HASSELBLAD & THE MOON LANDING
by Deborah Ireland
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first manned lunar landing. Many books will be published to commemorate this event, each having to find its own specific vision of the mission. Deborah Ireland offers up a volume with a very narrow approach in Hasselblad & the Moon Landing, which looks at the history of the Swedish camera company and its relationship to NASA in the planning and execution phases of the Apollo program.
The first half of the book is where Ireland provides the context. She discusses the mission goals and why a camera was necessary, although she notes that NASA was concerned that cameras would be a distraction to the astronauts in fulfilling their other missions. She provides a brief history of lunar photography and a brief history of the Hasselblad company, which was founded as a trading company in 1841 and began carrying photographic equipment in the 1890s. They didnít get into the camera manufacturing business until World War II when they were asked to recreate a captured German camera by the Swedish government.
In the discussion of the NASA missions, Ireland explains that the first Hasselblad carried on a flight was brought by Wally Schirra, on his Sigma 7 flight. The first two flights had included fixed cameras that Shepard and Grissom didnít control. Glenn brought up an Ansco to take pictures. Schirraís photographs convinced NASA that cameras were necessary equipment and Hasselblad were used on every mission after his.
The actual collaboration between NASA and Hasselblad didnít occur until after Ed Whiteís space walk during the Gemini 4 mission, when Hasselblad executives recognized that the photos of White taken by Jim McDivitt had been taken with their equipment. Ireland then describes the process by which Hasselblad reached out to NASA and began developing a camera for use in space, as well as the technical difficulties they had to overcome.
Living on Earth, especially in the age of phones that can be used as cameras, it is easy to forget that the lunar environment is much more difficult to manage and nothing is easy. People are often surprised to learn that nearly all of the photos taken by the Apollo 11 mission were taken by Neil Armstrong, who doesnít appear in many pictures at all, but handing off the Hasselblads, which did not have viewfinders, would have been a daunting task and Armstrongís camera was attached to the front of his suit.
The text portion of Irelandís book ends with a two page response to conspiracy theorists who claim that the lunar landings never happened. She presents the specious claims and provides counterarguments that use the photographic evidence as proof of the landings. It is sad that Ireland feels the need to include these pages, but with recent polls showing that 20% of Americans donít believe the lunar landings happen, it may be necessary.
Following the history of the cameras in space, the back half of the book is a collection of photos taken by Hasselblad cameras in space, not just from the Apollo 11 mission, but throughout the Mercury and Gemini missions as well. Some of these photos are iconic, such as Buzz Aldrin saluting the flag or his footprint, while others are lesser known. All of them are reproduced stunningly in the book. The first half of the book similarly includes photos. The beauty of the photos, however, highlights two of the weaknesses of the book. At only 96 pages, it leaves the reader wanting to see more of the pictures and with dimensions of only 20.5 x 20.5 cm, the a larger book would have given space for larger reproductions.
Ireland provides a detailed look at an area which is often ignored in exploring the space race and does it in a relatively small space. The book, which is under $15, is a tremendous bargain for both a history book and an art book and it looks absolutely amazing. It may not be the most detailed book about the Apollo 11 landing that will be published this year, but it certainly is a unique one, offering information that is likely not available in any of the other books.
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