The Nikon F5 was
the last 35mm film based camera that NASA took into space. It made its
debut in December of 1998 aboard the Shuttle Endeavour.
The NASA Nikon F5,
like the F4S model that preceded it, was virtually identical to the
commercial version available to the public, save for the replacement
and reformulation of internal lubricants that would be able to meet
NASA's stringent requirements. Nikon's long history with developing
equipment for NASA had resulted in many technological mprovements that
Nikon incorporated into their professional camera line, so unlike the
and the F
models, cameras no longer need a myriad of modifications made, which
kept costs down for both NASA and Nikon.
The F5's fast and
accurate autofocus were highly praised along with the extremely accurate
matrix metering for determining exposure. Both resulted in significantly
more usable images, and the automation resulted in shorter training
cycles to get astronauts up to speed.
The NASA Nikon F5
models were all equipped with a Nikon MF-28 data back. This multi function
back enabled the astronauts to record key data (related to the image
they were photographing) directly on to the film. The data was usually
printed between the frames and varied depending on the subject matter.
The NASA Nikon F5
was a full featured camera that was extremely capable. As such, there
were many shooting modes and situations that were at the astronauts
disposal. Needless to say, even for a professional photographer, it
is difficult to be fully fluent on everything a complex camera like
the F5 can do - let alone everything else that a Mission specialist
must know whilst in space. It is for this reason that NASA had adopted
the use of 'cue cards' to provide the astronauts quick reminders about
Noguchi consults a NASA Nikon F5 'cue card' for camera settings before
taking images through the orbiter's window during STS-114
Cue Cards in the
past had often taken the form of short instructional decals that were
affixed to the cameras, light meters, film backs and other apparatus.
As technology became more capable and complex, and the astronauts became
more savvy, the 'cues' they needed were more comprehensive - much more
so that what would fit on a decal. Cue cards then evolved into physical
cards which could then be sorted through to find the specific need,
then have them at hand when the need arose.
A NASA Nikon F5
'cue card' for camera, MF-28 databack and flash settings when taking
photographs of the Aurora Borealis or Aurora Australis from a spacecraft.
Taken from my own personal collection.
The F5 EVA model
made its debut aboard the Shuttle Discovery in December of 1999 on STS-103,
making it the first auto focus 35mm camera used for spacewalks. Previously,
the NASA Nikon
F3 Small Camera was used for EVA recording, however the lenses
required manual focusing by the astronaut. As such, many images captured
were blurry, since the ability to verify focus using the viewfinder
through the facemask of a space suit, was next to impossible. With the
exposure was also preset for EVA, which often resulted in incorrect
exposures, given the immense dynamic range in space and that regardless
of the composition, the same exposures would be used.
Although the older
NASA Nikon F4S had auto focus capabilities, none of this model were
cleared for use outside of the space vehicle, instead they performed
the duty of capturing on board activities (IVA). It was not until the
F5 that NASA approved a new camera for use during EVA.
Being subject to
the extremes of space, the F5 EVA versions had to have specific non-migrating
lubricants and adhesives needed to be able to withstand temperatures
ranges of -50 degrees celsius upward to 110 degrees while also being
able to operate in a dry vacuum. Auto focus lenses developed for EVA
use were also prepared in three different focal lengths (28mm F2.8D,
35mm F2D and 50mm F1.4D) using the same lubricant formulation. Nikon
wound up delivering 35 F5 camera bodies, 8-28mm lenses and 12 each of
the 35mm and 50mm lenses to fill NASA's demand..
Since the NASA Nikon
F5 EVA camera woudl need to autofocus the lens while outside the spacecraft,
like the F3 Small
Camera, a custom thermal blanket was developed for the F5
to further insulate it.
The F5 thermal blanket
was, in essence, a 'coat' for the camera. The blanket involved a construction
similar to the spacesuits: 12 layers of aluminized mylar film with a
shell of Ortho fabric on the outside and Teflon fabric on the inside.
Unlike the F3's
thermal blanket, the F5 blanket surrounded the sides of the lens as
well as the top and sides of the viewfinder. A flap could be easily
opened and closed over the lens. The F5 camera prevented the astronaut
from taking a photo if the lens wasn't able to lock the focus, so with
the flap covering the lens, images could not be accidentally taken,
like frequently was the case with the F3 if the camera was bumped.
To further insulate
the camera from the elements, instead of having a protruding, raised
shutter release button (which the F3
used), engineers sewed a grommet into the F5 thermal blanket which was
positioned directly over the shutter release. The astronaut needed to
simply press the button through the blanket and the pressure would transfer
through to take the picture, all while keeping the camera cozy and (relatively)
A '1 hour flaps
down' rule was implemented ny NASA which meant that astronauts should
avoid not to expose the lens to the outside for longer than an hour
at a time. This helped assure that the unit would not get too cold where
it couldn't operate.
Piers Sellers uses the Nikon F5 EVA camera on a spacewalk during STS-112
The F5 would also
serve as the base camera for Kodak's DCS 660 and 760
digital cameras, so NASA could again benefit from not having
to retrain the astronauts in the basic camera operation, once the digital
versions began to fly.
Sadly, by the middle
of 2002, the era for film cameras in space had to draw to a close. Digital
technology finally reached the level of comparable resolution and acceptable
resolving power that the benefits of digital imagery far outweighed
that of film. At this point , most missions were destined for the International
Space Station where expeditions lasted months instead of days. Given
that film stored in space for a long period of time could fog from radiation
exposure, it became clear that it was time to retire the F5 and close
the 35mm film chapter in space.
to my NASA Nikon pages:
HERE to learn about the NASA Modified Nikon F with Motor Drive
HERE to learn about the NASA F3 Small Camera
SOON - learn about the NASA F3 Small Camera's EVA Modifications
HERE to learn about my NASA F3 'Big' Camera with the removable
250 Exposure Magazine back
HERE to learn about the NASA F4 Electronic Still Camera
HERE to learn about the NASA Nikon HERCULES system
SOON - learn about my NASA F4S Camera
HERE - learn about my NASA F5 IVA and EVA Cameras
HERE to learn about my NASA DCS460C Digital Camera used on the
1st and 2nd expeditions at the International Space Station. This one
captured shots of the Space Shuttle above earth and even shots of the
Space Station itself from the Soyuz Russian spacecraft
HERE to learn about the NASA DCS460C Digital Camera used on
the 2nd and 3rd expeditions at the International Space Station. This
one captured the aftermath in New York City on 9/11
HERE to learn about the NASA Kodak DCS760C Electronic Still
SOON - learn about the NASA Modified Nikon Nikkor Manual
HERE for the NASA Nikon Serial Number Database; a never ending
work in progress to record all the film-based and early digital Nikon
gear used in the Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle eras and the early days
of the International Space Station
Johnson Space Center, Houston TX
© 2010-2017 Timm J Chapman - www.timmchapman.com