lunar module

Astronaut Alan L. Bean, Lunar Module pilot for the Apollo 12 lunar landing mission, holds a container filled with lunar soil collected while exploring the lunar surface. Astronaut Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr., commander, who took this picture, is reflected in the helmet visor.

Credits: NASA

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I recently had the amazing opportunity to work with some very interesting historical media. A retired NASA engineer friend contacted me having found a box of photographic films in his desk drawer.  Turns out the box contained two partial rolls and several cut slides of 70mm film from the 1971 Apollo 15 mission!  What a find!

According to my engineer friend, these are not unpublished images. They are, however original films from the customized Hasselblad EDC (Electronic Data Cameras) medium format cameras used on the lunar surface, and include numerous images of the astronauts, the Lunar Module — the “Falcon” (LM-10), and Lunar Rover (LRV).  There are also multiple images from orbit featuring the Command Module – Endeavor (CM-112).  As a photographer, I found it interesting
that there is one image showing the camera mounted on a bracket on the chest of the astronaut’s space suit.  The cameras were essentially point and shoot – whichever direction the astronaut was pointed, it shot.

Apollo 15 Scans-JCHP-0006The actual composition of the film remains something of a mystery, but was reportedly a custom Ektachrome formulation that Kodak developed for the NASA missions.  The 70mm sprocketed film was thinner than typical film – allowing for more frames per roll. (Imagine trying to change film in a space suit).  The team took multiple cameras to the moon, but brought back only the expended film magazines.  The actual camera bodies were left behind to conserve weight on the return voyage.

There were a few challenges in photographing the film. The film was in pretty good shape for having been stored in a box in a desk drawer for 40+ years.  It has a heavy blue-ish color cast.  I’m not certain if that’s a function of age, or something unique to the particular film stock.  So it required some significant color correction in post.

Film Digitizing Setup-JCHP-6373I digitized the film with a Nikon D810 DSLR / 105 macro lens combo and an LED light panel.  I considered scanning, but the scanner’s 60mm medium format negative carrier would not accommodate the slightly wider 70mm film.  However, with a little trial and error, and the help of my son’s 3D printer, I was able to create a film holder to fit the NASA film that enabled me to capture the entire width / frame numbers, film stock info, etc. This worked great for most of the film, but was not usable with the cut frames since there was no glass to keep them flat.  For those remaining images, I purchased a piece of anti-newton glass, and was able to sandwich them between the glass and the LED panel.

How these treasures ended up in my friend’s desk drawer at NASA may never be determined.  But the fact that they’ve been to the moon and back makes this film just about the coolest thing I’ve ever had my hands on

Launching aboard Saturn IB SA-204, the Lunar Module, LM-1, makes its debut flight on January 22, 1968. As with many of the Apollo systems, the Lunar Module, built by Grumman Aircraft, experienced delays in the manufacturing and fabrication process, further delaying the launch that was originally scheduled for April 1967. The success of Apollo 5 in demonstrating the flight worthiness of the LM prompted NASA to cancel the second unmanned flight of the LM. Instead, LM-3 would launch aboard Apollo 9 in March of 1969, the first manned flight of the Lunar Module. Interestingly, SA-204 was originally intended for the first manned flight of the Apollo program, Apollo 1.

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July 20, 1969: One Giant Leap For Mankind ☽ ☾ ●

Apollo 11 was the spaceflight that landed the first two humans on the Moon. Mission commander Neil Armstrong and pilot Buzz Aldrin, both American, landed the lunar module Eagle on July 20, 1969, at 20:18 UTC. Armstrong became the first to step onto the lunar surface six hours later on July 21 at 02:56:15 UTC; Aldrin joined him about 20 minutes later. They spent about two and a quarter hours together outside the spacecraft, and collected 47.5 pounds (21.5 kg) of lunar material to bring back to Earth. Michael Collins piloted the command module Columbia alone in lunar orbit while they were on the Moon’s surface. Armstrong and Aldrin spent just under a day on the lunar surface before rendezvousing with Columbia in lunar orbit.

Image credit: NASA x | x | x