the Apollo missions, meaning that there are still 12 Hasselblad bodies and lenses on the surface of the moon. The photos captured on this mission remain some of the most iconic. Check out some of the historic frames from the Apollo 11 mission in the photos, below.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on lunar surface near leg of Lunar Module
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the lunar surface near the leg of Lunar Module.NASA
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin poses for photograph beside deployed U.S. flag
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin poses for a photograph beside deployed U.S. flag.NASA
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin descends steps of Lunar Module ladder to walk on moon
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin descends the steps of Lunar Module ladder to walk on moon.NASA
Hasselblad HDC
The HDC included a Réseau plate, which imprinted the fixed cross-marks on the negatives and allowed for photogrammetric measurements to be made from the images. This is the camera that was strapped to Neil Armstrong's chest during the mission.Hasselblad
Hasselblad HEC
The Hasselblad Electric Camera (HEC) was the second camera used to capture the lunar landing. It was mounted with a Zeiss Planar 80mm f/2.8 lens. Both camera bodies and lenses were left on the surface of the moon due to strict weight requirements to safely return from the mission.Hasselblad