Background: In my November 2012 blog post, I wrote that the Aquarius undersea habitat -- the ocean equivalent of the International Space Station -- was about to close due to lack of funding. With it, the NASA Extreme Environments Mission Operations (NEEMO) programs were in peril, potentially ending more than a decade of researching human spaceflight under the sea. Fortunately, as shown in an update, at the last minute Florida International University took up the reins of funding and managing this imporant national resource.
After nearly coming to an end in 2012, two years later the NEEMO project has come back strong, with two missions, NEEMOs 18 and 19, in 2014. At this writing, NEEMO 18 just concluded (very successfully), with NEEMO 19 about three weeks away. Having been a contractor with the NEEMO project since its inception in 2001, over the years I've "worn many hats," including, at times, photographer. On NEEMO 18 shooting wasn't my primary role (I was primarily a support diver); that duty fell to accomplished imager Mark Widick (check out his amazing space shuttle launch shots!), who was sporting a Hasselblad H3D in an underwater housing.
If you're not a photographer, you may not know that Hasselblad is considered the highest quality professional camera available. Hasselblad makes each with a unique combination of mass production and hand crafting, with a large sensor and the world's finest lenses. Its current top end model (the H5D-60) is a 60 megapixel camera (about twice the resolution of the current highest DSLR sensor at 36 megapixels), which continues a 50+ year trend. During that span, Hasselblad has been the tool of choice in the fashion industry and other high-end imaging, including being the camera that went to the moon. No one argues that Hasselblad is the best of the best for high end, commercial imaging.
But, it's a high-ticket item -- an order of magnitude more costly than the finest Nikon and Canon DSLRs (you want the best, you have to invest), so while I shot Hasselblad a lot during the film era, until NEEMO 18 I'd never had a chance to shoot the new digitals. They were out of reach for me financially. Mark could see the longing (i.e., envy, lust, jealousy) on my face and, being a kind and merciful person, graciously handed his Hassy to me during two dives in which I was, at least officially, just his dive buddy. While I can hardly say I shot it enough to get to know it well, I immediately fell in love -- you have to shoot to understand it, but just feels right. With it, I captured several images I like, including this one of NEEMO 18 mission commander astronaut Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. For this shot, I was under the Aquarius habitat (it's on a frame about 20 feet off the bottom) at the end of a simulated EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity, a.k.a. "space walk") as he was securing his life support umbilical. He turned from his task for just a beat and looked my way, giving a shot that connects you with him.
After one of our many dives during the mission, someone helped Mark by taking his camera system from him as he came out of the water. "Careful with that," I cautioned, "That's $20,000 under the sea." I wish I created this little play on words, but actually pioneer underwater photographer Jerry Greenberg did. He published an image with that title in the early 1960s, showing all the equipment he used as an early pro underwater photographer -- multiple underwater camera systems, scuba gear, several scuba cylinders -- even a boat -- all of which the caption said came to a bit more than $20K.
That says something about inflation over the last 60+ years, to be sure, but even so, I don't think he had a Hassy. He'd have loved it if he did.