Apollo Investigation

Apollo Film Subjected to a Vacuum

Aulis Online hosts the written report of the 2019 film vacuum tests

Report by Rob Williams studio engineer MAE,
Marcus Allen & Scott Henderson


Does film become affected by the vacuum of space? – this was the departure point for an investigation into the Apollo photographs and the motion picture film (from the DAC camera). Even though these cameras flown were not equipped with pressurised environments or modified in any way to protect the film from the vacuum, none of the imagery taken by these cameras showed any signs of damage after traveling through and being exposed to the vacuum of space.

During the Apollo missions (1969-1972) the film used in the Hasselblad lunar surface stills camera (500 EL/70) and the data acquisition camera (DAC) was exposed to the hard vacuum of space during lunar EVA excursions.

During every Apollo mission the film would have been cycled between the vacuum of space and the pressurized environment while onboard the lunar module (LM) whenever the LM was depressurized and repressurized.

In order to examine the hypothesis that film stock under these conditions would be affected, a facility was set up to vacuum test samples of the film as used in the 1960s to determine if any changes in the exposed and processed film become apparent after being introduced to a vacuum. These tests were concentrated on the still photographic film, and the processed results are clear:

Ektachrome film changes in low pressure environments

Equipment used

The equipment used for testing the film produced a maximum Torr value of 10-3 the equivalent to 100 km's (62 miles) above the surface of the Earth. Even small changes to the processed film compared with control samples would demonstrate whether or not a vacuum affects the film.

fig 1

Figure 1. Vacuum chamber with gauge as used in 1 gallon and 1/4 gallon sizes.

1x Vevor 12CFM 1HP 2 Stage Medical Grade Vacuum Pump with Gauge and Hoses
1x 100W Infra Red Heat Lamp
1x CineFlix Mono bath B&W Developing solution
1x C4 & C41 & E6 Color Developing kits
1x Patterson Developing Tank With Dual Reels
8x B&W ESTAR 35mm Film Kodak Stock Number 2238
4x Kodak E 100 35mm Ektachrome Film
4x Kodak ESTAR Color Plus 200 For Regular Comparison
1x Minolta SRT-201 35mm Camera

Methodology employed

The Estar 2238 film was tested first. A black and white monobath kit was used to develop the Estar 2238 film.
The 2238 control film and the test film were developed together in the Patterson developing tank. The bath was kept at a constant 80ºF, with a 3-minute agitation time and 3 minute rinse time as per instructions.

Test sessions
Rob Williams personally conducted all the film exposure and development. Colleague Scott Henderson monitored the procedures via Skype, acted as a witness and also ensured that all procedure, times, and temperatures were maintained during each phase of the developing process.

Test sessions October 25 to October 29, 2019

Kodak stock number 2238 Panchromatic Separation Film B&W Estar Base

On October 25, at 12:10pm, the first roll of test film was labeled, and then placed it inside of the vacuum chamber. It took a total of 25 minutes to evacuate the chamber to 29.99Hg.

October 29, at 05:02, the air was slowly introduced back into the chamber, in order to simulate that which would have occurred to the film stowed inside of the LM, before the astronauts exited.

October 29, at 05:10, the chamber was again evacuated until the gauge read 29.995 HG. This time, the process took a total of 26 minutes to evacuate the chamber to 29.995 HG. After the chamber was set level, the RED valve was turned to the off position and the smaller 1/4-inch black vacuum hose was replaced with a larger 1/2-inch clear hose.

October 29, at 07:28, once again, the air was slowly introduced back into the chamber. The Minolta T21 35mm camera, was then loaded, the ISO set to 160, the shutter speed adjusted to 250ms, and the light meter checked before the camera was placed back on the table for one hour. At 08:28, with the camera mounted on a tripod, the light meter maintained in the loop by use of the aperture setting, 37 photos were taken of the three trees in the back yard. These three trees were used as the constant.

October 29 at 08:55, the film was placed in the Paterson Tank in the dark room, along with the correct amount of developer. The developer at a perfect 80º Fahrenheit, underwent a constant agitation for 3.5 minutes and the tank was turned upside down for 30 seconds at rest, according to the processing instructions. This all-in-one developer only requires a 3-minute rinse in lukewarm water, after which squeegee tongs were used to dry off the filmstrip. And at 09:05 the film was hung up to finish drying for three hours.

fig 2
Figure 2. vacuum pressure gauge showing the maximum the equipment can pull at room temperature which equals approximately 60 miles above the earth from sea level.

35mm Ektachrome 100 Film Test
This experiment began by loading the 35 mm Kodak ESTAR Ektachrome 100 ASA film into the Minolta SRT-201 camera and winding the film to the first photo. Together with a cooking thermometer, the camera was then placed inside of the vacuum chamber, and a vacuum level of -29.959 Hg was obtained. A 100 Watt UV lamp was located 24 inches above the plexiglass lid of the chamber.

The chamber was cycled three times every eight hours, over a period of twenty-four hours with the UV lamp cycling at twenty-minute intervals in order to keep the ambient temperature at 130ºC. When the desired reading of 130ºC was obtained, the lamp was turned off. The chamber was left to cool down to 20ºC. This was repeated three times over the twenty-four hour time frame. The film was then removed and developed.

fig 3
Figure 3. A 100 watt UV bulb is used to simulate the Sun, placed above the surface of the vacuum chamber.

fig 4
Figure 4. The half inch Plexiglass was damaged when the vacuum pump was replaced by a new and slightly more powerful unit. The bullet proof lid was unable to handle the very slight increase in the vacuum effect from 50 miles above the surface to 60 miles above the surface. This chamber has a safety rating of a least 2 to 1.

In another experiment with this same film, the roll of Ektachrome 100 was placed into a smaller vacuum chamber. A vacuum of -29.998 Hg was obtained. Then using a larger chamber a vacuum of -29.949 Hg was obtained.

35mm Kodak Color Plus 200
For each photo set, the control image is on the left, and affected image is on the right following the vacuum cycling.

fig 5

Figure 5. Control images on the left affected images on the right.

fig 6

Figure 6. Changes to the film strips are visually apparent. Here the vacuum-exposed film is on the left – the film has lost it's sheen and has shifted to a brownish hue. The control film strip is on the right.

Developing with a Kodak Ektachrome100 Film E-6 Kit
Since this experiment needed to be tamper proof, as stated, Rob Williams personally conducted all the film developing with colleague Scott Henderson monitoring the procedures via Skype, acted as a witness and also ensured that all procedure, times, and temperatures were maintained during each phase of the developing process.

fig 7

Figure 7. Ektachrome film processing kit.

Ektachrome film developing times and temperatures are as follows:

Developer: 3.5 minutes @ 101ºF
Blix A&B: 6.5 minutes @ 101ºF
Stabilizer: 1.5 minutes @ 75ºF
Fixer Rinse: 1 minute @ 75ºF

The Ektachrome 100 film was first wound on to the first spool in the darkroom, and then placed in the Patterson developing tank. The developer and blix chemicals were placed in a large pot of hot water and the temperatures raised to 101ºF, while carefully monitoring the thermometer. Tap water at 75º F was then poured into the Patterson container and allowed to pre soak for 1 minute. The water was then expelled. A 3.5-minute timer was set to go as soon as the developer was poured into the Patterson tank. The film was agitated every 30 seconds over the 3.5 minute developing period. The developer was then poured into a separate container for future use. The film received another rinse with tap water at 75ºF and expelled.

The combination of blix A & B was then added to the Patterson container. The film was agitated once each 30 seconds for 6.5 minutes. The blix was then expelled into a separate container for future use. Tap water at 75ºF was then poured in to the Patterson container for 1 minute, and expelled. Next, the stabilizer was poured into the Patterson container for 1.5 minutes with agitation each 30 seconds. The stabilizer was poured into a separate container for future use. Tap water at 75º F was then poured into the Patterson container and expelled. Lastly, the fixer rinse was poured into the Patterson container for 1 minute, agitating at 30-second intervals and expelled.

One final rinse with tap water at 75ºF for one minute repeated was next.

The film was then removed from the Patterson container, and hung up to dry.

fig 8

Figure 8. Paterson upper system 4 universal developer set

Developing with 35mm Kodak Color Plus 200 C-41 Kit
The only difference when developing this film was the chemical kit used, and the developing times for each phase of the procedure were different.

fig 9

Figure 9. C-41 Powder kit.

Developer: 3 minutes @ 101ºF
Blix A & B: 6 minutes @ 101ºF
Stabilizer: 1 minute @ 101ºF
Rinse: 1 minute @ 75ºF

The overall procedure is the same as with the Ektachrome film.

Film composition and how it's manufactured

fig 9
Figure 10. Film composition details.

Film formats are composed of two layers: the emulsion layer with separate subsection layers for color, which supports the photosensitive material, and the thicker transparent plastic base, which supports the emulsion layer. The base is generally composed of one of three types of plastic: nitrate, acetate, or polyester B&W and color photochemical emulsions on translucent plastic backing with sprocket holes running down one or both sides. With B&W, the plastic support may be nitrate, acetate or polyester. If color, the plastic may be either acetate or polyester. The gelatin is made from animal hides and has never been synthetically reproduced. Estar-based film has a polyester backing is used to give the film greater resistance to tearing or breaking.

fig 11

Was a special film used for the Apollo lunar surface images?

The big question remains, how could the Apollo images, allegedly taken on the lunar surface with a camera using Kodak Ektachrome transparency film, be so perfect, when such film is affected by the levels of vacuum known to exist in space and on the Moon?

At a level of Torr 10-12 it is a very hard vacuum indeed. That is the level at which metals 'cold weld' together, water boils immediately and liquids 'outgas'. In low-Earth orbit, where the ISS currently orbits, the vacuum level is a relatively soft Torr 10-6 due to the presence of some air molecules. Torr levels measuring vacuums are named after Evangelista Torricelli (1608-1647) an Italian physicist who had invented the barometer in 1644.

HJP (“Douglas”) Arnold, the Assistant to the Managing Director of Kodak Ltd during the Apollo era was the representative that Kodak in Rochester had appointed to answer questions put to him in July 1996. He stated that all the photographs taken on the Moon were taken with normal Ektachrome film of the day on a thin ESTAR base. Arnold emphasised that essentially the film used for the lunar surface still photography was ordinary high speed Ektachrome emulsion, 160 ASA (as it was then).

It has been claimed by those defending Apollo, that a “specially extended range color slide film” that “allowed the astronauts to take perfect National Geographic-quality pictures” and dubbed XRC film was used for lunar surface photography (Aulis Online). But if this XRC film was used on the Moon without the knowledge of those at Kodak charged with the promotion of Apollo in the UK, as HJP Arnold was, then he must have been given erroneous information. And in turn the public must have been unwittingly misinformed. As an aside, nor were Hasselblad, the makers of the Lunar Surface Camera, officially aware of any extended range colour film that may have been produced for Apollo.

It could well be the case that claiming the Apollo pictures were possible because of a ‘special’ film is attempt at back-engineering an explanation for the existence of ‘supposedly impossible-to-achieve’ photographs. And If Richard Hoagland was in possession of this XRC film and, as he has stated, used many rolls of it while advising Walter Cronkite – then by his own admission RCH could be involved in a secret withheld from those within the program as well as the public. If this were so, whatever the reasons (military or otherwise) for such an undertaking, surely RCH is in no position to maintain the moral high ground over those who query the validity of the official Apollo record.

Pressurized cameras used in space

The hard vacuum of space starts at 62 miles (316,800 feet) above the Earth. At just 10 miles above sea level (52,800 feet) atmospheric pressure is already down to 1 psi.

fig 12

Figure 12. Atmospheric pressure relative to height.

fig 13

Figure 13. HEXAGON KH-9 Reconnaissance Satellite in the Space Gallery at the National Museum of the US Air Force. (US Air Force photo by Jim Copes)

The HEXAGON photo reconnaissance satellite KH-9 had its capability considerably upgraded from previous KH satellites. It had twin cameras to produce stereo images which would be used to determine the heights of rockets and sizes of ships and buildings. Previous experiments with photographic film used in space had demonstrated that film became brittle in a vacuum and so was essentially unusable. However if the film was kept at a minimum pressure of 1 psi, it would work just fine. The photographic film used in the HEXAGON satellite was loaded onto huge reels containing up to 30 miles of film.

fig 14

Figure 14. HEXAGON KH-9 Reconnaissance Satellite system.

Inside the main body of the HEXAGON satellite the complete assembly, comprising the reels, film transport system and cameras were housed in a separate pressurized container, using a Nitrogen gas canister.

Film Study for the lunar surface hand-held camera

In 1965 NASA commissioned Edgerton, Germeshausen & Grier, Inc to prepare a study to determine the optimum design of a photographic film for the lunar surface camera. The research laboratories investigated film in a space simulation environment showing the effects of vacuum, temperature, radiation and so forth on film with results that damaged and degraded the film. The Apollo space project nevertheless did not adopt the recommendations. Neither did the agency address the problems or concerns regarding storage and use of the film. As born out in NASA's own Apollo documentation, photographs and motion picture film.


During these tests the air was allowed in to the chamber very slowly, the chamber was evacuated and this cycle was repeated three times over a three-hour to eight-hour period of time. The film that was stowed on board the LM would have experienced the same amount of cycling over this time period, if not more.

Following these tests 8:30pm on December 30, 2019, Rob Williams discussed this hue change /browning/fogging effect with visual effects expert Tim Trumble. He concluded that it was not due to the vacuum per se, but attributes the results to the cycling in and out of the vacuum chamber.

It is therefore concluded that all the film stowed on board of the LM should have produced the same or similar fogging effect as has been demonstrated in these experiments. And that the multiple exits and entries of the later Apollo missions would mean that such effects should be even more in evidence on their resulting imagery.

Rob Williams, Marcus Allen and Scott Henderson

Aulis Online, March, 2020

fig 15
Video interview
with Scott Henderson discussing photographic film changes in low pressure environments.


1. Glenn Materials Experiments Ultraviolet Exposure Testing of Polymer Films
2. Two videos showing how film is manufactured here and here
3. Lunar Orbiter data, NASA document
4. Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, NASA document
5. Aulis Online: Did We Land on the Moon? Follow-up to the TV documentary transmitted 2001
6. HEXAGON (KH-9) Mapping Camera Program and Evolution document
7. Study prepared for the National Aeronautics and Space Commission Manned Spacecraft Center, Advanced Spacecraft Technology Division Lunar Surface Technology Branch, June 1965. The facilities of the Lunar Environment Laboratory of Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories at Bedford, Massachusetts were employed to subject certain photographic films to low pressure atmospheres. The vacuum chamber, normally capable of attaining pressures of 5 x 10-11 mm Hg, is an Ilikon Associates sealable chamber with a capacity of 3 cubic feet. It is evacuated by a mechanical roughing pump and molecular sieve, and final pressure is achieved with a diffusion pump.
8. Simulated Space Vacuum Ultraviolet (VUV) Exposure Testing for Polymer Films.

We consider that this analysis falls under the ‘fair use’ laws of the USA and the United Kingdom, and any copyrighted material is included on a not-for-profit basis for research, discussion and educational purposes only.

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