NASA has a long history of sending cameras to space. Most notably, Hasselblad medium-format and Nikon SLRs and DSLRs have been NASA's go-tos for decades. But in a recent order that must be amongst the largest in its history for a single order of camera bodies, NASA just bought 53 Nikon D5 cameras worth over $340,000. What off Earth could NASA be doing with all those D5s?
While NASA has and still does use a good number of modern Nikon cameras to photograph Earth from low orbit, examine its spacecraft, and document life in space (these include a set of 10 D4 bodies that are supposedly used to check solar panels and outer surfaces of the ISS), 53 cameras is a huge investment, not to mention a lot of firepower in one chunk. It's hard to imagine that NASA would buy so many cameras, however, without a specific purpose for them to be used at once.
On one hand, a few of those bodies could be extraneous in case something goes wrong or needs to be replaced. But any organization would likely have bought this many units over time so those used later would be newer models by the time they were purchased — unless, of course, they are for one purpose alone. The only kinds of setups I can think of that require this many cameras are bullet-time rigs made for capturing multiple images of the same subject at the same time, but at different perspectives. While this could give NASA insight into a particular fast-acting reaction (rocket launch, anyone?) such as something with fire as shown in the video below, it's hard to imagine why they'd go for such a specialized and expensive body for a setup like this.
Of course, NASA could simply be replacing all of its current bodies at once. We photographers do this all the time to have a more uniform experience on our event shoots, although at a slightly lower volume.
Still, what are your thoughts on why NASA needs 53 Nikon D5 bodies? Especially with the D850 now out, the best arguments would take into account the low-light and frame-rate advantages of the D5 over the D850.
Fun fact: if NASA sends all 53 bodies to space with just the included battery, it will cost nearly $130,000 to get that weight to space on the most cost-effective Falcon Heavy rocket. With plenty of options in between, the most expensive scenario would cost $1.5 million just to get the D5 cameras to space if NASA used the Atlas V. Needless to say, the bigger mistake is likely putting the wrong cameras into orbit. So you can bet NASA thought long and hard about this D5 purchase. They want those for a reason.