Historic Photography Questions: The Apollo XI Crew Wants to Take a Picture in Space


We doubt any of us will have this kind of problem in the future but during the ascent to the moon, Apollo XI crew member Buzz Aldrin was not so sure about which settings to use on his Hasselblad EL500 camera. Of course Mission Control has the answer. Read on for the whole story!

Buzz Aldrin Image: NASA

So I am reading Norman Mailer’s “Of a Fire on The Moon”, a very interesting, rather personal report on the first Moonlanding, which he was commissioned to write about. A splendid book!

There is this one section, where the author is listening to the rather boring conversations between the spaceship and mission control. For the first time, men are flying to the moon, and everything is so sober, so deprived of miracle and wonder. Robots communicating. Mailer is utterly bored and dissappointed. Until 02 23 33 47 into the flight, when Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin can’t hide their awe anymore. For the first time they seem somehow excited. Something wonderful is happening. They want to take a picture with their Hasselblad.

I have always been a bit of an aerospace nerd. Intrigued by Mailer’s paragraph, I started searching the various NASA databases, some of the most amazing ressources on the word wide internets. Here is what I found:

The original dialog from the technical transcript at NASA.

  • CDR [Commander – Neil Armstrong] Houston, do you read Apollo 11?
  • CC [Capsule Communicator at Houston Mission Control] Roger, 11. We’re reading you loud and clear now. We were down in the noise as we switched antennas a minute or so ago. Over.
  • CMP [Command Module Pilot – Michael Collins] Roger. What sort of [F] settings could you recommend for the solar corona? We’ve got the Sun right behind the edge of the Moon now.
  • LMP [Lunar Module Pilot – Buzz Aldrin] It’s quite an erie sight. There is a very marked three-dimensional aspect of having the Sun’s corona coming from behind the Moon the way it is.
  • CC Roger.
  • LMP And it looks as though – I guess what’s giving it that three-dimensional effect is the earthshine. I can see Tycho fairly clearly – at least if I’m right side-up, I believe it’s Tycho, in moonshine – I mean, in earthshine. And, of course, I can see the sky is lit all the way around the Moon, even on the limb of it where there’s no earthshine or sunshine.
  • CC Apollo 11, this is Houston. Over.
  • LMP Go ahead.
  • CC Roger. If you’d like to take some pictures, we recommend using magazine Uniform which is loaded with high speed black and white film, interior lights off, electric Hasselblad with the 80- millimeter lens. And you’re going to have to hand-hold us, I guess. We’re recommending an f-stop of 2.8, and we’d like to get a sequence of time exposures. Over.
  • LMP Okay. You want magazine Uniform instead of magazine Tango? Over.
  • CC Roger. We’re not trying to get you all wrapped up in a procedure here. This is on a not-to-interfere basis, of course. Over.
  • LMP Okay.
  • CC And on the exposures we’re looking for an eighth of a second,, a half a second. And, if you think
    you can steady the camera against anything to get longer exposures, 2 seconds, 4 seconds, and 8 sec-
    onds. Over.
  • LMP Roger. We copy.’

Basically, mission control has no idea. They just want to make sure they get at least one exploitable image. But still, an amazing moment in the history of camera settings.

I searched the various NASA Image Banks to find the picture, they were talking about. It must be this one:

Here is the link to the description of the photograph.

Here is the PDF (15MB) of original typewritten Technical A/R-To-Ground Voice Transcription at NASA. Go to page 199 of the original document, which is page 201 of the pdf, for the dialogue.

I came across more detailed information about the NASA equipment in this article on Photography During Apollo. It lists the gear used during Apollo VIII, the first manned mission to orbit the moon: "Two Hasselblad EL cameras, each with a Planar f 2.8/80mm [normal] plus a single Sonnar f5.6/250mm [telephoto] lens and seven magazines of 70mm film, were carried. The cameras, film magazines, and lenses used on Apollo 8 had black anodized surfaces to eliminate reflections. Modifications to the cameras included special large locks for the film magazines and levers on the f-stop and distance settings on the lenses. These modifications facilitated the camera’s use by the crew operating with pressurized suits and gloves. Additionally, the cameras had no reflex mirror viewfinder and instead a simple sighting ring assisted the astronaut in pointing the camera.

Apollo XII Lunar Module Pilot Alan Bean with his Blad. Image: NASA

Each film magazine would typically yield 160 color and 200 black and white pictures on special film. Kodak was asked by NASA to develop thin new films with special emulsions. On Apollo 8, three magazines were loaded with 70 mm wide, perforated Kodak Panatomic-X fine-grained, 80 ASA, b/w film, two with Kodak Ektachrome SO-68, one with Kodak Ektachrome SO-121, and one with super light-sensitive Kodak 2485, 16,000 ASA film. There were 1100 color, black and white, and filtered photographs returned from the Apollo 8 mission.

In addition to the Hasselblad cameras, Apollo 8 carried a black and white television camera, a 16mm motion picture camera, exposure meters, several types of filters, and other camera accessories."

And if you are looking for a free Hasselblad EL500, you might still find one lying around at Tranquility Base. Buzz and Neil left their modified data camera on there. This must be the most expensive disposable camera ever.

Apollo XI Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin doing his job at Tranquility Base. Image: NASA.

Further reading:
The Apollo XI Hasselblad Cameras
Photography Equipment and Techniques: A Survey of NASA Developments by Albert J Derr

written by ringo on 2010-06-16 #lifestyle #moon #hasselblad #nasa #astronaut #apollo #buzz-aldrin


  1. stouf
    stouf ·

    What an impressive dialogue... And the shot is pure romance... Ho, they left some of their cameras on the moon, who's coming with me to pick them up ? www.apollo-hoax.co.uk/hasselblad.html

  2. rexhibitionist
    rexhibitionist ·

    Wow, that is really cool! Great read.

  3. jaalvarez
    jaalvarez ·

    This is history ... Can we do the same??
    Perhaps ...
    Congrats !!

  4. herbert-4
    herbert-4 ·

    wonderful article... history told.

  5. sthomas68
    sthomas68 ·

    I'll go with you to get the cameras Stouf...

  6. fash_on
    fash_on ·

    great article :))) I'm looking forward to more like this, I think it's important also that we acknowledge our influences, the pioneers of the styles and techniques we sometimes mistakenly think we have just invented ;)

  7. weedos
    weedos ·

    awesome read.

  8. vicuna
    vicuna ·

    simply amazing...!

  9. boredbone
    boredbone ·

    so coooool! i want to be a lomonaut:))

  10. middernachtlopper
    middernachtlopper ·

    Amazing read :)

  11. ipdegirl
    ipdegirl ·

    great article!

  12. in_search_of_answers
    in_search_of_answers ·

    allways thought about that - if there any lomographer in Space?)
    seems, I've found the answer!;-}
    lomolocation map should be extended soon;)

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