Since those first missions into space, Hasselblad has been on every manned NASA space flight mission, and has seen many changes; to the spacecraft, space programs, and crew. During the 1980’s, the space shuttle program almost made trips into outer space a mundane occurrence. The less rigorous conditions on the shuttles placed less physical demands on the crew, allowing lay people to join the ranks of humans in space. The spacecraft and astronauts may have been new, but Hasselblad was still there, snapping away, capturing the history of our species as it happened. And while the conditions had become more “user-friendly” in certain ways, the demands on space cameras became, if anything, even more rigorous.
And on journey after journey, Hasselblad cameras met the demands, taking on average between 1,500 and 2,000 photographs on each shuttle mission. And just as the remarkable pictures of man at work on the surface of the moon during the Apollo missions defined its era, a succession of fine pictures of astronauts at work in and around the reusable spacecraft of the eighties defined man’s continued exploration of the universe around us. And our preparations for even further journeys.
And all the barriers broken were not physical. When man first entered the space race, the demands on the individuals and equipment were unsurpassed. A special few were chosen to brave the unknowns of space. One of the shining young men chosen, the best of the best, who had what author Tom Wolfe termed “the right stuff” was astronaut John Glenn. Glenn made his first space trip in February 1962 onboard Friendship 7 and later went on to enter politics after his NASA career and eventually became a respected United States Senator.
Then, in 1998 the seventy-seven year old John Glenn once again crossed the final frontier. He and six fellow astronauts soared into space aboard the shuttle Discovery from Florida's Cape Canaveral. Glenn’s return to space 36 years after his first heroic mission makes him not just a true American hero, but also the oldest person who has ever gone into space.
While on the shuttle Discovery, 345 miles above the Earth, 83 experiments were performed and, as on all manned American space missions since October, 1962, the crew used Hasselblad camera equipment for the photographic documentation. All in all, the space shuttle carried five Hasselblad 553ELS cameras, around fifty Hasselblad 70mm magazines, a variety of Carl Zeiss lenses (50-250 mm), and a range of RM2 reflex viewfinders, which were originally developed specifically for space use. Some differences naturally exist between the cameras sent into space and the ones intended for use on earth. These differences include the removal of the TTL flash function, and the replacement of conventional lubricants, which would evaporate in a vacuum, with low friction materials. The leatherette covering is also removed and replaced by metal plates.
The evolution of the cameras works in both directions, however. The 553ELS, for instance, is a perfect example of the ongoing benefit that the Hasselblad/NASA collaboration brings back to earth from every mission. The 553ELS is the space version of the 553ELX model, which has been available to consumers through normal retail channels for years. This camera has adopted several key features and improvements originating from the ELS space camera, such as the improved mirror mechanism, which increases the durability and reliability of the mirror operation.