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Creating an accurate, working replica of the Apollo 11 Moon Camera

Four years ago I set myself the seemingly impossible goal of producing a working Apollo 11 camera until the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. It was a crazy idea, especially how inexperienced I was in almost all the necessary processes.

I had to build a workshop and learn how to use machines that make metal removal as easy as possible. Take your arm out inaccurately. I would have to learn how to model parts in 3D, make accurate technical drawings, repair and reassemble rare camera bodies and complicated lenses that have very little documentation. It would take many thousands of hours of research, practice and learning, and it would not be cheap.

So why?

The answer is fast for any photographer or spaceman: it's a MOON camera! However, for the dumbfounded majority, the answer was a bit as follows: Some people may want to revive classic cars, I wanted to revive a classic camera, and the camera we sent to the lunar surface of Apollo 1

1 is one of the most important ones photographic tools ever made that were a historic milestone for our species.

The pictures we brought back were iconic. They have changed culture, inspiring generations of inventors, scientists and entrepreneurs to do great things.

I could write a book with all the details that went into the making of this thing (we're working on a documentary), but for this article we've listed the highlights.

[19659013] In Search of Accurate Reference Material

First, it is a little surprising how little information is available on the lunar cameras and how much inaccuracy exists in what starts with a simple search and how you actually look.

We left most on the moon to save weight for moonrocks, and returned only with the 70mm film exposed. Auction photos of the "only camera coming back from the moon" show them with an early shuttle magazine from the shuttle era, the wrong lens, while another camera that returned to Apollo 14 sits in the Smithsonian with less controversial documents. The camera has also evolved subtly during the seven Apollo missions. Where do you start?

Fortunately, I had access to the most critical resource-one of the few early Hasselblad Electric Data Cameras made for NASA in 1968-that I could carefully measure and study. As it turns out, you need a moon camera to make a moon camera.

Next, I had to look for high-resolution press photos of Neil and Buzz showing the first iteration of the camera that flew with them to the lunar surface. The Smithsonian had a lot of material, including great photos of the returned film magazine.

Collecting original repair manuals and notes from Hasselblad engineers was also crucial to understanding the basics of how the cameras work, to the purpose of each screw.

The Réseau plate

The dominant feature of the lunar surface camera was the Réseau plate, a thin pane of glass with a crosshair grid that pressed against the film plane. For example, when you were photographing a crater on the lunar surface, these small crosshairs appeared in the image to help scientists measure the scale and distance of that particular lunar geography. We call it process photogrammetry and it's similar to how Face ID measures the craters on my face to unlock my iPhone.

Hasselblad, the Swedish maker first responsible for NASA's miniaturization of this technology, had spent so much time and effort building a separate factory for making lunar cameras in the United States early 1970s. They were privately sold as "metric cameras," and because they shot 70mm films, they called them "MK-70."

I found an old MK-70 government in utter decay – with missing parts, flaking paint malfunctioning engines coated with crystallized battery acid – and saving what would have been extremely difficult to manufacture. Combined with a new case from another broken Hasselblad from 1965, a thug suddenly had a second chance to live as a moon camera. One that may have preceded on the same production line.

Changing the Lens

The hardest part of the entire process was changing the 60mm lens that came with the MK-70. The lunar lens had a nice dull black finish with rings that cracked as you squeezed friendly little levers with your bulky space gloves.

My lens? Modern, shiny black, no levers, and the aperture ring did not click:

Damn. If we aim for hyper-precision, we have to click!

This meant that a whole new aperture ring had to be made, with precisely arranged engraved aperture numbers and internal teeth, so that he * clicks * when moving. If a gear, a number or a bearing deviates by more than half a degree, the aperture setting is inaccurate and the part is inferior.

After Four Weeks Reverse Engineering of Other Lenses When I realized that my maths teacher in high school was completely right, I was able to model the new part and have three blanks made by a very generous local manufacturer. three chances to improve the laser engraving, the five-hour manual machining process and the pearl-blasted anodizing surface.

Fortunately, I only messed up two.

These friendly little levers were relatively easy to print in 3D and then cast from metal, and the entire change process was non-destructive, which means I can undo the changes in the future if I have to.

Finding "Space Lube"

A funny thing happens when you put conventional lens fat in a vacuum. It boils off and solidifies and becomes a glue after the tarnishing of your optics. In fact, it is still a real challenge today to keep complex moving parts in space smooth. So, of course, there is a wonderful NASA document that deals exclusively with space lubricants.

From this study I was able to find out the kind of lubricant they used for the real space cameras in the 1960s.

Remaining tasks

Do you know what's crazy? Each part of this camera can be exchanged for the original and fits and works the same way as on the surface of the moon. However, there is still a long way to go as far as possible to reproduce what is still in the moon dust of the Sea of ​​Tranquility.

Above all, a removable polarizing filter is required. This feature is, in my opinion, unique to Apollo 11.

The internal motor that drives the camera was also unique, as redundant switches were used to enhance reliability and an additional capacitor that reduces noise. Theoretically, the cameras should even sound the same after this modification.

And of course the whole body has to be painted silver and labeled. Hasselblad used a high temperature resistant aluminum paint to protect it, as it is used on grills and car engines.

People smarter than me

Finally, the camera moved across the 400 ° F delta between light and shadow. As with any big company, I had a lot of outside help on this project.

David Fred, who made satellite parts before he taught me how to machine a water jet and a CNC mill, was instrumental throughout the construction process. The curator of the Smithsonian, the world's leading expert on space cameras, found the very specific Apollo 11 serial numbers. Hasselblad let me handle some of their original cameras, Brennan Letkeman taught me the basics of 3D modeling, and every episode of Adam Savage's "One-Day Builds" aroused a deep love of doing that made me believe that project was possible at all. [19659002]

This camera was the toughest I've ever made, and a journey that continues as more parts come along. But it was a worthwhile undertaking to do for the sake of the legacy of the camera and in the spirit of things, not because they are simple, but because they are heavy.

About the Author : Cole Rise is a photographer, pilot and space camera manufacturer currently living in Asheville, North Carolina. You can find his photographic work on his website and on Instagram. Find out more about his space camera work and the upcoming documentary here.

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