On 18 July 1966, Nasa’s Gemini 10 mission blasted off from Cape Kennedy in Florida, with two astronauts on board.
It was John Young’s second spaceflight and Michael Collins’ first. They mission would last just under three days. One of the mission’s objectives was to dock with a dormant Agena Target Vehicle, used to practice the docking manoeuvres that would be needed to get a manned mission to the Moon.
It was during the docking manoeuvre, where Collins became the first human to meet another spacecraft in orbit, that the astronaut notched up another first – launching the first camera into orbit, albeit unintentionally.
During his spacewalk to make contact with the Agena, Collins, tethered to a 50ft (15m) line, was supposed to record it with a Hasselblad camera. One of Collins’ task was to take a cosmic dust-collecting panel off the side of the Agena. It was while Collins concentrated on keeping his tether clear of the two spacecraft that his 70mm Hasselblad SWC – one of the famous wide-angle Hasselblads made especially for Nasa – worked its way loose from his spacesuit and drifted out of reach. Collins had managed to accidentally launch Sweden’s first satellite.
The Hasselblad has never been seen since, and most likely drifted down into the Earth’s atmosphere to burn up in re-entry some weeks later.
Hasselblad, at least, saw the funny side. In a 1978 advert, entitled ‘The Launch of the First Swedish Satellite”, Hasselblad mocked up Collins’ orbital mishap, showing a Hasselblad drifting just out of reach of an astronaut’s gloved hands. (There’s a copy of it currently for sale on eBay.)
Collins would later lose another Hasselblad – this time inside the command module – while on the way to the Moon on Apollo 11 three years later. Thankfully, the camera was located soon enough, and Collins was able to take the historic images of the Eagle lunar lander departing for the first Moon landing, with the Earth rising far in the distance.