The camera used on the moon was a heavily modified version of a different Hasselblad—the commercially available 500 EL camera. To prepare the camera for the moon, Hasselblad engineers gave it a coat of heat-resistant aluminum paint and removed the mirror and focus screen to save weight and allow the camera to be operated close to the head, as opposed to the waist. To aid in photo composition, they attached a bracket used for mounting camera accessories, called a cold shoe, to the side. It also held the astronauts' checklists while they were on the lunar surface. Inside the camera, highly precise motors allowed astronauts to scroll through a roll of film without using a hand crank.Rise knew that recreating a perfect replica of the Apollo 11 Hasselblad camera was going to be more difficult simply because there wasn’t much accurate information available about it. The cameras that Aldrin and Armstrong used were left on the moon, so Rise had to rely on archival NASA photos to understand the camera’s design. But he still needed to get his hands on a bona fide Apollo camera.When Hasselblad was tapped by NASA to supply cameras for the moon mission, the company’s dedicated space division made several copies of the units, many of which never flew. By sheer luck, Rise managed to acquire a Hasselblad Apollo prototype at an auction by trading another rare camera he had bought on eBay. It was almost identical to the one used by Armstrong and Aldrin. The biggest difference was that it was outfitted with a 100mm lens, whereas the Apollo 11 crew shot with a 60mm lens.With the Hasselblad prototype for a model, Rise could recreate minor details like the typography and colors used on the camera’s labels. But he still needed serial numbers for components in the lunar camera, which he tracked down with the help of Jennifer Levasseur, the space history curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. He machined many of the camera’s mechanical components himself, but some parts—like the lens and Réseau plate, a thin sheet of glass overlaid with a grid of crosshairs—had to be salvaged from a broken MK-70, a rare type of Hasselblad camera that was sold to governments for surveying in the 1970s.In July, Rise finally had all the pieces he needed to put the camera together, but he says there’s more to be done to make the camera indistinguishable from the original. He'd need to modify the internal motor to add redundant switches and create a detachable, polarizing filter that he believes only flew on Apollo 11. In the meantime, he is making a handful of Hasselblad 500Cs for private collectors and working on a documentary about his process. In the future, he says he plans to make replicas of nearly all the human-operated cameras NASA used from Mercury through the shuttle program.Rise says his project gave him a newfound appreciation for the intricate engineering that went into making a camera that would work on the moon. “I’d love to put this in the hands of someone who doesn’t believe we went to the moon,” he adds. “The amount of money and effort that went into making one of these is just astounding.”Rise is adamant that the most important items that Armstrong and Aldrin brought back from the lunar surface were not moon rocks, but photos, which he says permanently changed the way we think about our place in the universe. At a time when everyone has a sophisticated digital camera in their pocket and satellites photograph the entire Earth every day, it can be easy to forget that this wasn’t always the case. Rise’s camera is a reminder of the massive amount of work that went into capturing some of the most important pictures ever taken and the enduring importance of photography in space exploration.
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