- Nikon F 35mm film cameras with 55mm and 300mm lenses
- Hasselblad 70mm film cameras with 70mm and 100mm lenses
- Westinghouse color TV camera
- Maurer 16mm video camera
- IMAX cameras filmed the shuttle's launch and landing, as well as activities in mission control during the first shuttle flight - STS-1 - in 1981.
- A Nikon F4 electronic still camera was the first digital SLR used by NASA in September 1991 on mission STS-48.
- 5 Hasselblad 553ELS cameras with a number of Zeiss lenses were aboard STS-95 in 1998
By NASA [Public domain, CC0, Public domain or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Today, the terms "NASA" and "photography" are rather synonymous.
But when NASA first started its exploration of space, their concentration was on simply getting vehicles and astronauts into the space beyond earth's atmosphere.
Once that proved successful, documenting their forays into space became a much more important part of their missions. Learn more about photography history on our website PhotographyTalk.com.
This timeline shows some of the history of NASA cameras, from John Glenn's 35mm camera that he used in his first orbit of earth in 1962 forward.
The Mercury Program (1958-1962)
By NASA/John Glenn [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Mercury Program's claim to fame is that it was NASA's first endeavor into crewed spaceflight.
The most famous Mercury mission is likely John Glenn's mission in 1962, in which he became the first American to orbit the earth, which he did three times.
On that mission, he had a Minolta Ansco Autoset 35mm camera on board, which had been purchased in a drug store and hastily modified so that he could actually use it while in his spacesuit.
Being that having a camera on board was an afterthought, it's obvious that photographing space activities wasn't exactly a priority at the time.
Nevertheless, the photo above, taken by Glenn with his drug store camera, turned out to be a pretty good shot!
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The Gemini Program (1963-1966)
By デニス モジョ (originally posted to Flickr as Hasselblad 500 C/M) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
After seeing John Glenn's photos from his mission in early 1962, NASA realized that they needed to step up their photography game.
In later Mercury missions, astronauts used Hasselblad 550C medium format cameras like the one shown above.
Those same cameras continued to be used throughout the mid-1960s on Gemini missions.
Credit: Image by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution
Additionally, later Gemini missions incorporated Zeiss Contarex 35mm camera into the fold.
That camera was used by astronaut Ed White as he floated just outside the craft to take the first photo of an orbiting spacecraft.
The Apollo Missions (1961-1972)
The Apollo Missions were the third manned space flights by NASA, which culminated in landing man on the moon between 1969 and 1972.
From a camera standpoint, perhaps the biggest first milestone was Apollo 8, in which Hasselblad EL electric cameras were given to astronauts to document their activities.
These cameras were easy to use and had an f/2.8 80mm lens and a Sonnar f/5.6 250mm lens as well.
The Hasselblad 500 EL shown above is what was used on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
By National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA's Apollo 11 Multimedia webpage) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In addition to the Hasselblad still camera, the Apollo 11 mission also carried two 16mm motion picture cameras, a color television camera that remained in the Columbia craft that orbited the moon while astronauts were on its surface, and a black and white TV camera on the lunar module that captured Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon.
Also included was a Kodak close-up camera for capturing images of the moon's soil and three Hasselblad 500EL cameras.
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By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Skylab was NASA's first attempt at a space station, and was launched in May, 1973.
There were three manned missions to the space station over the course of 1973 and 1974.
During those missions, astronauts had a variety of cameras at their disposal, including:
The image shown above of Skylab in orbit above earth was taken with the Hasselblad 70mm camera with a 100mm lens.
Fun fact: Skylab's decaying orbit meant that it eventually fell to earth. It began its descent on July 11, 1979, and scattered debris over Western Australia before crashing into the Indian Ocean.
Space Shuttle Program (1981-2011)
By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Perhaps the most famous of NASA manned missions thus far are those that were conducted using NASA's reusable space shuttle.
From 1981 to 2011, more than 150 manned missions were carried out using these vehicles.
Aboard the shuttles were an array of cameras, which advanced in their capabilities over the course of the 30-year-long program. You can also check when was the camera invented here.
Some of the cameras used for the space shuttle missions include:
International Space Station (1998-Present)
Today, the camera gear that astronauts use on the International Space Station is both varied and powerful.
Most of the cameras they use are Nikons, with various lenses that range up to 800mm.
In the video above from NASA, astronaut Jeff Williams talks about his kit.
Though this timeline isn't a complete list of all the cameras used by NASA's manned flights over the years, it does mark some of the milestones reached by NASA in the realm of photography over the last 50+ years.
From a store-bought Minolta to highly advanced Nikon D4s, NASA has come a long way in finding ways to show us earthlings what we're missing beyond the reaches of earth.