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Konvas camera with picture of Alexei Leonov (Pic used with permission)
The camera flew with Pavel Belyaev and Alexei Leonov on the historic Voskhod-2 flight (Pic used with permission)

A cine camera which is thought to have flown in space with Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov is going on sale at an auction this week.

The camera is one of two Soviet space cameras being sold by a US-based collector at Heritage’s Space Exploration Auction on Thursday and Friday (2 and 3 June) and it is thought to be the first Soviet camera to have flown on a space mission to be sold at public auction.

The seller is a Soviet camera collector who wishes to remain un-named, but has spoken to Kosmo Foto about the cameras. One is a Konvas Automat 35mm motion picture camera used by cosmonaut Pavel Belyaev on the Voskhod-2 mission which saw Leonov successfully undertake the first spacewalk. The other is a Konvas Automat assigned to Leonov when he was assigned to the Soyuz 11 mission of 1971. (Leonov did not actually take part in the mission, which ended in disaster with the death of all three cosmonauts.)

“The two cameras included in this auction were involved in two separate missions from the early part of the Soviet space programme,” he says. “Flown in 1965, Voskhod-2 was only the eighth mission to space by the Russians during the very short-lived period of the two-person Voskhod missions. Voskhod-2 is likely most significant because of the crowning achievement of the mission which was the first human spacewalk.

“At the time, the broadcasted footage of the spacewalk was a devastating blow to the United States in the space race. The mission also turned Alexei Leonov into a cultural phenomenon in the Soviet Union and the intended face of the Soviet lunar programme that never materialised. Between his time on Voskhod-2 and his eventual role as crew commander of the impactful and symbolic Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975, Leonov was slated to crew the Soyuz-11 three-person mission in 1971 to continue his prolific career.

Konvas camera and Leonov portrait (Pic used with permission)
One of the Konvas cameras flew on the Voskhod-2 mission which saw Alexei Leonov (pictured) carry out the first space walk (Pic used with permission)

“However, just four days before the mission, the original flight engineer Valery Kubasov caught tuberculosis, and all three members of the primary crew had to be switched with the back-up crew, including Leonov. The new crew set off for space, and their re-entry materials malfunctioned, killing all three members of the backup crew. To this day, these three men are the only human beings to die in outer space. My camera was the back-up camera given to Leonov right after the crews were swapped.”

The seller said her had been searching for a Konvas to display and practice shooting 35mm cinema film. “I was pretty close to the edge of the internet by the time I found a listing for these just a few days after they first came up for sale. The seller had a long history with Russian military and aviation collectibles, and he even helped a lot with the independent research we did on them.

Pavel Belyaev with Konvas camera
Pavel Belyaev used a Konvas 35mm camera during the Voskhod-2 mission

“A massive selling point of the cameras to me was that each camera came with a handwritten letter from the cosmonaut to the original owner of the cameras: former Red Army General and First Secretary of the Karelo-Finnish Soviet Republic Gennedy Kuprianov. The cameras were sold by Kuprianov’s estate about 10 years after his passing in 1990.

“He himself was a camera collector and independent filmmaker, so he was presented the cameras as a token for his service. I was able to authenticate the signatures as well as look at sold lots from Sotheby’s Russian History sale in 1996 which included similar letters from cosmonauts to General Yevgeny Karpov sold by his family. These letters are such incredible pieces of Soviet history on their own, and they were useful in helping confirm the legitimacy of the cameras. This story was combined with serial number matching, and a few physical modifications were identified on the flown camera.”

In regards to Leonov’s camera used on Voskhod-2, the seller says: “I am pretty confident that this camera is the first flown on a Soviet space mission sold with public records online. There was one film canister from Gherman Titov’s Vostok-2 mission sold by Sotheby’s in 1996, and a few prototypes and rumoured lunar program cameras have turned up at auction in the past. As far as earlier space cameras in general, the only other space-flown camera from 1965 or prior is Wally Schirra’s Hasselblad from 1962 which RR Auction sold in 2014. To the best of my knowledge, this is also the only 35mm movie camera taken to space sold at auction as well.”

At the time of writing, both Konvas cameras have attracted bids of $3,000 (£2,400).

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Stephen Dowling
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