Apollo relic was one of a kind due to later weight policies

Westlicht Photographica Auction house in Vienna, Austria saved a whopper of an item for its 25th Anniversary Auction.  The auction house sold one of the only cameras used by a human on the moon, and then returned to Earth.  The camera sold for €682,000, roughly $940,720 USD at current exchange rates.
I. A Camera Worthy of the Moon
Swedish specialty camera maker Hasselblad AB manufactured the rare model.  Hasselblad's roots trace back to World War II, where its founder Victor Hasselblad -- an expert optical engineer -- was contracted by the Swedish government to study a captured camera from a Nazi spy-plane.  The Swedish Air Force requested that he reverse engineer the camera, but Victor Hasselblad, as legend goes, did a step better assessing the design and then producing a superior model from the lessons learned.
Fast forward two decades and mankind was preparing to take its first steps on the Moon with the Apollo program.  The Swedish camera maker had achieved international acclaim as an unmatched provider of quality scientific cameras, and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) contracts Mr. Hasselblad to produce a camera worthy of a Moon mission.  The Hasselblad 500 'EL DATA CAMERA HEDC' (HEDC == "Hasselblad Electronic Data Camera") was born.

Hasselblad EL/M
Hasselblad EDC S/N 1003, the official camera of Apollo 15 [Image Source: Auction 2000]

In 1969, NASA launched Apollo 15, the fourth manned lunar mission.  The mission was the first to test the Lunar rover, and astronaut Colonel James Benson "Jim" Irwin took the Hasselblad 500 along for the ride.  From July 26th to August 7th, 1971 Col. Irwin used the camera to capture 299 photographs on the Moon and 96 more during the flight to the Moon and on the return flight home.
That alone makes the camera an important piece of history, but what made it even more valuable was that it was one of the few cameras to be taken home by the twelve Apollo astronauts who walked the moon.
Apollo 15
Apollo 15 Commander David Scott trains with an HEDC in 1971. [Image Source: NASA]

The camera appears to be the real deal according to Robert Z. Pearlman, a space artifacts collector/expert who writes for
It carries the serial number (S/N) 1003 and has all the markings of a true Hasselblad HEDC.  The strongest proof of evidence comes from the "38" watermark, on the Reseau Plate, a piece of transparent glass used on cameras of its era to superimpose calibration crosshairs on the photographs taken by the camera.

Hasselblad 500 EL/M

The same 38 is seen in developed photographs of the Apollo 15 mission.


So why weren't the Hasselblads used in some of the other Apollo missions returned home?  And why is this taxpayer-purchased piece of history now sitting in the private stock of a Japanese collector, rather than in some place like the Smithsonian for all to see?
II. Job Hazards Drives Astronauts to Memorabilia Sales
We may never find all the answers, but what we do know is that the story of the "38" camera, S/N 1003, began in July 1969 when Neal Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on the Moon, as part of the successful Apollo 11 mission.
By the time "the Eagle" landed, astronauts had already developed a penchant for taking "souvenirs" from their missions -- often pieces of equipment that would eventually come to command thousands from collectors.  Astronauts also would take collectible object into space; objects that they would later resell when back home.
Donald Kent "Deke" Slayton -- a Mercury astronaut turned Astronaut Corps flight crew director for the Apollo project -- cast a rather blind eye to the practice, or at times even encouraged it.
While such profit taking might be view critically through the lens of the safety of the present, it's somewhat more understandable considering the financial circumstances astronauts were operating under.
Prior to Apollo 1, three astronauts had already died while flying test planes or training planes, including both original crewmembers of Gemini 9.  Then came Apollo 1.
Just before the low Earth orbit (LEO) preliminary mission was set to launch, a fire in an Apollo capsule killed Apollo astronauts Lt. Col. Virgil Ivan Grissom (the command pilot), Lt. Col. Edward Higgins White, II (the senior pilot; a Gemini 4 veteran and the first man to walk in space), and Lt. Cmdr. Roger Bruce Chaffee (command module pilot).

Apollo 1
Three Apollo astronauts lost their lives in the Apollo 1 fire, the worst setback to the Moon exploration program. [Image Source: NASA]

The deaths triggered serious technical changes -- namely swapping the pressurized cabin atmosphere from pure oxygen to a more earthlike, less flammable oxygen/nitrogen mix.  Manned tests of Apollo modules were also shelved for almost a year.
The tragedy also cast a pall on the astronauts participating the program.  At the time, NASA and the U.S. military provided astronauts with no life insurance.  The incident, in part, drove many astronauts to look to ways to monetize their missions via souvenirs and commemoratives.  Astronauts typically looked to create trust funds for their children and loved ones lest they perish as the Apollo 1 crew did.
In Dec. 1968, Apollo 8 became the first mission to leave Earth orbit, travelling to the Moon briefly to map landing sites.  Apollo carried a new Hasselblad camera, the Hasselblad Electric Camera (EC) 500 EL.  That camera shot 70 mm film.
After the mission the taxpayer purchased camera appears to have been "collected" by one of the crewmembers.  In Nov. 2012, another camera was sold by RR Auctions, which indicated that the device had been used in a flight to "Moon orbit".  The auction gathered a modest $42,704 USD.  While no one doubted that unit's authenticity, it didn't carry the cachet of a camera that was actually used on the Moon's surface.
III. The Stamp Proofs Incident and Apollo 15 Controversies
The 500 EL's successor, the 500 HEDC (which also shot 70 mm film) was first deployed in July 1969 on the Apollo 11 Moon landing.  Neil Armstrong himself used one of the cameras to shoot pictures of the moon exploration.
Hasselblad EDC
Hasselblad EDC S/N 1003, the official camera of Apollo 15 [Image Source: Auction 2000]

In total, seven manned moon flights were fully planned, with all but Apollo 13 succeeding in reaching the surface.  Each member of the two-member landing crew on the six successful flights carried a 500 HEDC, indicating that 12 of the cameras reached the moon.  Hasselblad's own website claims:

The 12 HEDC cameras used on the surface of the moon were left there. Only the film magazines were brought back.

Indeed, even WestLicht Photographica asserts that a dozen of the cameras were left behind.  However, it appears that another camera or two were also taken along on the Apollo 14 and later missions, perhaps reusing the cameras that were build for Apollo 13 mission.
In the earlier Apollo missions, astronauts were given some leeway to carry personal affects.  Following the near disaster of Apollo 13, Congress began to press NASA harder to cut down on these permissions and return more samples to make for a bigger payoff.

Genesis Rock
Lunar rocks were a major priority, hence astronauts were ordered to leave gear behind to make room for the rocks.  Col. Irwin discovered the "Genesis Rock", an early solar system object that collided with the moon.  The rock remains among the most important lunar finds.
[Image Source: NASA] 

NASA encouraged astronauts to leave the camera and other articles behind to shed a couple dozen kilograms; this was dropped weight that would allow for a greater haul of lunar rock.  The Hasselblad EDC wasn't exactly a lightweight shooter.  Its body alone weighed 1.424 kg, plus the lens kit weighed at least 0.922 kg, according to Camera Wiki.  Add in several hundred grams for the nickel cadmium batteries, and leaving behind the camera would save you nearly ~6.6 lb (~3 kg).  Apollo 15 only was able to bring back 77 kg of lunar rocks, but thanks to this lunar littering Apollo 16 and 17 brought back 95 and 111 kg of rocks, respectively.
Of the 838.2 pounds (380.2 kg) of lunar rocks and soil carried home via the Apollo program roughly 623 pounds (283 kg) of it was hauled back in the final three missions.
Deke Slayton had spearheaded a program with Apollo 14 to allow the astronauts to carry medallions to the Moon, which would later be sold, with proceeds going to the astronauts' families.  But Congress grew disgruntled with that idea, feeling that astronauts had no business profiting off the taxpayer funded journey.  As a result Deke Slayton only gave a small allotment of tokens for the Apollo 15 crew to carry with them.

Apollo 15
Apollo 15 was the first mission to use the Lunar Rover (Col. Irwin is pictured), but the mission would later become mired in controversy over memorabilia sales. [Image Source: NASA]

The crew responded by carrying a series of stamp proofs onboard the Apollo 15 flight, without official NASA authorization.  A set of 100 of the proofs would later be sold to a German collector.  While the cargo and sale were unauthorized, it wasn't like NASA knew nothing about the gimmick; Deke Slayton himself introduced Col. Irwin and other crewmembers to the German stamp dealer who bought them.
Each of the three crew members was promised $7,000 USD -- roughly $40,580 USD -- for their efforts.  The money was to go in a trust fund for the crew's children.
The dealer involved -- H. Walter Eiermann -- had reportedly promised not to sell the covers until the Apollo program had ended to prevent negative press.  But after the astronauts passed him his cut, he began to sell them immediate drawing public attention.
When Congress caught wind of the sale, they were outraged and held hearings over the so-called "Stamp Incident". 

Deke Slayton
Apollo Astronaut Corps. crew chief Deke Slayton, himself a former astronaut, did his best to come up with promotions and allow astronauts to keep memorabilia to supplement their meager income and insure their families.  But he ultimately threw the Apollo 15 crew under the bus when they sold a set of stamps, possibly without his permission. [Image Source: NASA]

Deke Slayton pushed the blame on the crew, all of whom were run out of NASA over the next few years.  Commander Col. David Randolph "Dave" Scott left the agency in 1978, later serving as a consultant for Hollywood spaceflight films and TV shows.  Col. Alfred Merrill Worden, the command module pilot was reassigned to non-flight duty, a demotion of sorts.  And Col. Irwin, like Commander Scott, chose exile over demotion, leaving NASA to pursue a career as the director of an evangelical Christian organization in Colorado Springs.
The incident left Commander Scott bitter.  While Congress eventually concluded the astronaut's behavior was unbecoming but did not break the law, he took special umbrage to Mr. Slayton's decision to decline to support him.  He writes in a book on the ordeal:

NASA had hung us out to dry.  We were reprimanded and took our licks. But it was a very raw deal.

Following the astronauts' exodus, it appears one of them took the camera as the souvenir.  Most likely that astronaut was Col. Irwin as the Austrian auctioneer calls the camera "Hasselblad 500 'HEDC' NASA 'Jim Irwin'".

IV. Apollo 15 was not the Only Mission to Bring Their Hasselblad Back

Did the Christian evangelist violate one of the Ten Commandments ("thou shalt not steal")?  That's unlikely given NASA's agreements that came to light in recent legal disputes.  Its possible, but unlikely that whichever astronaut took Jim Irwin's camera did so illegally without permission -- theft.  But more likely they received permission.

Based on why the camera was returned to Earth, we do know that at least some NASA staffers were aware of its return, though.

Jim Irwin
Apollo 15 astronaut Col. Jim Irwin [Image Source: NASA]

WesLicht initially advertised the camera as the "only camera to be returned from the moon", and that false description was parroted by various blogs. That claim appeared to originate from the auctioneer, which later "clarified" that it was one of only a handful of cameras to be taken back to Earth.  During Jan.-Feb. 1971, the Apollo 14 mission was actually the first to take an entire camera back to Earth.
While NASA strictly proclaimed that the cameras must be left behind to make way for more Moon rocks, Alan Bartlett "Al" Shepard, Jr. has exposed a potential loophole in the previous mission when he reported his camera was having technical problems.  Audio from the mission has a NASA controller telling (then Col.) Shepard:

They'd like for you to return your camera, so you don't have to bother removing the magazine from it.  You can just put the whole camera in the ETB [Equipment Transfer Bag].

After taking a number of pictures with the camera during the Apollo 15 Moon walks, Col. Irwin claimed the chest-mounted camera had jammed.  He and Col. Scott returned to the lander and were able to "unjam" the camera.  Eventually they were able to get it working.  The camera then reportedly jammed again.

Hasselblad EDC S/N 1003, the official camera of Apollo 15 [Image Source: Auction 2000]

Was this all a ruse to get the pricey camera and exclusive photos?  Or was it simply a finicky mechanism?  The answer is unclear, as is what happened next.  The camera clearly started working as Col. Irwin was able to use it on the return flight.
(According to Mr. Pearlman a similar incident was noted in logs of Apollo 17, the last Lunar landing, so it's possible a third Hasselblad camera returned home.)
V. Congress Rules in Astronauts' Favor in Legal War With NASA Over Moon Relics
Whether NASA declared the camera "broken" and gave it to Col. Irwin, or if he or another crew member took it on their own accord as a collectible, the camera would eventually find its way to Alain Lazzarini, a French Hasselblad enthusiast, who acquired the camera and found a stunning roll of undeveloped film inside.  The camera collector developed the film yielding never-before seen pictures of the Apollo 15 mission, images he published in his book Hasselblad and the Moon.
Had WestLicht Photographica held the auction prior to 2012, it might have created a legal row.  In 2011 Apollo 14 astronaut Cptn. Edgar Dean "Ed" Mitchell, Sc.D was sued by the U.S. government after he put a "data acquisition camera" (DAC), another camera used in the Lunar expeditions, up for auction.

DAC camera
Cptn. Mitchell's DAC camera from Apollo 14 [Image Source: SpaceCollector]

Deke Slayton had defended the astronauts keeping the pricey "spent" equipment, saying that the informal agreement between the crew and NASA was that if they didn't exceed the weight limit they could keep whatever gear would otherwise have been discarded on the moon, including pricey relics such as cameras.

He was relatively open about the deal.  At the time of Apollo 14 he stated in an interview that the astronauts could keep the items they listed.  He recalls in later interviews:

We had an agreement with NASA management, that small items that didn't exceed our weight limitations, we could bring back.  They give me a list of things they're going to bring back.  I give it to the program office and they bring 'em back.

The dispute -- and Mr. Mitchell's legal jeopardy -- arose due to the fact that most of the memos and lists describing what exactly NASA permitted the astronauts to take were discarded.  Following Deke Slayton's death in 1993 NASA and federal prosecutors fired the opening shot in potential efforts to charge a number of the Apollo astronauts with equipment theft.  While the statute of limitations would have taken prison time off the table, likely, the spat could have made for a nasty civil dispute.
But if a member of the Apollo 15 crew did take the camera and sell it to Mr. Lazzarini, they are no longer potentially in trouble with the law.  In Sept. 2012, Congress passed a bill (H.R. 4158) giving Apollo and Gemini astronauts and their families full ownership of equipment they may have kept after their missions, regardless of whether NASA officially signed off on those pricey mementos.  While some won't be happy with the bill, it did avoid the ugly mess of the U.S. trying to bludgeon some of its national heroes in civil court.
With H.R. 4158 in place there's little NASA or others who might wish to recover the camera can now do.  And even if the law wasn't in place, Jim Irwin died in 1991, so the camera was likely sold by has family.
The improved legal situation for lunar collectors has, in part, led to a boom in the prices of such items.  A few months after the bill passed Mr. Lazzarini sold his quietly acquired prize at the public RR Auction, a Boston, Mass.-based auction firm.  The buyer was WestLicht Photographica, who correctly predicted that the market value would go up.  But even the Austrian auctioneer was surprised to see just how high a price the camera would score.
The Jim Irwin Camera had been expected to fetch €150000-200000 ($207,000-277,000 USD).  With the winning bid coming in at over three times that, clearly the auctioneer must be overjoyed.

Yodobashi Camera
The founder of Yodobashi Camera, a Japanese electronics retail chain, now owns the space camera. [Image Source: TripAdvisor]

The winning bidder was Terukazu Fujisawa, a Japanese national.  If it were destined for private hands, Mr. Terukazu is about the most appropriate curator that could be hoped for.  He made a fortune founding Yodobashi Camera; a series of photography retails stores that today is found across much of Japan.
VI. Similar Lesser Cameras May Still be Available
For rival lunar collectors there are plenty of consolation prizes.  Another camera owned by Mr. Lazzarini -- a NASA Hasselblad 500 EL/M, a precursor to the 500 EC and 500 HEDC, used during early Apollo mission training -- also went up for sale.  That camera was expected to fetch a modest € 18000-20000 ($24,900-$27,650 USD), but ended up scoring nearly twice that -- €38,400 ($53,100 USD), including taxes and fees.
CameraWestWC is selling an authentic NASA-used Hasselblad 500 EC on eBay, Inc.'s (EBAY) sales portal.  
Hasselblad EC 500
The Hasselblad 500 EC on eBay
[Image Source: CameraWestWC; Fair Use clause TITLE 17 > CHAPTER 1 > § 107]
While the seller is a bit dodgy as to whether the camera actually was one of the ones that went to Lunar orbit and back, it's possible that the camera was the one that was sent with Apollo 8.  That camera can be bought immediately for "only" $41,995.  The seller lists the camera as having some minor damage (including a missing lever) but in good condition.
What a deal.
But those lusting for a camera that actually was used on the Moon, until mankind returns they may be out of luck.
Hasselblad EDC
Hasselblad EDC S/N 1003, the official camera of Apollo 15 [Image Source: Auction 2000]

While the S/N 1003 Hasselblad 500 EDC was clearly not the only camera in the series returned to Earth, it very well may be the only one that has been allowed to reach private hands.

Sources: Auction 2000, WestLicht Photographica auction house [press release]

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