Cameras on the Moon

One small step for a man . . . one giant leap for mankind, Neil Armstrong spoke these immortal words when stepping from the Lunar Module Eagle onto the lunar surface on July 20, 1969. Just over eight years after President John F. Kennedy set a national goal for putting an American on the moon, Neil Armstrong, Edwin Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins brought that goal to fruition. While Armstrong and Aldrin engaged in a roughly two and a half hour EVA in the Sea of Tranquility, Michael Collins piloted the Command Module Columbia. Together the three astronauts made history.

Special Collections has an extensive collection of Michael Collinss personal papers and artifacts from his impressive and lengthy career as an astronaut in Projects Gemini and Apollo, director of the National Air and Space Museum, and published author, just to name a few. As can be imagined, the collection contains some pretty neat items, many of which give insight into one of the most exciting decades of space travel in the twentieth century.

Earthrise as seen by the Apollo 11 crew

Perhaps one of my favorite elements of the collection is a partial set of black and white and color photographic prints made from the film shot during the Apollo 11 Mission. Many of these images are so iconic they have become almost ubiquitous in popular memory. There are, however, also a great many that are not as recognizable but just as compelling. The photographs are stunning in their beauty, and it is easy to understand how monumental their impact must have been after their initial release. Although the images are fascinating themselves, the story behind the photographs is interesting as well.

Astrophotography was certainly not new by the time Apollo 11 launched in 1969. Indeed, people had been pointing their lenses skyward since the nineteenth century. Photos taken from space were not new either. Surprisingly, though, when NASA launched Project Mercury in 1959 with the primary goal of placing an American in space, photographing the mission from the astronauts perspective in spacecraft was not NASAs main concern. Cameras were taken on board to be sure (John Glenn took an Ansco Autoset with him on the Friendship 7), but photography was not a major part of the missions. Things changed, however, with the last two one-man Mercury missions of 1962 and 1963. Walter Schirra took a Hasselblad 500c, which he slightly modified to ensure better operation in space, with him during the Mercury-Atlas 8 Mission. The resulting images were very good, and NASA teamed with Hasselblad to create specially modified cameras for spaceflight.

Fast-forward a few years to July 1969 and the Apollo 11 Mission. Among the various pieces of equipment taken aboard ship for the mission were several cameras specially modified for optimal performance in space and among these were four Hasselblads one Hasselblad Electric Camera carried in the Command Module, two Hasselblad Lunar Surface Superwide-Angle Cameras carried in the Lunar Module, and one Hasselblad EL Data Camera taken to the lunar surface.

The Hasselblad images from the landing almost seem effortless in their beauty, but what they do not show is how much consideration was taken in designing and creating cameras for the mission. Operating a camera in the vacuum of space is pretty different from operating one on earth. The camera taken to the surface needed to work well in extreme temperatures. Traditional lubricants in the camera body had to be removed and replaced with those that would operate in a vacuum without hampering the cameras functions. The body also had to be stripped down to reduce weight. The act of actually snapping a picture was also different with this camera. It was fixed to a handle with a button that triggered an exposure when pressed, and it was mounted at chest level on the astronauts suits (mostly Armstrongs as he took the majority of the images on the lunar surface). As can be imagined, the position of the camera presented its own challenges for framing shots. That particular camera was also fitted with a special glass apparatus for winding film called a Reseau plate. Unlike traditional metal winders, the glass plate was designed to prevent sparking via static electricity when the film was wound in the film magazine. Also, if you look closely at the exposures made on the lunar surface, you will see small cross markings. These markings were located on the Reseau plate itself and appear on every image made with the lunar 500EL. The markings on the prints were used for measurement and analysis purposes back on Earth. So when it was all said and done, lunar photography was a little more complicated than point and click.

The astronauts took several photographs like this of their footprints in the lunar dust

After the film was shot and safely secured in its removable magazines and the astronauts were ready to climb back into the Eagle and dock with the Columbia, there was something that was not loaded back into the module: the camera. Although it may seem shocking that such a fine piece of carefully crafted photographic technology was just left behind, the sacrifice was necessary so that as many lunar samples as possible could be taken back to earth. This was a practice continued throughout the subsequent manned lunar missions meaning that there actually quite a few abandoned Hasselblads, their shutters indefinitely silenced, sitting on the moon to this day. It almost gives a whole new meaning to the concept of the disposable camera.

Buzz Aldrin setting up an experiment on the lunar surface

So, if you want an opportunity to view some of the extraordinary results of the first camera on the moon, as well as those taken by the other Apollo 11 Hasselblads, I encourage you to come view the Apollo 11 photographic prints in the Michael Collins Papers (Ms1989-029) here at Special Collections. They truly embody the beauty and wonder of space that has captivated humankind for centuries and seeing them in person is a very special experience indeed.

An Office of One’s Own: Women Professionals in the Special Collections

To celebrate womens history month, we are highlighting a small selection of the pioneering women professionals in our collections. These particular women entered their respective careers in the 1950s and 60s, a time when women had limited access to higher education and professional opportunities. Women in historically marginalized groups (including LGBTQ communities, rural communities, and communities of color) faced additional challenges beyond gender barriers. The four women profiled below overcame several obstacles to work as accomplished professionals in fields traditionally dominated by men.

VPI students Caroline Turner and Harriet Shelton at work in a chemistry lab, January 1950

Marjorie Rhodes Townsend: Aerospace Engineer, Patent Holder

Marjorie Townsend was named " Townsend Knight of the Italian Republic Order" in 1972 for her contributions to US-Italian space efforts
Marjorie Townsend was named ” Townsend Knight of the Italian Republic Order” in 1972 for her contributions to US-Italian space efforts

In 1951, Marjorie Rhodes Townsend became the first woman to earn an engineering degree at George Washington University. One of few women in a traditionally male-dominated field, Townsend experienced significant discrimination from both coworkers and managers. In spite of these challenges, she enjoyed a lengthy and distinguished career at the forefront of aerospace technology. Townsend spent eight years with the Naval Research Laboratory developing sonar signal-processing devices for anti-submarine warfare. Townsend went on to work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administrations Goddard Space Flight Center from 1959-1980. As a project manager for NASAs Small Astronomy Satellite (SAS) program, Townsend helped coordinate some of the earliest advances in satellite technology and spacecraft systems design.

Learn more about the Marjorie Rhodes Townsend papers here:;query=;

L. Jane Hastings: Architect, Business Owner

Drafting tools used by L. Jane Hastings
Drafting tools used by L. Jane Hastings

As an eighth-grade student, L. Jane Hastings was told that women could not be architects. When she secured a coveted spot in the University of Washingtons architecture program, Hastings recalls being asked to give up her place to make room for returning veterans. Hastings received her Bachelor of Architecture degree with honors in 1952, having worked full-time throughout most of her program. In 1953, she became the eighth licensed woman architect in the State of Washington. Hastings founded her own practice in 1959 and went on to form the Hastings Group, a prestigious firm that completed over 500 residential, commercial, and university projects across the greater Seattle area. In addition to practicing and teaching architectural design, Hastings was active in several professional organizations. In 1992, Hastings was appointed the first woman chancellor in the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows.

Learn more about the L. Jane Hastings Architectural Papers here:

Dr. Laura Jane Harper: Academic Dean, Advocate

Dr. Laura Harper, first woman to serve as academic dean at Virginia Tech (VPI)
Dr. Laura Harper, dean of the Virginia Tech College of Home Economics from 1960-1980

Dr. Laura Jane Harper was the first woman to serve as an academic dean at VPI. She lead the College of Home Economics from 1960-1980, chartering a new program that emerged from the consolidation of the Home Economics programs at VPI and Radford University. Dr. Harper was lauded for mentoring other women and supporting them in leadership positions throughout the university. In her 1999 Masters thesis A Fighter To The End: The Remarkable Life and Career Of Laura Jane Harper, Saranette Miles recounted Dr. Harpers decision to turn down a marriage proposal for the sake of her career (p. 55) and how she frequently challenged VPI President T. Marshall Hahn to uphold his commitments to create meaningful opportunities for women at the university (p. 70-75) .

Read more about Harpers career and her contributions to the Peacock-Harpery Culinary Collection:

Linda Adams Hoyle: Statistician, Trailblazer

Chiquita Hudson,   Marguerite Laurette Scott, and Linda Adams Hoyle, right, were among the first black women to attend Virginia Tech.
Chiquita Hudson, Marguerite Laurette Scott, and Linda Adams Hoyle, right, were among the first black women to attend Virginia Tech.

Linda Adams Hoyle (class of 68) was the first black woman to graduate from Virginia Tech. As a statistics major, Hoyle was frequently the only woman in her classes and one of few black students. Her experiences on campus – friendships, dorms assignments, political activism, and safety concerns – were shaped by the intersection of race and gender. After graduation, Hoyle went on to work as a statistician for the Census Bureau in Washington, D.C.In her oral history interview for the Black Women At Virginia Tech History Project, Hoyle discussed the challenges of raising a family while pursuing a career:

.. So when you have this full time career–my job at that time was extremely demanding. It was difficult because I had to attend to my children as well as do the job.My husband, the way he worked, it was difficult. He could not just stop in the middle of a job say to pick up a sick child. His work did not permit him that flexibility. Those were things I had to do.

Read Linda Adams Hoyles Oral History Interview:

Learn more about the experiences of Virginia Tech’s first black students:

I. J. (Jack) Good: Virginia Tech’s Own Bletchley Park Connection

Enigma, Ultra, Alan Turing, Bletchley Park, the British efforts to break German codes in World War II. Maybe you’ve seen or are waiting to see the 2014 movie, The Imitation Game, which tells part of this story with Turing, quite rightly, as its central character. Perhaps you became aware of this highly classified historical episode when the secrecy surrounding it gave way to public sensation in the early 1970s, almost thirty years after the end of the war . . . or in the many books and movies that have followed. An interest in wartime history, cryptography, or the early development of computers provide only a few of the possible avenues into the story. But did you know that one of the primary characters in that story, a mathematician who earned a Ph.D from Cambridge in 1941 with a paper on topological dimension, was a professor of statistics at Virginia Tech from 1967 until his retirement in 1994, and lived in Blacksburg until his death just a few years ago at the age of 92? Maybe you did, but I didn’t. His name was I. J. Good, known as Jack.

He was born Isidore Jacob Gudak in London in 1916, the son of Polish and Russian Jewish immigrants. Later changing his name to Irving John Good, he was a mathematical prodigy and a chess player of note. In a interview published in the January 1979 issue of Omni, Good says of the claim that he rediscovered irrational numbers at age 9 and mathematical induction and integration at 13, “I cannot prove either of these statements, but they are true.”

In 1941, Good joined the code-breakers at Bletchley Park, specifically, to work on the German Naval Enigma code in Hut 8 under the direction of Alan Turing and Hugh Alexander, the mathematician and chess champion who had recruited him. This is the story that is told in The Imitation Game, in which Jack Good is played by actor James Northcote. Along with Turing’s story, it is the story of the development of the machines that would break the German Enigma codes. The Enigma machine was an electromechanical device that would allow the substitution of letters–and thus production of a coded message–through the use of three (later four) rotors that would accomplish the substitutions. If you knew which rotors were being used and their settings, (changed every day or every second day), one could decode a message sent from another Enigma. If you didn’t know the rotors and the settings, as James Barrat writes in Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era, “For an alphabet of twenty-six letters, 403,291,461,126,605,635,584,000,000 such substitutions were possible.”

This is the world Jack Good entered on 27 May 1941, that and the world of war and the urgent need to defeat the Axis. Turing had already built some of the first Bombes, electromechanical machines–among the earliest computers, really–and had achieved initial and significant success. Good belonged to a team that would make improvements to the process from an approach based in a Bayesian statistical method that Good described in 1998 speech as “invented mainly by Turing.” He also called it “the first example of sequential analysis, at least the first notable example.” For the duration of the war, Good would work to further the British code-breaking technologies, adding his knowledge and understanding of statistics to the development of machines known as the “Robinsons” and “Colossus.” The program was remarkably successful. In its early days, it is credited with helping in the effort to sink the German battleship Bismarck; then helping to win the Battle of the Atlantic, directing the disruption of German supply lines to North Africa, and having an impact on the invasion of Europe in June 1944. What came to be known as “Ultra,” the intelligence obtained by the work of the Bletchley Park code-breakers, is, generally, thought to have shortened the war by two to four years. Jack Good, who worked with Alan Turing both during and after the war, said, “I won’t say that what Turing did made us win the war, but I daresay we might have lost it without him.”

After the war, Good was asked by Max Newman, a mathematician and another Bletchley Park alum, to join him at Manchester University, where they, later joined by Turing, worked to create the first computer to run on an internally stored program. A few years later, he returned to Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) for another decade of classified work for the British government. A three-year stint teaching at Oxford led to a decision in 1967 to move to the United States, but not before he served as a consultant to Stanley Kubrick, who was then making 2001: A Space Odyssey. The HAL (Heuristically-programmed ALgorithmic computer) 9000–the computer with a mind of its own–presumably owed much to the mind of Jack Good.

The camera eye of the HAL 9000 from Stanley Kubrick's 2001 : A Space Odyssey
The camera eye of the HAL 9000 from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 : A Space Odyssey
Jack Good (right) at Hawk Films Ltd., 1966, as adviser on Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey
Jack Good (right) at Hawk Films Ltd., 1966, as adviser on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

At Virginia Tech, Good arrived as a professor of statistics. Always a fellow for numbers, he noted:

I arrived in Blacksburg in the seventh hour of the seventh day of the seventh month of year seven of the seventh decade, and I was put in apartment seven of block seven of Terrace View Apartments, all by chance.

Later, he would be University Distinguished Professor and, in 1994, Professor Emeritus. In 1998, he received the Computer Pioneer Award given by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society, one of a long list of honors. Good’s published work spanned statistics, computation, number theory, physics, mathematics and philosophy. A 1979 Omni article and interview reports that two years earlier a list of his published papers, articles, books, and reviews numbered over 1000. In June 2003, his list of “shorter publications” alone included 2278 items. He published influential books on probability and Bayesian method.

In that Omni interview, the conversation ranges over such topics as scientific speculation, precognition, human psychology, chess-playing computers, climate control, extraterrestrials, and more before settling in on the consequence of intelligent and ultraintelligent machines. On the latter topic, in 1965, Good wrote:

Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an “intelligence explosion,” and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control.”

Special Collections at Virginia Tech has a collection of the papers of Irving J. Good that includes 36 volumes of bound articles, reviews, etc. along with a videotape of him and Donald Michie that commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the work they both did at Bletchley Park. Among the rest of the material is some correspondence and a group of papers described as “PBIs,” which I now know to be “partly baked ideas,” some his own, many sent to him by others, but for which he appears to have had a fondness.

In the end, however, and as his 2009 obituaries suggest, it will be his code-breaking and other intelligence work, particularly from the days at Bletchley Park that I. J. Good will be most remembered. Even though he and all the participants were prevented from talking about that work for years, one guesses that Jack Good wanted to leave others with a sense of it, particularly once in Virginia, as he drove away, with his customized license plate:

Photograph of Jack Good's Virginia license plate (from Collegiate Times, 10 Feb. 1989)
Photograph of Jack Good’s Virginia license plate (from Collegiate Times, 10 Feb. 1989)

The Ill-fated Voyage of the U.S.S. Jeannette, 1879-1881

Title page
Title page and frontispiece of The Voyage of the Jeannette with an engraving of George De Long and an image of the ship.

As I was scouting the bookshelves a few months ago in search of something to inspire a new exhibit, I came across two volumes of “The Voyage of the Jeannette: The Ship and Ice Journals of George W. De Long, Lieutenant-Commander U.S.N., and Commander of the Polar Expedition of 1879-1881. I was familiar with several 19th-century polar expeditions, particularly that of John Franklin, which left England in 1845, never to return, but De Long was unknown to me. In the end, I found first-hand accounts of many voyages of discovery, which led to the idea to assemble an exhibit on the themes of Discovery, Travel, and Exploration, but it was the Jeannette with which I began and whose story continues to enliven my curiosity.

When the U.S.S. Jeannette set out from San Francisco on 8 July 1879 with 33 men aboard, including its commander, George Washington De Long, its mission was to reach the supposed Open Polar Sea, attain the North Pole, and to record all manner of scientific observations along the way. Initially built as a gunboat for the British Navy and named Pandora, it had three masts and was equipped with a steam engine and propeller. The ship had passed into private hands and successfully survived two trips to Greenland before James Gordon Bennett Jr., owner of the New York Herald bought her, renamed her Jeannette, and had her structure massively reinforced, all in preparation for the polar mission that De Long would command. She would carry provisions to last three years.

The Jennette enters the ice.
The Jeannette enters the ice.

By 6 September of that year, the Jeannette was locked in the ice, sooner and further south than anticipated. Through disappointment and routine, mostly good spirits prevailed. On 28 October, De Long wrote:

I think the night one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. The heavens were cloudless, the moon very nearly full and shining brightly, and every star twinkling; the air perfectly calm, and not a sound to break the spell. The ship and her surroundings made a perfect picture. Standing out in bold relief against the blue sky, every rope and spar with a thick coat of snow and frost; she was simply a beautiful spectacle.

The Jeannette would drift in the ice in a northwesterly direction through the frozen summer of 1880 and into the spring of 1881. On 11 June–nearly two years after leaving San Francisco–just after midnight, as De Long wrote, the ice suddenly opened alongside and the ship righted to an even keel. For the first time in twenty months, the ship was afloat. Cruelly, some forty hours later the situation had changed:

At four P.M. the ice came down in great force all along the port side, jamming the ship hard against the ice on the starboard side of her, and causing her to heel 16 to starboard. From the snapping and cracking of the bunker sides and starting in of the starboard ceiling . . . it was feared that the ship was about to be seriously endangered. . . . Mr. Melville . . . saw a break across the ship . . . showing that so solidly were the stern and starboard quarters held by the ice that the ship was breaking in two from the pressure upward exerted on the port bow of the ship.. . . At five P.M. the pressure was renewed and continued with tremendous force, the ship cracking in every part. The spar deck commenced to buckle up, and the starboard side seemed again on the point of coming in.

The Jennette sinks, 11 June 1881.
The Jennette sinks, 11 June 1881.

By 6 PM. the Jeannette began to fill with water and as provisions were removed, the ship heeled 30 to starboard. The starboard side had broken in and at 8 PM all hands were ordered off the ship. At 4 AM, the ship went down. They had reached just beyond 77 N latitude, some 700 miles south of the pole, and would head southwest hauling their boats and equipment towards the Lena River on the Siberian coast.

Dragging the boats over the ice.
Dragging the boats over the ice.
Nindemann and Noros in search of help.
Nindemann and Noros in search of help.

Upon reaching open water 91 days later, the crew boarded three boats on 12 September. A gale separated the three and one boat was lost. De Longs boat, carrying 14 men, reached the marshy Lena delta on 15 September and would soon be abandoned. On 9 October, with the entire party suffering from starvation and exposure, a weakened De Long sent two men ahead in search of help. These two men, Nindemann and Noros, found a small group of hunter-fisherman on 22 October, who took them to the larger settlement they sought. The third boat, commanded by George Melville with eleven aboard, reached the delta on 14 September, nearly 100 miles from the first group, but on a navigable branch of the river. Five days later, they found a fishing camp. Neither Melvilles group nor Nindemann and Noros were able to mount a rescue for De Longs group, though on 2 November, they did find each other. George W. De Long, however, had written his last log entry on 30 October:

One hundred and fortieth day. Boyd and Grtz died during the night. Mr. Collins dying.

Melville continued the search for his comrades and on 13 November, he found the Jeannettes log books, instruments, and other items that De Long had buried on 19 September. It wasnt until the following spring, on 23 March 1882, that Melville and Nindemann found the bodies of De Long and two other members of his party, then those of the remaining seven. One mans body was never found. They also found the ice journal that De Long had kept and which recorded the journey they had taken since the Jeannette was lost. All ten bodies were placed in a makeshift coffin and interred in a cairn on the highest point in the area.

De Long's last entries.
De Long’s last entries.

George Melville arrived in New York on 13 September 1882 and brought De Longs papers, journals, and personal effects to his widow, Emma.

The cairn that temporarily held the bodies of  De Long and nine of his men.
The cairn that temporarily held the bodies of De Long and nine of his men.

By Act of Congress, the remains of De Long and the nine crew were ordered returned for burial in the US. On 20 February 1884, after a 12,000 mile journey westward, they arrived in New York. De Long and six others were buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. On 18 June 1884 a broken box bearing the name Jeannette and other items from the ship were found off the southern coast of Greenland, thousands of miles east of Jeannettes final location. Having made their own journey, these items gave new support to the theory of trans-Arctic drift.

So, this was the story that was the spark for an exhibit that will soon go up, one that will present materials offering a range broader than that of polar exploration . . . but, interestingly, the Collection has several accounts of trips using various means to arrive at various poles. Watch for it:

Have You Ever Seen A Pancake Fly? How Does It Do It?

Among the materials in the Robert R. Gilruth Papers (Ms1990-053) is his 1936 Master’s thesis from the University of Minnesota, “The Effect of Wing-Tip Propellers on the Aerodynamic Characteristics of a Low Aspect Ratio Wing.” Gilruth, who would move on to work, first, as a flight research engineer at Langley Aeronautical Laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), and then for NASA, became the first director of that agency’s Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston in 1961. The Master’s paper, however, was what interested the folks at the Vought Aircraft Historical Foundation, who contacted Special Collections as they were preparing a history of the company’s V-173 and XF5U-1 “Pancake” series of aircraft.

A look at the model used in this early work of Gilruth’s and the prototypes built by Vought in the 1940s suggests the significance of his work for the company’s engineers at the time. So, how does a pancake fly? For those of you who want to know, check out Gilruth’s Thesis for all the theory, specs, charts, and diagrams.

Aviation and Aerospace define an important collecting area for Special Collections. The Gilruth Papers, for example, contain research articles, speeches, photographs, agency and professional papers, and more that span a fifty year career in aerospace.

For more information, read about our Archives of American Aerospace Exploration or visit us at Special Collections!