8.7 How could the astronauts have changed film magazines outside on the Moon?

IN A NUTSHELL: They had cameras with magazines designed to allow film changes even in direct sunlight and while wearing the spacesuit’s bulky gloves, as shown in the TV transmissions from the Moon. This wasn’t an exceptional technological innovation: the same feature was part of any professional photographer’s equipment in the 1960s.

THE DETAILS: Some Moon hoax theorists argue that astronauts on the Moon couldn’t change the film of their cameras while wearing the clumsy, bulky gloves of their spacesuit and while they were in full sunlight, yet the mission records don’t report that they ever went back into the lunar modules to reload their cameras. So how were they able to take thousands of photographs?

The answer is quite simple but clever: the films used for the Hasselblad cameras taken to the Moon were kept in light-tight magazines that snapped onto the camera body (Figure 8.7-1) and were designed to be changed even in full sunlight. The same method was used by professional photographers of the time to change films even halfway through a roll.

Figure 8.7-1. Snap-on mounting of a film magazine on a Hasselblad EL/M camera, similar to those used on the Moon. Lunar magazines were larger than the one shown. Credit: PA.

Not all missions, moreover, changed films during their excursions outside the spacecraft. For example, the Apollo 11 moonwalk made do with a single magazine.

Handling the film magazines while wearing the thick gloves of a lunar spacesuit wasn’t a problem because the magazines were cubic objects about 10 centimeters (4 inches) wide on each face (Figure 8.7-2) and had been modified to have larger grip rings, so as to allow easy removal of the so-called darkslide (a removable metal lamina designed to protect the film, Figure 8.7-3) even with gloves.

Figure 8.7-2. Charlie Duke is holding a film magazine and is about to change it outside on the Moon. Frame from the Apollo 16 TV transmission.

Figure 8.7-3. A standard Hasselblad magazine with its partially extracted darkslide. Credit: Ulli Lotzmann.

In standard Hasselblad cameras that used a film magazine, the darkslide was removed after the magazine had been attached to the camera body. This allowed to change film mid-roll, without exposing any frames to the light. Lunar Hasselblads instead required the astronauts to remove the darkslide before coupling the magazine to the body of the camera. This difference was due to the presence of a reseau plate, i.e., the glass plate that carried the cross-shaped markings that are visible in most Apollo photographs taken on the Moon, and entailed that the portion of film that was visible during a magazine change would catch the light and become unusable. However, this wasn’t a problem in the particular case of the lunar astronauts, who usually didn’t need to change magazine mid-roll.

The astronauts, moreover, usually took three or four blank shots when they started and ended a magazine, so as to make the film advance and be sure to use a part of the film that had not been exposed to light inadvertently.

Figure 8.7-4 shows a film magazine used on the Moon during the Apollo 11 flight. If you compare it with the magazine of Figure 8.7-3, you’ll notice that the darkslide pull ring, on the right, was much larger in the Apollo magazines to allow to use it even while the astronauts were wearing gloves on the surface of the Moon.

Figure 8.7-4. Magazine R of the Apollo 11 flight, currently on display at the National Air and Space Museum of Washington, D.C. Note the larger ring used to pull out the darkslide while wearing spacesuit gloves. Credit: NASM.