According to organizers of the auction, a camera which is reported to have been on the 1971 NASA Apollo 15 mission which landed on the moon will be going up for sale on March 22, 2014. The camera itself is a 70-millimeter camera, and promoters of the sale say that it was carried by the eighth astronaut to walk on the surface, James Irwin. The Vienna gallery arranging the auction, the WestLicht Gallery, has indicated that there is an unassailable provenance for the camera in question. It is expected to sell, when the time comes, for an estimated $200,000 to $270,000.
The method used to identify the camera, called an Electric Data Camera (EDC), was by inspecting something called a Reseau plate. This is a plate of glass through which images were captured by the camera. On this plate are cross-hair markings which the astronauts used to make adjustments and calibrations for the pictures. The plate on each of the cameras is numbered, and in the case of Irwin’s camera, the images he took all had the same number. That number, 38, corresponds to the one on the camera going to auction, and is printed on each of the hundreds of images taken on the moon. Given the ability to tie the EDC to the Apollo mission moon landing, and the auction being a sale geared toward photography specialists and collectors, the accuracy of the estimated sale price has not been widely disputed.
What has been called into question is the claim that this particular EDC is the only one ever to make it to the moon and back. The website, collectspace.com, raises reports that another camera, possibly more are also around. Specifically, they mention an EDC which is alleged to have gone on the Apollo 14 mission. It is purported to have belonged to the commander of that mission, Alan Shepard. Based on conversations which were recorded during the Apollo 17 mission, the site also asserts the possibility of the camera of that mission’s commander, Eugene Cernan, may still be in existence. No information about where either of those devices are has been put forth.
With respect to the Apollo missions, an explanation has been offered about where the other cameras are. According to reports provided by sale organizers, the other cameras on the mission were left on the moon, with only the film being brought back, so that moon rocks of equal weight to that of the cameras could be brought back to Earth. A reported malfunction during one of the spacewalks undertaken by Irwin, where the EDC was stuck in place after being mounted to the space suit he was wearing, is the reason given for this particular device returning with the astronauts rather than more rocks.
The former owner of the EDC, Alain Lazzairini, provided all of the documentation being used as provenance in the auction. This includes the images from the moon marked with the number 38 which are being presented a corroboration of the assertions made by the gallery. Whether or not there are another couple of these cameras in existence ought to have little effect on the price achieved at the auction. With a piece of moon landing history going to the auction block, the buyers are just about guaranteed to make an appearance.
By Shannon Malone