By : Nikon School Blog | 30 Oct, 2017 |
This is the 100th year celebration of Nikon and much has already been spoken about that. One worthy chapter related to the amazing journey of Nikon as a brand is Nikon's foray into space. Yes, since 1971 Nikon products have regularly been used in NASA space programs.
During the 1960s, space age had already begun. As two great powers of the world raced to be the first to reach new milestones in space, recording key moments was crucial. As Nikon was already a trusted name in the field, NASA asked Nikon to develop special cameras for their needs.
At the time, the main challenges of space photography were – conditioning the cameras to zero gravity environment, and also to harsher sunlight than on earth. The weight and safety of the cameras were also of utmost importance. Finally, they had to offer ease of use for astronauts wearing gloves.
The product development team used the Nikon F as a base body and made many modifications for making the camera suited to space usage. The included, painting the body matte black, safeguarding the battery chamber against accidental leakage, changing various dimensions to suit NASA requirements, adding horns on the focusing ring for easy focusing, increasing shutter accuracy, soldering of electrical parts as per NASA standards, etc.
Finally, in 1971, the modified Nikon F, called Nikon F Photomic FTN (below, left & right) was used on the Apollo 15 mission. Along with the bodies, modified interchangeable lenses were provided to NASA for the Apollo 15 mission. In 1973, another modified F model was developed with a motor drive for use aboard the Skylab, the United States' first space station.
The experience gained from developing these products paved the way for subsequent product development. The next model to be developed for NASA was the F3 (below, left). These included the 'small camera' equipped with a motor drive (below, right), and the "Big Camera" (below, 2nd row) which had an interchangeable film back and used a thinner special long film for bulk loading. Both were to be used aboard the space shuttle in 1981.
The interesting bit is that unlike the modified F models, the F3 models developed for NASA were not much different from the standard consumer grade models, and even shared much of the internal parts.
In 1989, F4 (bottom left) models were delivered to NASA. These were only slightly different from standard consumer models.
In 1999, Nikon F5 (bottom right) film SLR camera and NIKKOR lenses were used to document extra vehicular activities from aboard the Discovery Space shuttle.
The next Nikon cameras to be used by NASA were the D2Xs (right) in 2008. Six of them were used to document activities such as inspection and maintenance in space. 3 NIKKOR lenses and SB800s were also used.
In 2009, NASA ordered Eleven D3s (below, left) bodies along with Seven AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED (below, right) lenses for space documentation at the International space station (ISS). The equipment were standard consumer grade models available in the market, suggesting the versatility of the D3s bodies and NIKKOR lenses.
In 2013, 38 Nikon D4 digital SLR cameras, and 64 NIKKOR lenses, including the AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR, and various other accessories were delivered to NASA. These products are used, among other things, to check solar panels and outer surfaces of the ISS. 10 more Nikon D4 digital SLR cameras were delivered to NASA in 2016 for similar purposes.
Recently, in August 2017, it was announced that NASA has ordered 53 unmodified Nikon D5 bodies. These will be used at astronaut training facilities on Earth and also for activities at the International Space Station (ISS).
While being a trusted brand for millions worldwide for a century is an amazing success, being trusted by the world's premier Space institution for five decades is one of the most notable achievements of brand Nikon.