Photography 52 years ago didn’t mean whipping out your iPhone, or even grabbing for a digital single-lens-reflex camera. It was the early days of the space program, and even 35 mm film cameras weren’t considered up to the challenge. So as Wally Schirra prepared to orbit the Earth six times on Mercury 8, which would be the country’s fifth manned space mission, he had to think carefully about how to document the nine-hour flight.
Ultimately he chose a Hasselblad 500c camera for the Oct. 3, 1962, flight. Schirra reportedly purchased the medium-format Hasselblad from a Houston camera shop, and brought it back to NASA to be modified for the mission. In conjunction with fellow astronaut Gordon Cooper, the camera received a 100-exposure film magazine, and an aiming device mounted on the side. The camera’s original bright metal facing was painted black to minimize reflections.
The camera proved so successful on Mercury 8 that Cooper used a Hasselblad—and the same Zeiss lens—on the next Mercury mission.
“It was not until astronaut Wally Schirra—a known camera enthusiast—naturally sought the finest camera available at the time to accompany him on his MA-8 mission that NASA’s photographic identity began to take shape,” explained Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction.
On Nov. 13, the Boston auction house will auction the first Hasselblad camera used in space. A 600-lot space and aviation autograph and artifact auction will follow. For more information on the auctions, see the website.