A piece of NASA history is up for auction online, and it can be yours if you’ve got a few hundred thousand dollars sitting around. RR Auction is selling a one-of-a-kind Zeiss Tele-Tessar 500mm telephoto camera lens with a starting bid of $50,000. This piece of photographic equipment warrants the high price tag because it was flown on Apollo 15 to the moon and was used by mission commander Dave Scott to snap several hundred photos of the lunar surface.
It’s unlikely you’ll find a compatible lens mount for the Zeiss telephoto on modern cameras, but that’s hardly the reason you’d buy it. The lens was manufactured specifically for Hasselblad EDC (electric data camera), a camera designed to operate in the extreme conditions found on the moon. It had a 70mm frame and interchangeable lenses, but this 500mm beauty was the first telephoto attachment ever designed. It was used to take 293 high-resolution photos on the moon. The body of the lens is 12-inches long with a silver finish that was chosen for its ability to maintain uniform temperatures in direct sunlight.
There are various velcro tabs and strips of tape on the surface of the lens, and it is believed that the tape was applied before or during the lunar mission. That means there could be some moon dust stuck to it, a priceless piece of history. That’s not something you want to let NASA know about, though. All lunar material is considered a national treasure and is property of the government. So, you can’t sell it. That’s not the case with equipment like the Zeiss Tele-Tessar lens.
It was common for NASA to let Apollo astronauts take a few pieces of equipment home as keepsakes after being so kind as to risk their lives. However, it was unclear what legal right the astronauts actually had to those souvenirs. Could they sell them or did they still technically belong to NASA? Congress passed a law in 2012 affirming Apollo-era astronauts did indeed own the equipment they kept from the missions and could sell it if they chose to do so. Thus, Apollo 15 commander David Scott is allowed to sell the lens.
RR Auctions, which has handled a few other high-profile space paraphernalia, but rarely does something like this lens come along. It was the first telephoto lens on the moon, and its providence is completely solid — it’s still owned by the mission commander. RR Auctions expects to see the lend sell for $400,000-600,000 when the auction is complete later this week. It’s already closing in on $100,000 as of this posting.