Walter Schirra was the only NASA astronaut to fly into space during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions (Mercury Atlas 8, Gemini VI-A, Apollo 7). Schirra was also the first astronaut to carry a Hasselblad into space.
With use of the Hasselblad 500C camera carried into space by the crew, the Gemini IV brought back the amazing first photographs of human beings in space during the first US spacewalk on 3 June 1965.
The last two missions of the Mercury program (Mercury Atlas 8 and 9) marked a turning point in NASA’s photographic history. These longer missions (one full day for MA9) and the first use of the Hasselblad 500C camera allowed the astronauts to record wonderful photographs of the Earth.
“I think I could have taken better pictures, but I was too busy doing other things. And Gordo (Cooper), up there for over a day, got some absolutely gorgeous pictures with the Hasselblad he flew.”
—Walter Schirra (Schirra’s JSC Oral history)
Prior to the introduction of the Hasselblad, NASA lacked a defined photography program. It was not until Walter Schirra, a known camera enthusiast, sought a precision instrument to accompany him on his MA-8 mission that NASA’s photographic identity began to take shape.
“I talked to Ralph Morse and Carl Mydans [of Life] and to Ken Weaver, Otis Imboden, and Luis Marden of National Geographic about what cameras they would recommend. They all said, ‘Hasselblad, but for...’_but for this, but for that. The ‘but-fors’ were the discrepancies in the design_gear train problems, jamming, not a good fit, and this kind of thing. So on my first flight we took an off-the-shell Hasselblad and had all the ‘but-fors’ taken out.”
—Walter Schirra (Schick and Van Haaften, pg. 20)
Schirra’s experiments on Mercury-Atlas 8 paved the way for Gordon Cooper’s use of the same NASA-modified Hasselblad camera in space. His longer Mercury Atlas 9 flight (22 orbits) allowed him to carefully frame his photographs and capture great pictures.
From then on the Hasselblad became the equipment of choice for the Gemini and Apollo space explorers.