“Fly Me to the Moon,” Frank Sinatra famously sang in 1964; On 20 July 1969 that dream became a reality, when the Apollo 11 astronauts played the song after touching down on the Moon. As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the landing, Thales is proud to have been a witness to this conquest, in more ways than one.
While Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were the first humans to walk on the Moon, and Sinatra’s hit was the first music heard there, a small French company played a key role in this historical event. The lenses made by Angénieux, a Thales group brand since 1993, were part of the equipment aboard the Apollo 11 mission designed to film this historic event. It had been a big challenge for the French company to meet the specifications. The lenses needed to be small, lightweight, and easy to use by astronauts operating in a space environment.
“In space, there is no room for error; it is impossible to intervene in the event of technical failure. There was no way that a speck of dust was going to disrupt the broadcast of such strategic images,” said Christophe Remontet – Head of Cinema Optics Segment, Cinema Optics Product Line manager at Angénieux.
Angénieux had to transform its lenses to make them compatible with the new colour camera used on the Apollo 11 mission, it had to make special glass treatments to resist space radiation, and create a new mechanical processing method to prevent the grease - usually used on earth - evaporating in a vacuum and fogging the lenses. These lenses had to be resistant enough to withstand the vibrations and heat released when the rocket launched.
It was therefore anything but a coincidence that NASA chose the French company. Angénieux had become well-known in the U.S. during the sixties, as its lenses were very successful in Hollywood and the company had already worked for the US TV industry. Five years before the Moon landing, three of the six lenses aboard the Ranger 7 spacecraft, which shot the first close-range images of the Moon, were manufactured by Angénieux.
“Working for a customer as demanding and as prestigious as NASA has undoubtedly helped us to be better,” said Christophe Remontet.
Angénieux, which was involved in all the Apollo missions following Apollo 11, has also worked alongside NASA right through to the Dawn mission - dedicated to exploring Vesta and Ceres, located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter - which ended last November.
Whilst its current ranges of products, such as cinema zoom lenses or Thales night vision devices, benefit greatly from the experience with NASA, the developments made for the Dawn mission have pushed the company to further improve its optical cleaning processes. In addition, Angénieux has developed products designed to withstand increasingly demanding conditions, such as its latest onboard lenses, which are made from titanium and able to operate in temperatures ranging from -50° C to + 40° C.