The Camera That Went to the Moon

This Technicality episode is brought to you
by CuriosityStream. Hey guys, I’m here, let’s get technical. Have you ever seen this photo before? How about this photo? Ok, you’ve definitely seen this one before;
it’s one of the 100 most influential images of all time according to, well, Time. Those photos and many more were taken on this
camera: the Hasselblad 500EL. This was the camera that accompanied Neil
Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins on the first spaceflight to put humans on
the moon. Well, not this exact camera; two Hasselblad
500ELs were brought on the Apollo Lunar Module — the part of the spacecraft that was actually
on the surface of the moon — and both of them were left there. Why? Well, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Making a camera that works on the moon is
a mind-blowing feat of engineering and design. Today, let’s learn about how this incredible
piece of technology was made by answering three questions: One. Why was Hasselblad chosen to make this camera? Two. How did Hasselblad design a camera for use
on the moon? Three. Was it successful? Did it work? Lesago! Part the first: Why was Hasselblad chosen
to make this camera? To answer this, we first have to learn about
this guy: Victor Hasselblad. The year is 1940, the place is Gothenburg,
Sweden, and we’re one year into World War Two. In the words of the famous economist and political
theorist Bo Burnham, “War, huh, good God, y’all. What is it good for? Increasing domestic manufacturing.” And increase domestic manufacturing it did. Even though Sweden maintained a policy of
neutrality throughout the war, the country mobilized and aided both the Axis and Allied
Powers. The Swedish government was able to get their
hands on a Handkammer HK from a German plane that crashed on Swedish soil. The Handkammer HK was an aerial surveillance
camera, and, upon acquiring it, Sweden realized it’s probably a good idea to have some aerial
surveillance protecting their borders, considering a World War is going on and all that. They approached then-thirty-five-year-old
Victor Hasselblad to recreate the camera. Victor had an impressive resume at this point. When he was 18, his dad sent him away on a
gap year (er, gap two years) where he traveled the world and learned everything he could
about cameras, from the factories that manufacture them to the stores that sell them. He then decided to open his own camera store
in hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden, and all of the information he learned combined with
his entrepreneurial spirit made the store massive success. So, when the government of Sweden needed to
recreate a camera, they knew the guy to call. Victor took one look Handkammer HK and said,
“No, I cannot make one like that, but I can make one better.” So, he made this camera: the HK-7. The Swedish government was so impressed by
his work, they hired him to make yet another camera, the SKa4, a year later. Additionally, knowing that the war wouldn’t
last forever (er, hoping that the war wouldn’t last forever), he began planning for when
the government would stop giving him money and designing a camera built for civilian
use. Indeed, many of the features incorporated
in the HK-7 and the SKa4 (like interchangeable film magazines and lenses) were built with
the average Joe in the back of Victor’s mind. Let’s fast forward to 1961. NASA is four years into Project Mercury, the
goals of which were three-fold. First, they wanted to put humans in orbit. Second, they wanted to see how being in space
affected humans. And third, they wanted to bring everyone back
safely. Photography on Project Mercury’s first crewed
flight in May 1961 was tricky, to say the least. While the spacecraft did have a camera mounted
on its exterior, the ship had no windows, so Alan Shepard (the one person aboard the
flight) couldn’t take any photos of Earth. What the ship did have, however, was a pretty
distorted periscope, and, even then, Alan Shepard said that the periscope was designed
so whenever he looked at it, the pressure gauge on his wrist would be forced to inadvertently
bump into a nearby lever which would have activated the Launch Escape System. What is a launch escape system you might ask? Well, you know ejection seats? Okay, what if, in the case of a catastrophic
launch failure, instead of ejecting the seat, we just ejected the entire the entire part
of the spaceship with the crew members? This is life-saving if something goes wrong
when the shuttle is launching because it allows people to get away from the rockets as quickly
as possible and parachute to safety, but it’s really not something you want to have happen
after you’ve taken off. Granted, if Alan Shepard did hit that lever,
it probably wouldn’t have done anything because the Launch Escape System is usually
disabled upon takeoff, but you can’t really blame him for being, like, a little bit nervous. Luckily, in the next flight, a window was
added and this was fixed, but NASA still didn’t allow cameras onboard until Mercury’s third
crewed flight. The one person aboard that flight, John Glenn,
worked hard to convince NASA that a camera was not an unnecessary distraction, but, instead,
a very valuable thing to have. NASA eventually caved, and, on February 20th,
1962, when John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, his Minolta camera was
right alongside with him. Hasselblad came back into the picture on Mercury’s
fifth crewed flight. OOOH no I just realized that’s a pun. That line survived multiple iterations of
this script for me to just now, just now get that it’s a pun. We’re gonna have to change that; gimme a
second. All this time, you might be wondering what
Victor Hasselblad has been up to. Don’t worry; he’s been busy. He did indeed follow through on his goal to
create a superb consumer camera, and the Hasselblad name soon became synonymous with premium quality. Everyone from fashion photographer John French
to nature photographer Ansel Adams was raving about Hasselblads. Among the Hasselblad enthusiasts was NASA
astronaut Wally Schirra. Wally was chosen to be the crew member aboard
Mercury’s fifth crewed flight, which launched in October 1962, and the moment NASA saw some
of the photos he took with his Hasselblad 500C, they made sure every future spaceflight
was equipped with one of those cameras. So, why *did* NASA love Hasselblad so much? Well, on top of their phenomenal image quality
and on top of their ease of use in a bunky space suit, NASA loved Hasselblads because
they only needed little to no modification to function perfectly in the vacuum of space
and temperatures of space (which can range between -85°F (-65°C) and 250°F (120°C)). When it came time for the Apollo program,
NASA reached out to Hasselblad directly to develop a camera for use on the moon. They made this: the Hasselblad 500EL. But, what makes this camera different from
every other Hasselblad camera? Part the second: how did Hasselblad design
a camera for use on the moon? YO WHAT’S UP GUYS, welcome back to my channel,
and today, because you guys requested it so much, I wanted to do a what’s in my bag
video: Apollo 11 edition. Now, the bag I’m using to carry all my gear
is the Saturn V rocket. This is a really nice, top of the line item;
it’s got a lot of crazy specs like being the tallest and most powerful rocket that
has ever launched. The Saturn V rocket launched the Apollo spacecraft. Now, that spacecraft is divided up into 3
different compartments, but I personally like to keep all my gear in the command module
near the top of the whole operation. By the way, I’ll be sure to put a bunch
of Amazon affiliate links in the description in case you wanna buy your own Saturn V rocket. I got a pretty good deal on mine; it was around
$6.4 billion, which would be around $42 billion today, but I’m
pretty sure it comes with free 2-day shipping, so that’s nice. The first thing in my bag is my daily driver. Right now, that’s the Hasselblad 500EL. On the left hand side here, there are two
slots for batteries and on the right hand side, there’s a place where you can plug
in your Hasselblad. Also on the right side here is a mode selector
— my favourite modes are normal and automatic — and also down here is a switch — o for
normal operation, L to lock the camera and shut off all of the electronics, and t is
for timer. Oh, this bit isn’t funny anymore? Oh, it never was funny. Aight. Ultimately, eight cameras were taken onboard
Apollo 11. A colour television camera, a black and white
TV camera, two Maurer film cameras, a Kodak stereo close-up camera (used for soil documentation),
and three Hasselblad 500ELs. One 500EL would stay in orbit around the moon
in the command service module, one would go in the Lunar module but not actually go out
onto the moon’s surface, and one would be strapped to the chest of Neil Armstrong for
use on the Sea of Tranquility. That camera, the one that actually went on
the surface of the moon, was called the 500EL Data Camera, and it had some extra modifications
in comparison to the classic 500EL. Probably the biggest change was the addition
of a Réseau plate or a plate with tiny engraved plus signs on it. This was added so the folks back down on Earth
could easily calculate the distance and height of objects on the Moon. Unfortunately, the addition of the Réseau
plate led to another problem. See, when you wind film, it builds up static
electricity. On Earth, this electricity is no big deal;
it’s easily dispersed by the metal in the camera and the humidity in the air. However, with the addition of the engraved
Réseau plate and the removal of, well, air, electric charge could easily build up between
the film and the glass plate resulting in a spark, which isn’t really something you
want to have happening on a spaceflight. Hasselblad knew they could solve this if they
just directed the static electricity away from Réseau plate and towards the metal in
the camera, so they added a thin, transparent conductive layer to the inside of the camera
which led guided the charge towards the metal and prevented sparking. Other changes Hasselblad made to the Data
Camera include painting it silver, which helped keep the internal temperature of the camera
down, and working with Kodak so that the size of the film was 70mm (twice as big as the
usual 35). Wooh, okay, that’s a lot of 9000 iq design,
but did the Hasselblads stick the landing? Part the third: did they work? Yes, the Hasselblads were a resounding success. As Buzz Aldrin wrote in his autobiography
Magnificent Desolation, “…the photography on the moon was one of those things that we
had not laid out exactly prior to our launch. NASA’s Public Affairs people didn’t say,
‘Hey, you’ve got to take a lot of pictures of this or that.’ Everyone was interested in the science. So we did the science and the rest of it was
sort of gee-whiz…. But those pictures became the storyboard of
our adventure that the public got to see and are now in history books.” In total, there were just over 1400 photos
taken on Apollo 11. As we know, the most famous photo from the
trip was Buzz looking at his arm. Why? Well, both Neil and Buzz were equipped with
these cuff checklists reminding them of the stuff they had to do in their over two and
a half hours on the moon’s surface such as sampling solar wind (where they used this
aluminum panel and found that a lot of the charged particles reaching the moon from the
sun were ions of helium, neon, and argon), and the Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment (which
measured the exact distance between the Earth and the moon by bouncing a laser beam back
and forth). After they completed their experiments, it
was time to go. I told you at the beginning of this episode
that the two cameras brought in the Lunar module were left on the moon, and I wasn’t
kidding. Weight was of the essence and every ounce
on the journey back had to be justified. Once the film magazines were removed and securted,
the cameras themselves were deemed unnecessary, so they were left there. Today, 12 Hasselblads in total have been left
on the moon’s surface. The first Hasselblad to actually make it back
was on the Apollo 15 mission, and, back in 2014, it was sold for $910,000. It blows my mind how, in just 8 years, NASA
astronauts went from not even being able to take pictures from inside their spacecraft
because it didn’t have windows to taking a picture of their footsteps on the Moon. Maybe someday we’ll be able to get back
the cameras that were left up there. But, as it stands right now, somewhere out
there in the Sea of Tranquility lies the cameras that captured photos that changed the world. Michael Collins: Jesus Christ, look at that horizon! Neil Armstrong: Isn’t that something? Michael Collins: It’s unreal. Neil Armstrong: Get a picture of that. Michael Collins: Ooh, sure, I will. If you love space as much as I do and wanna
learn more about the Apollo program, I recommend checking out the documentary “The Apollo
Moon Landings” on CuriosityStream. CuriosityStream itself is an incredible documentary
subscription streaming service with thousands of titles for you to choose from. Plus, and this is pretty cool, recently
I made a subscription streaming service called Nebula with a ton of my fellow educational
YouTubers, such as CGP Grey, Wendover Productions, MinutePhysics, Lindsay Ellis, and many more. We wanted to create a platform that was by
and for independent creators, so this is a great way you can support the creators you
love. Not only does Nebula give you ad-free access
to all of our videos, but we also have a couple of original series like Working Titles where
each of us make a video essay on the opening title sequence of a show we love. Lemme just say: I got one on BoJack Horseman
coming out on October 11 sooooooo Nebula usually costs $3 per month or $30 per
year, but we’ve partnered with CuriosityStream so you can both CuriosityStream and Nebula
for just under $20 a year. That’s amazing. Name a more iconic duo I’ll wait. But, in all seriousness, it was really cool to be able to build a streaming service with a bunch of people I looked up to as a child and continue to look to this day. I mean, I guess I’m still a child, but, you know… Go to to
help out the channel and take advantage of this offer today. Thanks! This episode was inspired by Deborah Ireland’s
phenomenal book Hasselblad & the Moon Landing. I’ll put a link to this book as well as
all the other sources in the description as always. This episode, I’d like to give an especially
big shoutout to my patrons over at, especially these amazing people on screen right now. Thanks to your financial support, I can do
things like buy an actual Hasselblad 500 EL and use it in this video, something I definitely
wouldn’t be able to do without your support on Patreon. So, if you think that added to the video experience
and want to support me in my mission to create high-quality educational content, it would
mean a lot if you considered supporting me over at for as little as just $1. Thank you! I’m still playing around with the Technicality upload schedule. Right now, it looks like 1 video every 6 weeks for the rest of 2019 will work well. Senior year is incredibly busy, and I’ve been going non-stop. I feel… I feel like Alexander Hamilton, ya know? *singing along to Hamilton* Man, the man was non-stop *vigorous laughing* Anyways, I’m super busy right now, but I think one video every 6 weeks will work. We’ll see. If it fails, that’s fine, we’ll learn. Uhh but yeah. I hope to see you on November 18th AND stay tuned for a special announcement
coming before then; hint hint, I wrote a book. Thanks for watching, DFTBA, and explore on.

18 thoughts on “The Camera That Went to the Moon

  1. Here's my Amazon affiliate link to buy your own Saturn V Rocket:
    On Project Gemini:
    After achieving the three goals of Project Mercury, NASA began Project Gemini, the goals of which were four-fold: holding fingers walk in space, change orbit, dock two spacecrafts together in orbit, and keep two astronauts alive and healthy in space for a decent amount of time. Getting rid of the leatherette covering and painting the camera black in hopes of reducing reflection were the only changes that needed to be made to the Hasselblads on Gemini missions.

    Photos of Ed White being the first American to conduct a spacewalk on June 3, 1965 filled up magazines and rallied Americans to support NASA. Moreover, they were also really great at showing the world (specifically, the Soviet Union) the progress America made in the space race.

    These photos also caught the attention of Victor Hasselblad himself, who, upon seeing them, reached out to NASA to develop a camera specifically for use in outer space. Thus began the 38-year-long partnership between NASA and Hasselblad, which I like to call Nasselblad. Get it?

    On “No, I cannot make one like that, but I can make a better one.”
    Sources disagree as to if those are the exact words that he said; I found a source that quotes him with saying, “No, not one like that, but a better one.” My guess is that this is due to the variability in translation from Swedish to English, as well as the fact that this was said 75+ years ago. Nonetheless, the sentiment is still there.

    On Launch Escape Systems:
    If Alan Shepard’s LES did accidentally trigger after launch for whatever reason (though this is very unlikely), since this was a suborbital flight, he would’ve been completely safe, but the mission would’ve been ruined. LES systems are generally (if not always) disabled upon entering orbit.

    Hey! Thanks for watching the video and reading this comment! If you enjoyed the video, it's super helpful to click the like button, and you should totally follow me on Instagram — — while you're at it. See you on November 18th!

  2. When you are about to reuse the joke you used on patreon as you get a notification letting you know Technicality has seen the joke…

  3. "I got a pretty good deal on mine; it was around $6.4 billion, which would be around $42 billion today, but I’m pretty sure it comes with free 2-day shipping"
    I really LOL'd when you said this. Love it.

  4. Is it weird to say I'm proud of you? Like you all this, imo, incredible work, yet you maintain your school work (hopefully) and manage to still be enthusiastic and humble. I mean, I don't even know you in real life, yet it brings me so much pride to see you succeed. Also, I thought that "what's in my bag?" skit was hilarious.

  5. Greetings from Finland, sir..
    wonderfull content you have in general, nice to see something actually civilizing in the social media these days,
    keep up the good work ^^

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