Carl Zeiss Lenses Used On Moon

July 21, 2009 | Zoltan Arva-Toth | Lenses | 1 Comment |
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Forty years ago, Apollo 11 astronauts took the first pictures of their excursions on the surface of the moon – with camera lenses from Carl Zeiss. For the manned spaceflights to the moon, cameras and lenses with special specifications were prepared and subjected to stringent testing. NASA bought the first ZEISS medium format lens to be used successfully in space – a Planar 2,8/80 mm – with a Hasselblad camera in a camera store in Houston. In October 1962 Walter Schirra took this serially manufactured equipment with him into space. Only a few modifications to save weight and facilitate operation were necessary in order to ensure that the astronauts’ freedom of movement was in no way restricted during the mission. Christian Ludwig, head of the optical design department for camera lenses at that time, remembers: “It turned out that the technology of the lenses used, including the Planar 2,8/80 mm and Tessar 5,6/250 mm, was suitable without any need for mechanical modifications. However, the specially produced Biogon 5,6/60 mm posed a major challenge”.

Zeiss Press Release

Ulf Merbold: “Images of the Century” from Outer Space

ZEISS lenses delivered unique photos of the moon landing

OBERKOCHEN/Germany, 20.07.2009.
To this very day, photos taken during the Apollo mission to the moon still captivate millions around the globe. Forty years ago, Apollo 11 astronauts took the first pictures of their excursions on the surface of the moon – with camera lenses from Carl Zeiss. The definition, resolution and contrast rendition of the images are still as impressive as ever. These photos have played a key role in ensuring that NASA space missions have lost nothing of their popularity. They also made a deep impression on German astronaut Ulf Merbold.

For the manned spaceflights to the moon, cameras and lenses with special specifications were prepared and subjected to stringent testing. NASA bought the first ZEISS medium format lens to be used successfully in space – a Planar 2,8/80 mm – with a Hasselblad camera in a camera store in Houston. In October 1962 Walter Schirra took this serially manufactured equipment with him into space. Only a few modifications to save weight and facilitate operation were necessary in order to ensure that the astronauts’ freedom of movement was in no way restricted during the mission.

Convinced by the quality of the images received from the first flight, NASA decided that there was a need for the targeted adaptation of camera equipment for spaceflights and for the development of tailor-made systems to meet the special requirements concerned. At Carl Zeiss, scientists were examining the change in the optical properties of lenses resulting from their use in vacuum conditions. The company wanted to discover whether the refractive index was modified in the space between the lenses and if minor alterations occurred to the radii of curvature when no air was present. Therefore, in the Biogon 4,5/38 mm lens whose 90 degree field angle made it ideal for overview photos, the spaces between the lens elements were calculated with the same exactness as the elements themselves.

It also had to be guaranteed that the optical cement connecting the element groups should not evaporate under any circumstances. Likewise, no traditional lubricants could be used for the mechanical components of the aperture and shutter, as these result in condensation which could then gather on the glass surfaces.

A model known as the “Data Camera” was specially created for photography on the moon. This featured a Reseau plate through which measuring points positioned with extreme precision were exposed in the image and were subsequently used for the photogrammetric evaluation of the images. A new lens – the Biogon 5,6/60 mm – was specially developed for this purpose, offering not only excellent contrast and definition but also, and in particular, maximum freedom from distortion.

Dr. Ulf Merbold, a German astronaut who took part in three spaceflights (two space shuttle missions and a stay on the Russian MIR space station), had just finished his studies at the time of the first moon landing. He watched the breathtaking event on the TV of his mother’s neighbor. He was truly fascinated – but he never dreamed that his future career would take him into outer space: “In those days it was totally inconceivable that a German would ever take part in a spaceflight.” When the photos of the moon were later published, Merbold’s enthusiasm knew no bounds. For him, an image showing the Lunar Module and the desert landscape of the moon is the “image of the century”.

He became acquainted with Hasselblad cameras and ZEISS optics during the space shuttle missions. Photography was an integral part of the astronauts’ training program. “Everyone had to be able to handle the equipment,” explains Merbold, “and film for 10,000 images was on board every mission.“

At the end of the 1960s camera lens specialists at Carl Zeiss had no trouble making their preparations for the Apollo 11 mission. Christian Ludwig, head of the optical design department for camera lenses at that time, remembers: “We tested the functionality of the system under the most extreme conditions that we could simulate. It turned out that the technology of the lenses used, including the Planar 2,8/80 mm and Tessar 5,6/250 mm, was suitable without any need for mechanical modifications. However, the specially produced Biogon 5,6/60 mm posed a major challenge, particularly due to the tight time schedule involved.”

Around 33,000 photos were taken during the six moon landings in the period from 1969 to 1972. If you’re intending to travel there in the future, you definitely don’t need to take a camera with you. 12 camera housings, complete with lenses, were left behind by the astronauts. But don’t forget to put film cartridges in your suitcase: the astronauts took theirs back to Earth with them!



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#1 Paul Bates

My first camera had a Carl Zeiss lens and I shot pictures of the moon nonstop with it.

Great to know that it had good enough quality to actually go to the moon.

Paul Bates Photography

8:36 pm - Thursday, August 20, 2009