NASA Modified Nikon N90S
w/ Kodak DCS 460C Digital Back

The Kodak DCS 460c was the second digital Nikon camera used by NASA in space, replacing the NASA Nikon F4 Electronic Still Camera (NASA's home grown digital system). The DCS460c was a much more compact, higher resolution body that made its debut in space aboard the shuttle Atlantis in March of 1996.

The DCS460 was produced for NASA in three versions: Colour, Monochrome and Infrared, and all were configured with a Nikon N90 body. The monochrome version used the standard N90 body, while the Colour version utilized the N90s body. I have not personally seen the Infrared version to confirm which body it used.

The digital back was capable of rendering 6 megapixel images at 12 bits/colour. Its imager measured 18.4mm x 27.6mm which yielded a magnification of the focal length of only 1.3x compared to modern Nikon DX format digital sensors which magnify the focal length by 1.5x.

The camera allowed for normal operation in all exposure modes and had a continuous-frame capture rate of approximately 12 seconds/image. Its large rechargeable battery pack was installed inside the digital back on the side of the drive, and would yield 250 images per charge.

The Kodak DCS460 cameras played a key role in being able to transmit high resolution images back to Earth in near-real time. The camera was also an essential figure in the highly successful EarthKam project which students were able to send instructions to space of images they wanted photographed, and have those images returned directly from the Space Station

This page will provide more detail on the specific camera depicted below, pointing out its unique attributes.

This camera flew into space a number of times from 1997 to 2001. While there may be more flights I am not aware of, I can confirm with certainty that it flew on at least 5 shuttle missions aboard at least 3 different Shuttles, plus spent almost 10 months continuously in space aboard the International Space Station

The camera was first taken into space aboard the Shuttle Atlantis on STS-81 in January of 1997. The camera returned to space on STS-89 in January of 1998 aboard shuttle Endeavour. After a post flight inspection and brief rest, the camera returned to space once again on STS-95 along with John Glenn in October of 1998 aboard Shuttle Discovery. STS-99 would be the next flight once again aboard Endeavour in February of 2000. The camera was proving to be a favourite of NASA's and as such took residence on the International Space Station for Expeditions ISS001 and ISS002 lasting from November 2, 2000 returning to Earth likely on the 21st of August, 2001 aboard the shuttle Discovery on mission STS-105.

The following photographs show all sides of the camera:

Note the "Class III Not for Flight' decal applied to the grip. When an item returns from a mission, NASA inspects the equipment thoroughly. During this inspection they would looks for points of failure and either address them or decommission the equipment.
An item may also be decommissioned if the equipment is made obsolete. When this decommissioning takes place, the NOT FOR FLIGHT decal would generally be applied and the unit would be taken out of service

The second decal that appears on the front indicates that this particular model was a Colour Digital camera. There were other versions that NASA used including a monochrome and an infrared model

Light blue velcro patches are applied by NASA to equipment that is used in zero gravity. This enables pieces to be held in place when not being used, and prevents them from floating around inside the shuttle or space station.
Note also the ISS (International Space Station) painted on the side.

A Bar code decal also appears on the side. Its unclear its purpose, but likely for inventory purposes.

The rear of the camera features a number of NASA decals. NASA would customize decals to act as 'reminders' for the Astronauts with respect to camera settings and connections

Astronauts were given fairly extensive training in the photographic equipment at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX however it was no doubt very helpful to have these additional aids.

Note the decal that shows 'ASA 100 200'. This is an interesting decal. The consumer version of the Kodak DCS460c Colour model was designed to have an effective sensor sensitivity of ISO 80. This decal suggests that perhaps the NASA version may have had a modified sensor enabling it to be more sensitive to low light.

The camera has its Part Number decal on the rear. The camera is prefixed ESC to denote (Electronic Still Camera)

Connections on the rear of the digital back were for attaching various equipment.

The above connector was used for both the charger to keep the battery powered, as well as for cable release / intervalometer controls

The connection on the back right of the camera was for a SCSI cable so that pictures could be taken and then immediately sent to Earth
I also have the SCSI cable that was used. The connector ends are still wrapped as they were when they came to me from NASA.
Note the Matching Green Spot decals on the ends of the SCSI cable and the connector.

Note the blue velcro patch on the connecting end of the SCSI cable - again confirming this was for use in zero gravity

The cable is tagged with the NASA part number (SEDxxxxxx) and the Serial Number.
NASA's photographic equipment all have either a decal with this infomation, or the part is actually engraved with it

The camera has its Part Number decal on the rear. The camera is prefixed ESC to denote (Electronic Still Camera)

A door on the side would store the camera's Hard Drive. This was before the days of the memory card, so the camera hard drive was considerably larger.

NASA did not surplus their hard drives. The actual drives NASA used were made by Callunacard. Initially, they had a storage capacity of 260MB so they could store 42 images. Eventually the storage was increased to 520MB on the drives for later flights.

The serial number is 460-1848. This serial number can be tagged back to the Metafile from the actual digital images produced by this camera.
Over 100 images from this camera and their metafile data can be found on NASA's online image library

Here is a sample image, taken of the Shuttle Endeavour with Earth behind it:
Image courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center

Scrolling down the page, look for the VIEW CAMERA FILE button and click it to see the metafile tagged to the image

Note the matching serial number.

The original label from NASA's inventory is still adhered to the lens. I have kept it in place for context. Not sure if it adds value or not.
The label lists the Manufacturer, a description of the item, the NASA part number (SED XXXX), the NASA serial number, a condition code. I understand a 4 means that the item is operating and good cosmetic condition, but is obsolete. A condition code of 7 means that the item is likely in need of servicing but is cost prohibitive or obsolete. An inventory cost, likely for NASA to keep track of capital expenditures, is also featured on the label

The label also has an ORG and FSC notation, however I was unable to identify what those meant.
You will note that this lens description includes a notation that this lens flew on Shuttle mission STS-90

This particular lens, a wide angle, is a plastic barrel and as such, the NASA identification part number and serial number are on a black label affixed to the lens itself
You can see the Nikon serial number directly beneath the label near the body.

Again, the blue velcro tab on the lens barrel denotes its use in zero gravity.

Some other photos taken with this camera:

Links to my NASA Nikon pages:

CLICK HERE to learn about the NASA Modified Nikon F with Motor Drive

CLICK HERE to learn about the NASA F3 Small Camera

COMING SOON - learn about the NASA F3 Small Camera's EVA Modifications

CLICK HERE to learn about my NASA F3 'Big' Camera with the removable 250 Exposure Magazine back

CLICK HERE to learn about the NASA F4 Electronic Still Camera

CLICK HERE to learn about the NASA Nikon HERCULES system

COMING SOON - learn about my NASA F4S Camera

CLICK HERE - learn about my NASA F5 IVA and EVA Cameras

CLICK 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

CLICK 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

CLICK HERE to learn about the NASA Kodak DCS760C Electronic Still Camera

COMING SOON - learn about the NASA Modified Nikon Nikkor Manual Focus Lenses

CLICK 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

Research and Photo Credits:
Johnson Space Center, Houston TX
United Space Alliance
Space Center Houston
Nikkor Club
Marco Cavina
Erik Black
Peter Coeln - Westlicht Photographica

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