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NASA Modified Nikon N90S
w/ Kodak DCS 460C Digital Back
(The 9/11 camera)

The Kodak DCS 460c was the second digital Nikon camera used by NASA in space, replacing the NASA Nikon F4 Electronic Still Camera (NASA's home grown digital system). The DCS460c was a much more compact, higher resolution body that made its debut in space aboard the shuttle Atlantis in March of 1996.

The DCS460 was produced for NASA in three versions: Colour, Monochrome and Infrared, and all were configured with a Nikon N90s body. The digital back was capable of rendering 6 megapixel images at 12 bits/colour. Its imager measured 18.4mm x 27.6mm which yielded a magnification of the focal length of only 1.3x compared to modern Nikon DX format digital sensors which magnify the focal length by 1.5x.

The camera allowed for normal operation in all exposure modes and had a continuous-frame capture rate of approximately 12 seconds/image. Its large rechargeable battery pack was installed inside the digital back on the side of the drive, and would yield 250 images per charge.

The Kodak DCS460 cameras played a key role in being able to transmit high resolution images back to Earth in near-real time. The camera was also an essential figure in the highly successful EarthKam project which students were able to send instructions to space of images they wanted photographed, and have those images returned directly from the Space Station.

This page will provide more detail on the specific camera depicted below, pointing out its unique attributes. This camera is the most historically significant camera I have ever owned as it is the unit used by Astronaut Frank Culbertson, to photograph the aftermath of the Terrorist attacks on New York City on September 11, 2001. I never felt right about owning such an important piece of history, so in 2013 the camera found a new home at a space museum and will hopefully be featured in a future public exhibit

This camera boarded the Shuttle Discovery for Mission STS-102 on March 8th, 2001. This was a supply mission to the International Space Station. The camera was part of the Station's payload and would serve to photograph earth during Expeditions ISS002 and ISS003. The camera then remained on the Space Station until the middle of December of that year, before finally returning to earth on December 17th, 2001, aboard Shuttle Endeavour's mission STS-108

Note the "Class III Not for Flight' decal applied to the grip. When an item returns from a mission, NASA inspects the equipment thoroughly. During this inspection they would looks for points of failure and either address them or decommission the equipment.
An item may also be decommissioned if the equipment is made obsolete. When this decommissioning takes place, the NOT FOR FLIGHT decal would generally be applied and the unit would be taken out of service

The second decal that appears on the front indicates that this particular model was a Colour Digital camera. There were other versions that NASA used including a monochrome and an infrared model.

Two other decals appear on the front. The first is an ISS PLD decal to denote this was International Space Station payload, and therefore was likely not used while it was on the Space Shuttle enroute to or from the Space Station.

The large decal is the Johnson Space Center's inventory tag. This tag carries various information regarding the item so it can be catalogued correctly in NASA's Functional Equipment History Log.

Light blue velcro patches are applied by NASA to equipment that is used in zero gravity. This enables pieces to be held in place when not being used, and prevents them from floating around inside the shuttle or space station.

Note the image above showing the top of the camera body. Instructions to the astronauts have been painted on the side of the finder to remind them to adjust the exposure compensator on the camera (denoted with the plus/minus sign) to "-1.3" when they take photographs with a flash unit. Little 'cheat sheet' decals and instructions like this are common on the space cameras.

The rear of the camera features a number of NASA decals, with some of them being 'cheat sheet' reminders. Although Astronauts were given fairly extensive training in the photographic equipment at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX it was no doubt very helpful to have these additional aids.

Connections on the rear of the digital back were for attaching various equipment, such as intervalometers and for downloading directly through a SCSI cable to a computer while on the Station.

NASA's photographic equipment that had metal casings would usually have the NASA part number (SEDxxxxxxx-xxx) engraved, however parts that were softer (such as plastics or wires), would usually have decals with the part and NASA serial numbers

Note the decal that shows 'ASA 100 200'. This is an interesting decal. The consumer version of the Kodak DCS460c Colour model was designed to have an effective sensor sensitivity of ISO 80. This decal suggests that perhaps the NASA version may have had a modified sensor enabling it to be more sensitive to low light.

The camera has its Part Number decal on the rear. The camera is prefixed ESC to denote (Electronic Still Camera)

A door on the side would store the camera's Hard Drive. This was before the days of the memory card, so the camera hard drive was considerably larger.

NASA did not surplus their hard drives. The actual drives NASA used were made by Callunacard. Initially, they had a storage capacity of 260MB so they could store 42 images. Eventually the storage was increased to 520MB on the drives for later flights.

The serial number on this camera is 460-2274. This serial number can be tagged back to the Metafile from the actual digital images produced by this camera.
Over 100 images from this camera and their metafile data can be found on NASA's online image library

As mentioned, this camera is specially unique as it was the camera that Astronaut Frank Culbertson used to photograph New York City on September 11th, 2001 hours after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Here is one of the images this camera made that day:
http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/scripts/sseop/photo.pl?mission=ISS003&roll=E&frame=5388
Image courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center

Scrolling down the page, look for the VIEW CAMERA FILE button and click it to see the metafile tagged to the image

Note the matching serial number.

The original label from NASA's inventory is still adhered to the lens. I have kept it in place for context. Not sure if it adds value or not.
The label lists the Manufacturer, a description of the item, the NASA part number (SED XXXX), the NASA serial number, a condition code. I understand a 4 means that the item is operating and good cosmetic condition, but is obsolete. A condition code of 7 means that the item is likely in need of servicing but is cost prohibitive or obsolete. An inventory cost, likely for NASA to keep track of capital expenditures, is also featured on the label

The label also has an ORG and FSC notation, however I was unable to identify what those meant.
You will note that this lens description includes a notation that this lens flew on Shuttle mission STS-65 in July 1994 aboard Shuttle Columbia and again on STS-74 in November of 1995 aboard Shuttle Atlantis

This particular lens, a wide angle, is a plastic barrel and as such, the NASA identification part number and serial number are on a black label affixed to the lens itself. This particular lens' decal is hidden beneath the Johnson Space Center inventory tag

Here are some additional photos taken with this camera:

Hurricane Michelle

Interesting clouds and storms

Cloud formations over Kazakhstan

The Station's Solar Array with Earth behind


Links to my NASA Nikon pages:

CLICK HERE to learn about the NASA Modified Nikon F with Motor Drive

CLICK HERE to learn about the NASA F3 Small Camera

COMING SOON - learn about the NASA F3 Small Camera's EVA Modifications

COMING SOON - learn about my NASA F3 'Big' Camera with the removable 250 Exposure Magazine back

CLICK HERE to learn about the NASA F4 Electronic Still Camera

CLICK HERE to learn about the NASA Nikon HERCULES system

COMING SOON - learn about my NASA F4S Camera

CLICK HERE to learn about my NASA DCS460C Digital Camera used on the 1st and 2nd expeditions at the International Space Station. This one captured shots of the Space Shuttle above earth and even shots of the Space Station itself from the Soyuz Russian spacecraft

CLICK HERE to learn about the NASA DCS460C Digital Camera used on the 2nd and 3rd expeditions at the International Space Station. This one captured the aftermath in New York City on 9/11

COMING SOON - learn about the NASA Modified Nikon Nikkor Manual Focus Lenses

CLICK HERE for the NASA Nikon Serial Number Database; a never ending work in progress to record all the film-based and early digital Nikon gear used in the Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle eras and the early days of the International Space Station

Research and Photo Credits:
Johnson Space Center, Houston TX
United Space Alliance
Space Center Houston
Nikkor Club
Marco Cavina
Erik Black
Peter Coeln - Westlicht Photographica


© 2010-2014 Timm J Chapman - www.onevisionphotography.com

All images on this website are © Timm J Chapman
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