07.27.2009 01:39 PM
Angénieux zoom lens filmed man's first steps on the moon

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 of France and NASA to develop optical equipment that could work under extreme conditions.

Today, Thales Angénieux designs and develops optics systems for professional production and military applications. A wholly owned Thales subsidiary, the company has been based in Saint-Héand, France, since it was founded in 1935 and currently employs 270 staff.

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 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 rays.

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 needs.

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 25mm f/0.95 on an RCA camera with a Vidicon tube. The first image was taken at an altitude of 2500km, and the last one was taken at less than 500m above sea level.

The Ranger probe undertook 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.

The company continues to specialize in making high-performance optical, electro-optical and optical-mechanic products for the cinema, television, defense and security industries. In February 2009, four Angénieux engineers were recognized with a Scientific and Technical Oscar Award from the Hollywood Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for their work on the Optimo 15mm-40mm and 28mm-76mm lenses.



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