Nikon and NASA Join Forces On The Artemis Campaign With The Z9

Nikon and NASA Join Forces On The Artemis Campaign With The Z9

Today, Nikon has announced that it has entered into an agreement with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, yes, that NASA, to take the Z9 to another world. Literally.

Okay, as a sometimes too proud Z9 owner, I am fond of telling all who will listen that my camera is capable of doing everything. But I admit that my imagination only extended to the planet I currently reside on. Apparently, however, Nikon has other ideas.

Today, the company has entered into a Space Act agreement with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to support the agency’s Artemis campaign with the Handheld Universal Lunar Camera (HULC) development. What does all that mean? Well, basically it means that the Z9, as implemented in the HULC system, will be the handheld camera for the upcoming Artemis III mission, which will be used by the crew returning to the surface of the Moon. So much for any questions you might have had about the camera’s weather sealing. Judging from its new travel destination, it seems as though the Z9 body is pretty tough.

The objective of the Artemis campaign is to establish a foundation for long-term scientific lunar research and exploration on the moon. Eventually, this will serve as an additional foundation for a pathway for travel to Mars. The Artemis III mission is scheduled to launch NASA’s SLS (Space Launch System) rocket with the Orion spacecraft in September 2026. It will be the first human flight landing on the lunar surface since 1972, and this craft will carry the first woman to walk on the Moon. Over the course of 30 days, the crew will enter lunar orbit, then two astronauts will land on the surface in the lunar module (SpaceX’s Starship Human Landing System). They will spend approximately seven days on the lunar surface conducting research and more moonwalks than Michael Jackson. Then they and the other two crew members will begin the journey back to Earth. To help capture imagery, the mission has the need for a common camera platform to reduce overall mass and development efforts while simplifying training and increasing efficiency.

To capture all imagery of the journey, the mission needed to find a photographic tool that would be up to the mission, deliver high-quality images with minimal overall mass, and increase efficiency. The Moon surface and lunar environment is basically a harsh and unforgiving vacuum. So, it poses multiple technological and engineering challenges: massive temperature swings, a constant bombardment of cosmic radiation that can damage electrical components. This Z9 might not be exactly the same one you pick up on the store shelf. Nikon and NASA have to work together to modify the redesign of various circuits and control sequences within the camera to withstand the vast amounts of radiation. These are the kind of things you have to take into account when your photoshoot is 238,000 miles away from Earth.

In order for astronauts to comfortably and easily use the Z9 when wearing the thick gloves of a spacesuit on their moonwalks and other extravehicular activities, a custom grip is being developed by NASA, which includes common controls such as a shutter release, playback, still/video capture switching, and more. This grip will connect to the camera via the 10-pin terminal, which will be usable with specialized custom firmware created for the cameras. NASA will also be developing a special thermal blanket, similar to those used during spacewalks by other International Space Station astronauts, to protect the camera and lens.

The camera will also use special firmware in order to account for the different circuitry, expanding noise reduction to lower shutter speeds to account for the effects of constant bombardment of cosmic radiation that the crew and gear encounter. They’ve also modified the shutter shield, enhanced HDR functionality, and modified default settings for menu items to make it more efficient for the astronauts in the field.

This isn’t the first Nikon that has gone to space. Since the Apollo 15 mission more than 50 years ago, Nikon cameras and lenses have been used by NASA for space exploration. Can't wait to see what iconic images the collaboration produces this time around.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Christopher Malcolm is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle, fitness, and advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer shooting for clients such as Nike, lululemon, ASICS, and Verizon.

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