A small click on the shutter release – and a giant leap in photography for mankind
ZEISS camera lenses at the Moon landing 50 years ago
Even though 50 years have passed since the first Moon landing on 20 July 1969, the images have lost none of their fascination. The main reason this event become so firmly entrenched in our collective memory is that it gave us the iconic images captured during the Apollo missions. These were not only the first photographs ever taken of the Moon’s surface – the image of the Earth as seen from the Moon also continues to inspire people of all generations to this day. And all these missions used cameras with lenses developed by ZEISS.
The first Moon landing was also the first global media event. According to media reports, audience ratings amounted to 50 per cent throughout the world, which means that more than 500 million people followed the event live on television. Many of them still know exactly where they were when the Moon landing took place. Newspapers and magazines published special issues that often featured the first color images these publications ever printed. Together with the first stills of the footage shot on the Moon, these photographs are highly coveted collectibles today, among connoisseurs and ordinary people alike.
The history of photography in space took off with the Mercury (1962) and Gemini (1964) program that preceded the Apollo missions. Increasingly, camera lenses were used in the Earth’s orbit. During these years, the ZEISS laboratories further refined their technology and designed camera lenses ready to meet the challenges posed by space.
A camera lens custom-made for the Moon
In October 1968, ZEISS received the order for a camera lens to be used during the Moon landing, which was scheduled to take place a mere nine months later as part of the Apollo 11 mission. “The time for development was extremely brief,” says Dr. Vladan Blahnik who works in research and development at ZEISS. The optical data for the preceding model the ZEISS Biogon 4.5/38 still had to be calculated manually, an extremely time-consuming process. However, a mainframe computer helped to determine the mathematical parameters for the ZEISS Biogon 5.6/60, the camera lens designed for the Moon landing, in a mere couple of weeks. Dr. Erhard Glatzel (1925-2002), a leading mathematician from the optical design department at ZEISS, received the Apollo Achievement Award for this and the development of other special camera lenses for space photography.
The customized ZEISS Biogon 5.6/60 “Moon lens” (see Info-box) had to meet a number of requirements. While it was supposed to work within an easy-to-use camera, it also had to precisely map the lunar surface around the landing site. “They decided on a camera fitted with a Reseau plate, which created a grid of cross-marks on the images. These made it possible to calculate the distances between individual objects on the Moon,” explains Blahnik. “The special symmetric design of the camera lens provided an excellent correction for distortions and all other image errors.” A straight line remains a straight line. The images have great definition and edge-to-edge contrast.
Research that inspires the present
Apart from the ZEISS Biogon used on the surface of the Moon, ZEISS designed a number of other special camera lenses for space photography in the 1960s, among them lenses that could transmit UV-waves or extremely fast lenses such as the ZEISS Planar 0.7/50. The engineers at ZEISS continue to benefit from this research until the present day. Some examples are the development of fast lenses for professional movie cameras, lenses for aerial photography used in surveying the Earth’s surface and lithographic lenses employed in the production of microchips.
The camera lens was a small but significant contribution to the Apollo 11 lunar mission. And, incidentally, the cameras with the ZEISS lenses are still up there on the Moon, because on the return journey the astronauts wanted to save every gram in order to take back as many samples of Moon rocks as possible. Only the valuable exposed film made it back to Earth.
This press release was modified on 23 September 2020. Images were removed due to expiration of license agreement. Otherwise the content remained untouched.
Head of Corporate Brand and Communications ZEISS Group
ZEISS is an internationally leading technology enterprise operating in the optics and optoelectronics industries. In the previous fiscal year, the ZEISS Group generated annual revenue totaling more than 5.8 billion euros in its four segments Industrial Quality & Research, Medical Technology, Consumer Markets and Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology (status: 30 September 2018).
For its customers, ZEISS develops, produces and distributes highly innovative solutions for industrial metrology and quality assurance, microscopy solutions for the life sciences and materials research, and medical technology solutions for diagnostics and treatment in ophthalmology and microsurgery. The name ZEISS is also synonymous with the world's leading lithography optics, which are used by the chip industry to manufacture semiconductor components. There is global demand for trendsetting ZEISS brand products such as eyeglass lenses, camera lenses and binoculars.
With a portfolio aligned with future growth areas like digitalization, healthcare and Smart Production and a strong brand, ZEISS is shaping the future far beyond the optics and optoelectronics industries. The company's significant, sustainable investments in research and development lay the foundation for the success and continued expansion of ZEISS' technology and market leadership.
Today the ZEISS Group is represented in almost 50 countries. About 30,000 employees worldwide work at around 60 sales and service locations, more than 30 production sites and about 25 research and development facilities. Founded in 1846 in Jena, the company is headquartered in Oberkochen, Germany. The Carl Zeiss Foundation, one of the largest foundations in Germany committed to the promotion of science, is the sole owner of the holding company, Carl Zeiss AG
Further information at www.zeiss.com