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 photography systems 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 the lens optics change in zero gravity?
- What mechanical changes would be needed for use in space?
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 medium format camera with a ZEISS Planar 2.8/80 lens with only a few small modifications was taken into orbit for the first time to study and document our planet.
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 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 earth from the moon. This image, “Earthrise”, 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 July 20, 1969, a collective dream became reality, with a footprint symbolizing this achievement: on that day, man set foot on the moon for the first time.
The limits of what seemed possible were now 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.
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. The camera was fitted with a glass Reseau plate, which created cross marks on the images during exposure. These distinctive crosshatches made it possible to calibrate distances and heights enabling size-ratio analyses of objects on the moon.
ZEISS conducted thorough research and created a total of eight lens models, which were used in 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 altered to make them easier to use while wearing the thick gloves of their space suits
- the lenses were not edged to edge coated to prevent outgassing
- A refractive silver coating made the lenses resistant to fluctuating temperature changes outside the spacecraft
- A black coating to prevent reflections when taking photographs of objects on the outside.
Who developed these impressive 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. His creations were world-renowned, including the ZEISS Hologon and the ZEISS Planar 0.7/50. In 1966, the ZEISS Planar 0.7/50 was developed to be used in very dark circumstances. The lens was so powerful that it was used later in 1973 to film scenes lit entirely by candlelight in the movie Barry Lyndon, marking the first time in film history that it was possible to shoot without using artificial light.
In honor of the accomplishment in designing special lenses for the moon missions, Dr. Erhard Glatzel received the Apollo Achievement Award. Under his leadership, ZEISS developed more than 100 lens designs.
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 the landing spot of this mission, analysis could be performed on the lens to measure the impact of cosmic solar radiation.