First Hasselblad camera and Zeiss lens in space up for auction

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Wally Schirra examines the Hasselblad camera alongside Deke Slayton (L), and Gordon Cooper

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The first Hasselblad camera body and Zeiss lens sent into space during the Mercury-Atlas 8 mission in 1962 and the Mercury-Atlas 9 mission the following year are up for auction. The historic camera set, which was originally purchased over the counter, goes on the auction block on November 13 at the gallery of Boston-based RR Auction.

If you’re going to go into space, you’re going to need cameras. Image recorders have been a vital part of space exploration since a US-launched V2 snapped a picture from 65 mi (105 km) up over White Sands, New Mexico in 1946. Unfortunately, from a collector’s point of view, most of the cameras sent into space are still up there – either drifting in orbit or lying in the dust of other celestial bodies. However, the early manned orbital missions are another matter because the self-contained capsules came back to Earth with most of their original equipment, some of which have found their way to the auction houses.

One case in point is the Hasselblad 500c camera purchased from a Houston photo supply house in 1962 by Wally Schirra, a camera enthusiast who was also one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts. To this was added a planar 1:2.8 f=80mm Zeiss lens. According to Bobby Livingston, Executive VP at RR Auction, this purchase was when "NASA’s photographic identity began to take shape."

Schirra gave the camera and lens to NASA and the United States Air Force camera laboratory made the necessary modifications for using the Hasselblad and its Zeiss lens in the confines of the Mercury space capsule. This included a 100-frame film magazine, painting the casing black to remove reflections, and adding an aiming device, so it could be used by an astronaut wearing a space helmet and gloves.

The camera was first carried into orbit as part of the 1962 Mercury-Atlas 8 (MA-8) mission, which was the fifth US manned space mission. Piloted by Schirra, the capsule named Sigma 7 made a nine hour flight aimed at evaluating the spacecraft’s system. It flew again on the next and final Mercury mission, Mercury-Atlas 9 (MA-9) piloted by Gordon Cooper. This mission lasted 34 hours, 19 minutes, 49 seconds – making it the longest US mission at that time. During this, the Hasselblad was used for orbital photography experiments, such as using the Earth’s sunlit limb for navigation, weather photography, and Earth terrain photography from the Faith 7 capsule.

The upcoming auction consists of the camera, the Zeiss lens, and the film magazine flown on Mercury-Atlas 9. Its authenticity is based on confirmation by Schirra and Cooper, plus the matching of scuff marks seen in post-flight photographs. Included in the sale are pages of photocopied extracts from Cooper’s MA-9 inventory, including handwritten notes made by the astronaut regarding photo experiments carried out during the flight, and letters signed by Gordon Cooper confirming the camera’s authenticity.

The Mercury Hasselblad camera will be sold at a special live auction at RR Auction Boston gallery on November 13 at 3:00 pm US EST.

Source: RR Auction

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