Cameras on the moon featured image

Out of all the things you might expect to find on the surface of the moon, I bet 12 Hasselblad cameras wouldn’t be on that list

Hasselblad, the Swedish camera company, designed and manufactured a number of cameras specifically for NASA’s Apollo space program. The program famously enabled 12 men to step foot on the lunar surface, and is the reason why there are 12 cameras on the moon.

NASA quickly realised that one of the most important pieces of equipment the astronauts would need to take with them would be cameras capable of withstanding the harsh environment of space.

Hasselblad repurposed an existing consumer model, the 500EL, into the Hasselblad Electric Data Camera (EDC). It was this camera that would be used to take the, now iconic, photos of astronauts (including Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin) walking on the surface of the moon.

Buzz Aldrin on the moon
Buzz Aldrin salutes the US flag while Neil Armstrong photographs him

The main differences between the 500EL and the EDC were that a glass plate was added close to the film plane which placed reference markers on each photo so the distance between objects within the frame could be calculated.

The photo plate was also coated in a thin layer of silver to reduce the risk of sparks from a build up of static electricity. Lastly the outer body of the EDC was painted silver to help avoid the build up of heat from direct exposure to sunlight and improved lubricants were added to help the internal mechanisms of the camera work well in the vacuum of space.

From the Apollo 8 mission onwards every astronaut carried their own Hasselblad EDC, including Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when they became the first men to ever walk on the moon.

Haddelblad EDC strapped to chest
Here you can see a Hasselblad EDC in action on the surface of the moon

Each EDC was also fitted with a specially designed 60mm Biogon f-5.6 lens by Carl Zeiss which actually ended up becoming a consumer lens after proving to be an incredibly sharp and high quality piece of glass. 

Hasselblad and Zeiss weren’t the only 2 camera companies to play a part in man’s first steps on the moon though. Kodak manufactured the 70mm black & white Panatomic-X film as well as the Ektachrome SO–68, Ektachrome SO–121, and 2485 colour film used in the EDC’s.

A full archive of photos from the Apollo missions taken by Hasselblad cameras can be found here.

Cutting down on weight and saving space is the reason there are still 12 cameras on the moon

These cameras were never supposed to return to Earth. After completing their missions and taking on average 1500 pictures each, astronauts were instructed to remove the film and jettison the camera bodies on the surface of the moon to make room for precious moon rocks. In totally 25kg of rocks were brought back from the lunar surface over the course of the Apollo program in place of the cameras.

However, one EDC did manage to make its way back to Earth which recently sold at auction for $910,000.

Cameras on the moon featured image
Another shot of an EDC in use.

In 1972 another different model of camera, the Maurer data acquisition camera, also found it’s way home. After running out of time while packing up during the Apollo 15 mission, astronauts Edgar Mitchell and Alan Shepard decided to leave it mounted inside the lunar module and return to Earth.

It was later gifted to Mitchell by NASA as a souvenir of the mission.

So that’s the story of the 12 Hasselblad cameras on the moon

In total 14 Hasselblad EDC’s were taken either into lunar orbit or actually onto the surface of the moon itself, and to this day 12 remain there. And there’s me thinking that it was Kodak who actually invented the disposable camera…

SIDE NOTE: After spending hours researching for this article I found out that 14 EDC’s were used in the Apollo missions, 12 remained on the surface of the moon and 1 returned to Earth. I couldn’t find any explanation of what happened to the one remaining camera. If anyone knows please get in touch and I will update the article.

One last thing worth mentioning to anyone who doesn’t believe the moon landings actually happened, the level film technology was at in the 60’s and 70’s is evidence enough to prove that conspiracy theory wrong.

Experiment on the moon
Buzz Aldrin standing next to a solar wind experiment he had just set up
Moon Craters
Moon craters
Earthrise Cameras on the moon
Earthrise. From the moon you can see the Earth rise just like we see the Sun and Moon rise from Earth
Footprint on the moon
A footprint on the Moon’s surface. If humans ever return to the moon it will most likely still be there.

Image Credits: Creative Commons images supplied by NASA.

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An already accomplished travel writer from the UK, Jack is now a fully fledged part of the WTP in-house contributor team. Based out of the digital nomad hotspot of Chiang Mai in Thailand he shares his knowledge of years living the digital nomad lifestyle from his point of view.

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