making fine art landscape and travel photographs, I also collect
rare Nikon SLR cameras. The pride of my collection are my early
Nikons modified for use in space by NASA. Over time, I have been
fortunate to acquire a number of NASA modified Nikon cameras that
have each flown in space. Between all the cameras they have collectively
flown on the Shuttles Columbia, Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis,
as well as the Russian spacecraft Soyuz, with one logging perhaps
up to 3 years in space aboard the International Space Station.
of my website will be where I share what I have learned both about
the cameras I have owned, their provenance and what makes them
unique, but also a history about Nikon and NASA's early relationship
and how the cameras, lenses and accessories evolved over time
- where many of the features found in the consumer versions got
their start as a result of Nikon's participation in the space
program. I will also feature profiles on other early space Nikons
that I have encountered
and you will find a bit of history, and a number of links to the
NASA modified Nikon camera pages. Each camera will have a profile
detailing the differences I've uncovered between the commercial
versions and the space ones. For the digital cameras I've owned,
you can also find some images taken by my cameras which I was
able to track down through the Johnson Space Center's image archives.
Soon I hope
to add profiles on the NASA Modified Nikkor lenses and possibly
the accessories. This is an ever evolving work in progress so
be sure to check back often!
early history with developing space cameras for NASA
first used photographic still camera equipment in the 1960s, they
used primarily 70mm-format films and big bulky modified Hasselblad
cameras. They found, however, that they needed a more portable
camera for more active shooting situations.
Nikon, whose cameras had a reputation for reliability in the U.S.
market, was selected as a special manufacturer of 35mm cameras
for NASA. As a result, a special team at Nippon Kogaku's Ohi Plant
in Japan took charge of product development.
very specific requirements for the cameras to be produced. The
camera would be subjected to a vacuum and zero-gravity conditions.
In addition, since the spacecraft compartment is air tight, it
was crucial that harmful gas or fire never be generated from the
camera. Furthermore, the camera needed to be easy to operate for
someone wearing gloves and of course, be extremely reliable. NASA
also noted that the rays of the sun and their reflection on the
camera body may be stronger than those on the earth's surface,
so reflective properties must be contained. Finally, the weight
of cargo aboard the craft should be limited as much as possible
In order to
meet these demanding conditions, Nippon Kogaku's special product
development team used the popular professional Nikon F as the
base body and made numerous modifications. For example:
leather-like body cover generally used for the Nikon F had
been changed to a metal plate painted in matte black.
usedwere reformuated to NASA specifications.
plastic parts, materials generally used for F cameras had
to be changed to specified parts for greater durability.
battery chamber was redesigned to prevent accidental leakage
from the camera body.
parts were soldered in accordance with NASA standards.
standard thickness of the plating was modified.
were also changed to accommodate thinner, polyester-based
accuracy standards were critical and NASA's requirements were
even more stringent than those of Nikon.
Nikon used in developing cameras for NASA finally went into use
in 1971. The modified F camera and some modified interchangeable
lenses were provided to NASA for the Apollo 15 mission. Then,
in 1973, a
modified version of the F camera with a motor drive
and modified lens were supplied for use aboard Skylab.
These NASA cameras were of course very costly. It is said that
Nippon Kogaku took heavy losses. However, these losses were balanced
out by the value of the experience in the space project. Nippon
Kogaku took what they had learned and used it to improve the reliability
and operational performance of Nikon products. The development
of the camera for NASA using the Nikon F body as a base and the
development of the Nikon F2 occurred in parallel.
NASA did not require increasing numbers of the modified F2 cameras,
and in fact the F2 NASA camera was never actually manufactured.
the late 70s, Nikon went to work on camera models for NASA that
were based on the F3 body. There were the "Small
Camera", which was equipped with a motor drive,
and the "Big
Camera" for long film that were delivered to NASA
for use aboard the space shuttle in 1981. While the Nikon F3 was
still being developed and many issues had yet to be decided, NASA
went ahead and formally declared the Nikon F3 to be an official
NASA camera. The F3 models for NASA, and those for mass consumption,
were developed side-by-side at the Ohi Plant. Another special
team was assigned to the development of the F3 for NASA.
Compared to the modified F models for NASA, the F3 for NASA was
much more similar to the F3 models made for the public, however
there are many subtle differences.
officially arrived in space in the late 1980s along with Nikon's
F4S, and the digital age was ushered in with the hybrid NASA
Nikon F4 Electronic Still Camera in 1991. Kodak's collaboration
with Nikon resulted in the high resolution and more compact Kodak
DCS 460 cameras which took over digital duties in 1996
and the F5 film
camera brought autofocus to spacewalks in December
of 1999. A short time later, an F5 body on a Kodak Digital chassis
flew into space as the Kodak DCS 660. The DCS
760 replaced the 660 shortly thereafter, then NASA
went with all-Nikon digitals, the D1, D2XS, the D3, D3X, D3S,
D4, D4S and the D800E. This section will profile some of the key
See the links
at the bottom of the page to learn more about each of the cameras
and to see what parts were modified from the consumer models,
plus how each camera evolved over time
Image taken on the first expedition to the International
Difficult to confirm but that may be my DCS460C the Astronaut
I have owned have photographed various parts of the earth, storms
and hurricanes, auroras, the moon and even the Shuttles themselves
and the International Space Station. One camera even captured
New York City on September 11th, 2001
Image taken with my DCS-460C S/N 460-2274 on September
- A technical problem in NASA's data file rendered the date incorrectly
Image of Hurricane Irene taken by my DCS460C S/N 460-2274
Image of Shuttle Endeavour taken by my DCS460C
Image of the International Space Station taken
by my DCS460C S/N 460-1848 aboard the Soyuz spacecraft
Images courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory,
NASA Johnson Space Center