The last film camera Nasa took into space was the Nikon F5, the battle-proof monster that remains probably the toughest autofocus SLR ever built.
And now, you have the chance to buy one that maybe – just maybe – went into space.
EBay seller Spud, based in Mesa Arizona, is selling a Nikon F5 with an MF28 back once owned by Nasa, and one of a batch of 70 bought by the space agency for work on inside – and outside – the Space Shuttle and International Space Station (ISS) during missions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The camera, which comes with stickers from its time with Nasa, was bought from Nasa’s Johnson Space Center when the Shuttle programme was mothballed, the seller says.
The camera is being sold with a Buy It Now price of $3,499.99 (£2,685.75). That’s a conservative price given that it can’t be 100% proved that the camera went into space, though its used condition and modifications hint that it may indeed have spent time in orbit.
The camera’s listing says: “In the late 1990s, Nasa procured approximately 35 Nikon F5 camera bodies from Nikon for IVA (intra-vehicular activity; used aboard the spacecraft) and 35 bodies for EVA (extra-vehicular activity; used on spacewalks outside of the spacecraft.
“The Nikon F5 was the last 35mm film-based camera that Nasa took into space. It made its debut in December of 1998 aboard the Shuttle Endeavour.
“The Nasa Nikon F5, like the F4S model that preceded it, was virtually identical to the commercial version available to the public, save for the replacement and reformulation of internal lubricants that would be able to meet Nasa’s stringent requirements. Nikon’s long history with developing equipment for Nasa had resulted in many technological improvements that Nikon incorporated into their professional camera line, so unlike the F3 and the F models, cameras no longer need a myriad of modifications made, which kept costs down for both Nasa and Nikon.”
There is no way to be sure this camera served on board any of the Shuttle missions, because unlike the digital cameras there was no internal memory to match the camera to any of the images produced. However, the seller says “it was prepped to some degree for space use as it does have velcro installed on the finder head as well as the special NASA mounting plate bracket.”
After the Nikon F5, Nasa decided to move to digital models primarily because the duration of missions – now months instead of days – meant film was more likely to be damaged by cosmic radiation. The first digital SLRs used by Nasa crews, the Kodak DCS 660 and 760, were themselves based on the F5.