22 July 2009
On July 21, 1969, an Angénieux zoom lens was used to film Neil Armstrong's first
steps on the moon. This historic event was the result of several years of
cooperation between the small business from the Saint-Etienne region and NASA to
develop optical equipment that could work under extreme conditions.
Today, Thales Angénieux's knowledge and expertise has made it a
world leader in designing and developing optics systems for civil and military
When the Apollo 11 set out for the moon, there was a 6x25
Angénieux zoom lens designed especially for the mission onboard the spacecraft.
NASA's decision to work with Angénieux to record this singular event was no mere
coincidence. The company's engineers worked very hard to adapt the lens to the
vacuum conditions of outer space. In addition to adapting the optical
calculations and designing a new type of mechanical lubrication, since oils
sublimate in space and vaporize on the optical parts, they also had to develop
new optical surface treatments and protect the lens against the sun's
This unique cooperation began in the 1960s when NASA, unbeknown to
the Saint-Héand teams, decided to use Angénieux lenses that it had purchased in
the United States for the first lunar expeditions. Angénieux was then directly
commissioned by the agency to design special lenses to suit its
The first ever photograph of the moon was taken on July 31, 1964
at point blank range by the Ranger 7 space probe using one of these lenses. The
images were taken with an ultra-bright Angénieux lens, the famous 25mm f/0.95 on
an RCA camera with a Vidicon tube. The first image was taken at an altitude of
2,500 kilometers and the last one was taken at less than 500 meters above sea
The Ranger probe would undertake nine missions in preparation for the
extraordinary Apollo 11 mission on July 21, 1969. During one of these missions,
an Angénieux lens fell onto the moon's surface, becoming the first artifact ever
to touch the earth's satellite!
The man behind the successful lens was
Pierre Angénieux, a gifted optical engineer who in 1935 founded the eponymous
company that would be acquired by Thales in 1993. Over the years, Thales
Angénieux has become the undisputed world leader in designing and developing
zoom lenses for the cinema industry.
Thales Angénieux, a wholly-owned Thales
subsidiary, is still specialized in making highperformance optical,
electro-optical and optical-mechanic products. Thales Angénieux designs products
and services for the cinema, television, defense and security
The company is a world-class leader in zoom lenses for
professional film-makers. In February 2009, four Angénieux engineers followed in
the founder's footsteps, winning the Scientific and Technical Oscar from the
prestigious Hollywood Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the Optimo
15-40mm and 28-76mm lenses.
In the defense market, the company develops and
produces night-vision binoculars for infantry forces. Its MINIE D binoculars
have been selected for the French Army's FELIN soldier modernization program.
Thales Angénieux also designs night-vision systems for helicopter pilots and
Thales Angénieux has been based in Saint-Héand since it was
founded in 1935 andcurrently employs 270 staff.