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



Four years ago I set up what seemed like an impossible goal: to make the Apollo 11 functional camera the 50th anniversary of landing on the moon. It was a crazy idea, especially how inexperienced I was in almost every process that would be needed for that.

I will have to build a workshop and learn how to work with machines that can precisely remove the metal as easily as possible. take your hand casually. I will have to learn how to make parts of 3D models, create exact technical drawings, fix and assemble rare camera bodies and complex lenses that have very little documentation. It would take many thousands of hours for research, practice, and learning, and it would not be cheap.

So, why do we do it?

The answer is fast for every photographer or spacecraft: This is a MOON camera! But for the confused majority, the answer was a bit similar: some people like resurrecting classic cars, I wanted to resurrect a classic camera, and the camera we sent and left on the moon surface of Apollo 1

1 is one of the most important photographic tools ever made, filming a historic milestone for our species.

The images we returned were emblematic. They have changed culture, inspired generations of inventors, scientists and entrepreneurs to do great things.

I could write a book with all the stupid details that came into creating this thing (we are currently working on a documentary), but for this article, here are the highlights. Finding the right reference

First, it is slightly surprising how little information is available on the lunar chambers and how many inaccuracies are there in the little one that appears in a simple search, ranging from what it actually looks.

We left most of them on the moon to save weight on the lunar rocks, returning only with the 70mm film. The photos of the "only camera that has returned from the moon" feature it with an early-age film magazine with the wrong lens, while while another camera that returned to Apollo 14 is sitting at Smithsonian with less challenging documentation. The camera also evolved fine in Apollo's seven missions. Where to start?

Fortunately, I had access to the most critical resource, one of Hasselblad's few, early electrical cameras, made for NASA in 1968 – which I could carefully measure and explore. As it turns out, a lunar camera is required for a lunar camera.

Then I had to find pictures in the high-resolution prints of Neil and Buzz's training, which showed the first iteration of the camera that flies with them to the moon's surface. The Smithsonian had a lot of material, including great pictures from the film magazine, which they brought back.

The collection of original repair manuals and notes by Hasselblad's technical specialists was also critical to understanding the basics of the operation of the cameras to the purpose of each screw.

Plaque Reso

The determining characteristic of the lunar surface chamber was the Reso plate, a thin sheet of glass with a grid of cross-hair pressed against the plane of the film. When you took a picture of, say, a crater on the moon surface, these small cross hair will appear on the image to help scientists measure the scale and distance of that particular lunar geography. We call this process photogrammetry and very much like how Face ID measures the craters of my face to unlock the iPhone. Hasselblad, the Swedish manufacturer responsible for the first miniaturization of this technology for NASA, has spent so much time and effort on building a separate lunar camera factory, decided to make a few available for government projects and aerial photography in the early 1970s. They were sold privately as "Metrik Cameras", and as they shot a 70mm movie, they called them "MC-70".

I managed to find an old government MK-70 in complete destruction – missing parts, chips paint, non-functional engines covered with crystallized acid battery – and saving what would be extremely difficult to produce. In combination with a new hull corpus from another broken Hasselblad from 1965, a bully suddenly has a second chance in life as a lunar camera. One who may have preceded it on the same production line.

Changing the lens

The most difficult part of the whole process was the modification of the 60mm lens that comes with the MK-70. The moonlight had a beautiful, matte black finish with rings that snapped as you pressed friendly little levers with bulky cosmic gloves.

My lens? A modern shiny black finish, no levers, and the ring of the aperture did not snap:

Damn it. If we go for hyperactivity, we have to click!

This meant that you have to make a whole new aperture ring with engraved aperture numbers exactly located and an internal gear to * click * when you move it. If a gear, number or bearing were off by more than half a degree, the aperture setting would be inaccurate and the part undesirable. After four weeks of reversing other lenses and realizing that my math teacher in high school was perfectly right for Pi, I was able to model the new part and have three blanks made by a very generous local manufacturer; three chances of screwing the laser engraving, the five-hour manual processing process and the anodized coated beads.

Fortunately, I just screwed up two.

These friendly little levers were relatively easy to print and then ejected from metal and the whole process of modification was non-destructive, which means I can turn the changes in the future if necessary.

Finding "Cosmic Lubricant"

Funny stuff happens when you put a simple lens grease in a vacuum. It boils and hardens, making it more like glue after hitting your optics. In fact, keeping any complex moving part in space is still a real challenge today, so of course there is a wonderful NASA document that focuses solely on the cosmic lubricant.

It was from this study that I was able to find the type of lubricants they used in real-world cameras in the 1960s.

Remaining Tasks

Do You Know What's Crazy? Every part of this camera can be changed to the real thing and it simultaneously fits and functions on the surface of the moon. There is still a long way to make the most accurate presentation of what is still sitting in the lunar dust in the Seaside.

Most of all there is a removable polarizing filter that needs to be produced from scratch, a feature I think is unique to Apollo 11. It's amazing that my lens still has the hole for the place , where it was attached.

The internal motor that drives the camera was also unique, using unnecessary switches to improve reliability and an additional condenser that reduces noise. Theoretically, cameras should even sound the same after this modification.

Of course, the whole body must be painted in silver and labels. Hasselblad uses the high-heat aluminum paint, the same as you will find in car grilles and engines, for protection while the camera was moving through the 400 ° F delta between light and shadow.

The people smarter than me

Finally, as with any great undertaking, I had a ton of external help on this project.

David Fred, who made satellite parts before he could teach me what water jet and CNC mill could do for the metal, was important for the whole building process. The Smithsonian curator, the world's leading space camera expert, has found the very specific Apollo 11 serial numbers. Hasselblad has allowed me to handle some of their original cameras, Brennan Aletman has taught me the basics of 3D modeling and every episode of "One Day Buildings" Adam Savage had a deep love of doing that made me believe that this project was even possible. [19659002]

This camera was the toughest thing I've ever done, and a journey that goes on as it enters more parts. But it was a useful endeavor in the name of the heritage of the camera and in the spirit of doing things not because they are easy but because they are difficult.


About the Author : Cole Rise is a photographer, pilot and manufacturer of space cameras currently based in Asheville, North Carolina. You can find his photographic work on his website and at Instagram. You can learn more about his work with the space camera and the upcoming documentary here.


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