Issue NHS 95
The F4 from flight STS-053:

The F4 body, in issue 95, is a part of a complete, very well known, and semi-well documented, NASA camera system. Well known, because it was the first digital camera in space, and the first use of a laptop in space. There are also photos from orbit, posted on the web, taken by the system.

Meant to go into orbit on STS-048, according to NASA, it seems to have gone on STS-053 and 56, at least that is where I found photos when doing a seach on NASA's photo database.

The F4 body shown in NHS issue 95, is certainly interesting as part of this system. It is amazing that it has surfaced, as a new boxed part! There is even a warranty slip stating this this a "NASA" F4!

NASA refers to the complete camera system as the HERCULES: Hand-held Earth-oriented Real-time Cooperative, User-friendly, Location, targeting, and Environmental System. The F4 Nasa is genuine Nikon product, supplied to NASA, as was confirmed by Nikon (Minura Kosho of Mito factory to Chris Sap), and the documents included with the eBay camera referenced below. Everything shown in the complete Hercules photo below was re-engineered/designed by NASA, or the US Navy to be part of the Hercules camera/system.

Nikon Parts Supplied to NASA:

The parts supplied by Nikon for the NASA Hercules camera included:
1) The F4 Body
2) DA-20 action finder
3) Lenses modified were the 20mm AF Nikkor, 35-70mm zoom AF Nikkor, 50mm f/1.2 AF Nikkor and 180mm AF Nikkor.

What company was the contractor for the back and battery control unit is unclear (they look like Nikon), this is NASA's description of the complete system.

"HERCULES system consists of a specially modified GRID Systems portable computer mounted atop NASA developed Playback-Downlink Unit (PDU) and the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) developed HERCULES Attitude Processor (HAP); the NASA-developed Electronic Still Camera (ESC) Electronics Box (ESCEB) including removable imagery data storage disks and various connecting cables; the ESC (a NASA modified Nikon F-4 camera) mounted atop the NRL HERCULES Inertial Measurement Unit (HIMU) containing the three-axis ring-laser gyro. The HERCULES camera was flown on STS-53 Discovery, Orbiter Vehicle (OV) 103, Department of Defense (DOD) mission."

When NASA refers to "a NASA modified Nikon F-4 camera" apparently they do not mean that the work itself was done literally by NASA, but that NASA engineers (or contractors) designed the modifications, and Nikon in Japan did the actual work for NASA as a contractor.

The modified F4 body, does not function, as a camera, without the other parts of the complete Hercules system, it will not make photos, even with a regular Nikon back. Starting with an standard F4 body, NASA has converted it into a focus mount, and shutter.

For a collector to have a complete Hercules system, there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle. The Hercules camera itself is not a Nikon design, it is a NASA design, using some Nikon parts. There is no indication from published NASA documents I could find of how many of these systems were built.

The F4s we see have seen for sale seem to be unused NASA spare parts, for the system. There is no evidence that more than two complete systems even existed, but may have been limited to the one on flight STS-053, and 56, although surely there was a backup.

The First Digital Image Stabilizer?

The Hercules system "containing the three-axis ring-laser gyro" is probably the first, and most sophisticated, image stabilizer on any digital camera! You can see it attached to the bottom of the camera, it is the round canister in the system photo.


The format of the camera was a square image about the size of an APS digital camera (12mm). Square images taken with the camera are linked below (3). It was only a 1 million pixel CCD, black and white, but the resulting photos are pretty spectacular.

Bob's last caption (page13) "Whatever this camera intended to record, a square image was needed. We will never know" is a bit confusing, since this is such a well known camera. I assume he meant why the square format? I just always assumed the CCD was square because of the photos, taken by the camera, shown on the web, but have never seen the CCD.

Now we have seen into the back of the F4 body, thanks to the new photos by Chris Sap, confirming the square format, I wonder if someone has photo of the CCD?

Further Reading:

For NHS members here is a good place to start reading about the NASA Hercules which used Nikon parts:

(1) (description of the Hercules)
(2) (the NASA F4 in box)

Above two links have links to the Space Center.

(3) (photos taken by system during STS-56)
(4) (official NASA photo of the System)
(5) (the camera in use, with the GYRO mounted, shown below)
(6) (first flight of the Hercules press kit)
Here is an abstract on the Hercules development:


The Computer from STS-053:

"As a groundbreaking design, the GRiD Compass ran GRiD-OS, its very own operating system. Its specialized software and high price (US$ 8-10,000) meant that it was limited to specialized applications. The main buyer was the U.S. government. NASA used it on the Space Shuttle during the early 1980s, as it was both powerful and lightweight. The company was purchased by Tandy in 1988."

Especially interesting is who made the chip in the back? Anyone have information on the back or Gyro?