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Full Version: What Cameras Do Astronauts Use?
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I saw this particularly cool picture today and it caught my attention partly because, well, it's a self-portrait of an astronaut against the backdrop of the Earth, but also because the camera is clearly visible in the shot. The question leapt to my mind - what kind of cameras do astronauts use in space? Do they have specially designed cameras by NASA or do they simply grab a point and shoot from Best Buy and put a whole heap of gaffer tape over it?

[Image: gpw-20061021.jpg]

The photo was from the ISS (International Space Station) Expedition 15. From the shape in the photo, it appears to be some kind of SLR (possibly Nikon because of the high viewfinder shape), with a white protective coating over it. Off to the web for research!

Apparently, in the past, various models of Hasselblad cameras have been in use since 1960s. The shape didn't match though so I kept looking.

Next, I found that NASA in Dec 2009, had ordered "eleven D3S digital SLR cameras and seven AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED lenses " to photograph activities aboard the ISS.

From the article:
Quote:No special modifications will be made to these products. They will be the same products available to end-users, confirming the incredible versatility of the D3S. This equipment will be used along with the Nikon D2XS digital SLR cameras, NIKKOR lenses, and Nikon Speedlights already in use at the International Space Station.
In addition, already about 15 types of NIKKOR lenses (more than 35 lenses all together) are kept aboard the International Space Station for intravehicular and extravehicular photography to provide continued support for NASA’s space activities.
Nikon isn't the only manufacturer enjoying use out in the deep, black, extremities of space. Towards the start of last year as well, the JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) had given one of its astronauts an Olympus E-3 to use aboard the ISS as well, with a 11-22 and 50-200 lens combo.

Well there you go. I find it amazing that they are able to take unmodified equipment (albeit professional grade) out into space and have it continue operating normally.
My understanding (from the watch world) is that there are two different categories of gear that you'll find. One is of items approved for flight, which can be brought into orbit; the other is the gear that's actually able to be used outside of the vehicles. Being used in orbit is mostly a matter of general reliability and performance; there's no point boosting junk that won't do the job. The actual environment isn't particularly harsh. Once it goes outside, though, it's a whole new experience - massive temperature changes, vacuum, and all of that other fun stuff.

I know that the Hassys were used on the surface of the moon, and that Omega Speedmaster watches were the only ones approved for EVAs for a very long time, but it's too late at night for me to do any actual research...
Hey Matthew, thanks for the insights - you've got me intrigued as well. I mean in the harsh vacuum of space, you'd expect the camera to be in some sort of super-hard protective casing - whereas the camera in the shot frankly looks like it has a relatively thin white coating, probably to protect it against radiation. Off to the internets again I go. Big Grin

By the way, those 11 Nikon D3S's were ordered from Abe's of Maine:

I managed to stumble across this post in a pentax forum, about a researcher at Oklahoma State University attaching a Pentax K10D to the payload of a sounding balloon sent into space. The balloon traveled to a height of over 100,000 ft and the camera was essentially exposed to the vacuum and conditions of space.

Quote:The results are a testament to the quality and ruggedness of the Pentax gear. The camera was exposed to the harshness of the space environment (essentially a vacuum, and below -60F temperatures) and it never missed a beat. The only protection for the camera was a foam box which really doesn't protect it from the pressure changes or cold (there were no heaters on board) The box primarily protects the camera on impact since the payloads hit the ground at about 22mph.

As I mentioned, the camera took well over 300 pictures. In fact, I went back and counted and the actual number is 563. All in PEF RAW format. The only ones that are unuseable are the ones after the camera landed. Since the camera and lens were so cold from the extreme altitude, condensation started forming on the lens shortly before landing. (It was a very humid day here since it rained the day before) The camera and lens were soaked with condensation, but kept happily fireing away with no problems other than you couldnt see through the water on the lens. By that point, there was nothing left to see.
Note that the K10D is dust and weather sealed, as is the Nikon D3S - so it is plausible that they could have used the cameras in space without (much) modification.

I'm still extremely interested in how they prepare the equipment for use outside the vehicle (filters, settings, extra seals, etc.) if you come across anything, do let us know.
A lot of sensor dust there. Big Grin
Or someones dinner floating about.