Sometimes history is preserved by accident rather than design. Thanks to a malfunction during the Apollo 15 mission in 1971 that prevented it from being abandoned with its fellows, the only camera used on the surface of the Moon and brought back to Earth will be auctioned by Westlicht Photographica Auction in Vienna. The motor-driven camera is a Hasselblad 500 "EL DATA CAMERA HEDC," also known as a Hasselblad Data Camera (HDC), that was specially designed for use on the Moon. It’s currently in the hands of a private collector and goes on the block in March.
We like to think of space gear as being far more complicated than its terrestrial counterparts, but that isn't always the case. Based on the the commercial electric Hasselblad camera, 500EL, the Apollo 15 HDC was heavily modified, though this was more a matter of radically simplifying it so it could be operated by a man in a space suit complete with helmet and thick, pressurized gloves.
The most visible step taken to make the HDC suitable for the Moon was painting it silver to reflect sunlight and help keep it cool. Since the lubricants normally used on Earth would either boil away in the vacuum on the Moon or stop being lubricants, they had to be replaced. In addition, Carl Zeiss designed a new bespoke lens, and a new, thinner film was developed by Kodak with a special coating of transparent silver to prevent the buildup of static electricity inside the camera as the film wound.
Because the astronauts couldn't use the viewfinder, the mirror and secondary shutter were taken out, the focusing screen for the reflex viewfinder was replaced with an opaque plate, and a reseau plate engraved with a precision grid of small crosses was added to aid photogrammetric analysis. In addition, the controls were greatly simplified to accommodate the clumsy gloves. It all worked, but it did mean that taking photos had a huge element of guesswork as far as aiming was concerned.
This particular camera, officially numbered no.1038, was carried by Lunar Module Pilot James B. Irwin during the Apollo 15 mission, which flew from July 26 to August 7, 1971. It spent three days on the Moon, where Westlicht says it took 299 pictures in the vicinity of Hadley Rille in the lunar highlands of Palus Putredinus in Mare Imbrium.
The mission was notable for its emphasis on science, the introduction of the Lunar Rover, and being the first mission to land away from the vast lunar plains, but it's also distinctive because of camera number 1038. While 13 identical cameras landed on the Moon, only number 1038 came back. The normal procedure was to leave the cameras behind along with other equipment in order to save liftoff weight, which could be used for taking more rock samples back to Earth. Irwin's camera was the exception because the film magazine jammed, so the camera had to return to remove it.
Westlicht says that number 1038 eventually ended up in the hands of private collector Alain Lazzarini, author of the book Hasselblad and the Moon. It comes with extensive documentation and is identified by the number 38 on the reseau plate, which can be seen on photographs taken with the camera, the NASA number P/N SEB 33100040- S/N 103 engraved on the body, and the number P/N SEB 33101018-301 S/N 1003 HASSELBLAD REFLEX CAMERA FILM MAGAZINE on the magazine.
The auction will be held on March 22, when the starting bid for the Moon camera will be €80,000 (US$108,000) with estimates of the final price set at €150,000 to €200,000 (US$203,000 to US$270,000).