Zeiss telephoto lens used on Apollo 15 up for auction

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The 500mm lens was used on the Moon with a Hasselbald lunar camera similar to this one(Credit: NASA)

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In October 2015, Boston-based RR Auction set a new record for astronaut memorabilia when the only privately-owned watch to be worn on Moon sold for US$1.6 million. This watch, which was flown on Apollo 15 in 1972, is now followed to the auction block by a Zeiss telephoto lens from the same mission. The Zeiss Tele-Tessar 500mm f/8 lens by Carl Zeiss AG was used by Mission Commander David R Scott with a Hasselblad camera body to set a new standard of photography on manned lunar missions and is expected to fetch around half a million dollars.

Apollo 15 was the fourth lunar landing and the first long-stay mission that focused primarily on science. Flying from July 26 to August 7, 1971, its crew consisted of Commander David Scott, Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin, and Command Module Pilot Alfred Worden, and was regarded by NASA as the most successful manned mission up to that time.

On July 30, Scott and Irwin landed in the rugged Apennine region near Hadley rille in Mare Imbrium. It was the first landing to carry the electrically-powered Lunar Rover, and is remembered for the moment when Scott carried out the famous "Galileo test," where he dropped a feather and a hammer at the same time to prove that they fell at the same speed in a vacuum.

One major mission goal for Apollo 15 was to improve the quantity and quality of photography. Despite returning some of the most dramatic images in history, the Apollo landings were constantly struggling with how to get the best photos with cameras strapped to the front of a spacesuit and operated through thick, pressurized gloves.

One improvement was the inclusion of a bespoke 500mm lens for the Hasselblad Electric Data Camera (HDC) used by Scott, who lobbied hard for the lens during mission planning. The purpose of the lens was to allow the astronauts to take clear, detailed photographs of geological formations that they could see, but not visit. In all, the 500mm took 293 photos.

According to RR Auctions, the lens, which is somewhat the worse for wear, is 12 in (30.5 cm) long and is painted silver to keep the internal workings cool in the intense sunlight of the lunar surface. Near the mount are engraved NASA part numbers and the adjustment rings have special tabs to allow them to be used with spacesuit gloves.

The 500mm lens took a few knocks during the mission – especially when Scott fell down. Because of this, lengths of tape on the lens housing still hold particles of moon dust.

"After our three days on the Moon, [the lens] was returned to the Command Module in lunar orbit where it was used for two more days to photograph the surface of the Moon," said Scott in a letter that is included in the sale. "After the mission, I received the lens from NASA as a memento of the mission and it has been in my personal collection since that time."

The 500mm lens is part of the Space and Aviation Auction, which runs from April 14 to 21 and is expected to sell for $400,000 to $600,000.

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