Yesterdays article about the legendary toughness of Leica cameras reminded me of another account from a few years ago.
Even though the era of the space shuttle has come to an end, there still is a certain fascination with the achievement of the shuttle program. Below is an account of one of the launches where the only useable photographs were made with Leica equipment.
From Leica Quarterly October 1982
Several hundred press photographers were present at Cape Canaveral for the fourth flight of the space shuttle Columbia. At the cape NASA will not permit photographers any nearer than three miles from the launch pad, because of the enormous power generated during the launch. When the space shuttle takes off, it generates seven million horsepower, a noise level 1,000 times louder than a 747 and a temperature of 6000ᵒF. However, remotely controlled cameras are allowed within 1,000 yards of the pad. The area in which the cameras are located is a swampy one.
It was there that David M. Tenenbaum, Photographer for the Associated Press, placed his Leica R4 with APO Telyt-R 180mm lens, along with two other 35mm SLRs. In the company of all the other press photographers, Tenenbaum set up his cameras the day before the launch. About an hour after everybody had arranged their remote camera installations, Cape Canaveral was hit by a ferocious thunderstorm with 50 mph winds, hail and torrential rain.
When the storm was over Tenenbaum and his fellow photographers went out to check their cameras. He recalls, “The water level was about eight inches higher than just three hours before. And my tripod with the remote control box and three cameras all wrapped up in plastic was blown over and lying in the swamp water.” After drying off the cameras, only one of them, the Leica R4, still worked and showed no evidence of water in the lens. Tenenbaum replaced the other two cameras with a Leicaflex SL MOT and another 35mm camera.
It rained again briefly before the launch but all else went well. When Tenenbaum recovered his cameras all had triggered properly. Both Leicas were fine; the other camera had condensation in the lens. The Leica photos were excellent and were widely published. As Tenenbaum reports, “Of all the cameras AP had access to, my Leicas made the only useable negatives.” Thirteen of the other camera makes were damaged, some beyond repair.
“Total damage to the press corps cameras had to be beyond $100,000. And my R4 and Leicaflex had no problems and no lens condensation.” Every non-Leitz lens he examined experienced condensation between the lens elements.
Tenenbaum sums up his experience: “It was nice to have the occasion to clearly see the advantage of Leitz gear and the edge it gave me over everyone else…
Photo: David Tenenbaum