Inspiring generations to see beyond... and go beyond.
50th anniversary of the moon landing
On July 20 1969, a dream became reality: humans landed on the moon for the first time.
The limits of what is possible were redefined, with a footprint becoming the symbol of this outstanding achievement. Once the ambitious goal had been set to send a man to the moon and ensure his safe return to earth, many people helped to make this dream come true. Thousands of engineers and technicians from all imaginable disciplines and countries got involved.
ZEISS became part of this challenge: camera lenses specially designed for space, which captured the iconic images of this monumental achievement.
During the moon landings and the missions leading up to them, photography played a key role: more than 100,000 shots were used to prepare the Apollo missions. Around 30,000 images were captured during the Apollo missions between 1962 and 1972. Today these images from the moon missions are still resonating throughout generations, in part due to their exceptional quality.
ZEISS camera lenses — developed for use in space
After one of the first missions, when an astronaut brought along a store-bought camera, the importance of photography in space was realized. This prompted a collaboration with ZEISS to develop camera lenses specifically designed for space and its extreme conditions.
To achieve this ambition, new technologies were needed addressing the unknown:
- How would cameras and lenses function in extreme temperature fluctuations?
- Would zero gravity affect the lenses’ optical performance?
- What mechanical adjustments were needed to make them suitable for use in space?
The journey to the moon and ZEISS
Mercury Atlas 8
Where it all began - The first photographs from space
The first American spacewalk
Troubleshooting with photographs
A camera in trouble
When the earth rose above the moon
The moon landing and the first images from the lunar surface
The journey continues with an experimental lens for UV photography
The last camera on the moon
In 1962, an image of the earth from above was still a true novelty.
The first attempts to take pictures of our planet from space were stunning. As there was little to no experience with photography in space, each mission in the race to the moon brought new insights, but also challenges. Space photography was in its infancy when the Mercury Atlas 8 space mission commenced.
A Hasselblad 500C with a ZEISS Planar 2.8/80 lens with only a few small modifications was taken into orbit for the first time to better study and document our planet.
During the second Gemini mission, the first image of a spacecraft in orbit was taken.
A ZEISS Ikon Contarex Special camera attached to a gas-powered propulsion gun which enabled the astronaut to maneuver as he floated in zero gravity.
The images brought back from this spacewalk and their media impact helped gain photography an important role during the space missions. High-quality images could provide important information about earth, its landmasses, weather patterns and climate systems, but were also used to analyze the mission. The astronauts’ photography training as part of preparing for the mission was extended from now on.
Troubleshooting with photographs
Not everything went smoothly when preparing to travel to the moon. For example, during the Gemini 9 mission, a docking maneuver failed when the crew approached the ATDA (Augmented Target Docking Adapter). It seemed as if they were looking into the jaws of an alligator due to a mishap with deployment of the nose shroud. Photographs of the maneuver later revealed the technical problem.
The images of the event were so crisp that they made it easy to subsequently identify the defect with the mechanism of the protective shroud.
Beginning with Gemini 4, ZEISS cameras and lenses became part of the astronauts’ standard on-board equipment,
helping to document the missions and serve as a basis for analyses.
Only once did one go missing: during Gemini 10, the Hasselblad SWC camera slipped from the astronaut’s grasp during a spacewalk -- officially referred to as "extravehicular activity" (EVA) -- as he was attempting to rendezvous with the unmanned Agena spacecraft in orbit. Quite unexpectedly, the lost camera then became a “satellite” in orbit around the earth.
On 21 December 1968, Apollo 8 became the first manned expedition to leave the earth’s orbit and travel toward to the moon.
The mission was to orbit the moon, photograph the lunar landscape and identify suitable future landing sites. Until then, people had only speculated what the moon’s specific surface might be like.
Something transpired during the fourth lunar orbit on 24 December that wasn’t on the flight plan: as the spacecraft emerged from the dark side of the moon, the astronauts beheld the earth rising above the lunar horizon. They hurried to capture this stunning image and took the first color photograph of the rising earth above the moon. The image of a small blue planet floating in the darkness of space, forever changed the world's perspective of the fragile, precious planet we call home.
On 20 July 1969, a collective dream became reality, with a footprint symbolizing this achievement: on that day, man set foot on the moon for the very first time.
The limits of what seemed possible had been redefined. More than 500 million people around the world watched this first step and were awed by the images brought back to earth from the lunar surface.
A camera lens specially designed for the moon landing
ZEISS designed the Biogon 5.6/60 wide-angle lens specifically for the moon landing. The goal was for the photographs to capture the moon’s surface with excellent edge-to-edge contrast and maximum definition. Up to the edge of the image. The Hasselblad Data Camera was fitted with a glass Reseau plate, which created crosshatches on the images during exposure. These precise markers made it possible to calibrate distances and heights enabling size-ratio analyses of objects on the moon.
The minds behind the lenses for space photography
ZEISS conducted thorough research and created a total of eight lens models that were used during the Apollo program. The challenges of using camera lenses in space were addressed by:
- The cavities were opened up on all the lenses.
- The apertures and focus rings were altered to make them easier for astronauts to use while wearing their thick gloves of their space suits.
- The lenses were not coated edge to edge to prevent outgassing.
- The lubricants in the moving parts were replaced by dry lubricants wherever possible to avoid contamination.
- A black coating helped prevent reflections when taking photographs of objects outside the space shuttle.
Dr. Erhard Glatzel
Leading mathematician and manager of the optics department at ZEISS in Oberkochen.
Who developed these impressive ZEISS camera lenses to use in space? Many of the preeminent achievements are thanks in large part to Dr. Erhard Glatzel, and his team, Johannes Berger and Günther Lange. In the 1960s, he was one of the leading scientists and managers in the lens design department at ZEISS in Oberkochen, Germany. The lenses he designed were world-famous such as the ZEISS Hologon and the ZEISS Planar 0.7/50, which was developed in 1966 for use in very poor light. The lens was so powerful that, in 1973, Stanley Kubrick used it on the set of "Barry Lyndon" to film scenes lit entirely by candlelight. This marked the first time in cinematic history that an entire movie was shot without artificial light.
In honor of the accomplishment in designing special space lenses for the moon missions, Dr. Erhard Glatzel received the Apollo Achievement Award. Under his leadership, ZEISS developed more than 100 lens designs.
One of the 20th century's defining moments was almost lost to posterity.
The images from the Apollo 11 mission were taken to Houston right after the crew's return to earth.
However, before the moon photos were developed, the processing equipment was checked one more time with a test film. During this inspection, the film processor suddenly started leaking ethylene oxide and destroyed the test film. This turned out to be a blessing: thanks to this final test, the development team quickly fixed the defect and could successfully develop the images of the first moon landing. The photographs taken during the moon missions were published around the world and made history.
One of the tasks of the Apollo 16 mission was to continue experiments on taking ultraviolet (UV) photographs of the earth and the moon which were started during previous missions.
The goal was to photograph the earth and the moon using light in the ultraviolet spectrum and compare these images with natural light photographs. The astronauts used the specially designed ZEISS UV Sonnar 4.3/105 lens. Four filters were used to split the UV light into different wavelengths. Depending on the filtered wavelength, the earth and moon were visible with different levels of detail and contrasts. These lenses visualized the atmospheric dimensions and the influence of the UV sunlight on the earth.
A Conversation with Astronaut and Moonwalker Charlie Duke
A total of 12 cameras were used on the moon and left behind by the crews of the landing modules to save weight upon departure.
During Apollo 17, currently the final manned mission to the moon, the astronauts captured spectacular panoramic photographs of the surreal lunar landscape. During this mission, the last of these 12 cameras was left behind on the dusty ground, with the lens pointed at the zenith. The reason? If an astronaut ever returns to this landing spot of this mission, they could perform an analysis to measure the impact of cosmic solar radiation on the lens.