40 years since an IMAX camera first filmed in space

IMAX footage shot in space
(Image credit: IMAX)

This week marks 40 years since an IMAX camera was first used in space, capturing footage from a historic NASA mission.

Four decades ago, on 18 June 1983, Space Shuttle Challenger embarked on its second of ten voyages into space (its tenth being the unsuccessful 1986 mission that saw the vessel explode during launch). The 70mm IMAX camera was operated by astronaut Sally Ride – the first American woman in space.

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Indeed, Challenger is perhaps the most legendary Space Shuttle in history thanks to its numerous firsts. Its maiden voyage in April 1983 saw the first ever spacewalk during a Space Shuttle mission, with its fourth mission in February 1984 seeing the first untethered spacewalk.

It was also the craft that carried the first African-American, Canadian and Dutchman in space – along with the first ever private citizen, teacher Christa McAuliffe, who tragically perished with the other six crew members on its ill-fated final mission.

For the June 1983 mission, though, Challenger was outfitted with an IMAX camera for the first of what would be many times. IMAX cameras became a common fixture on NASA craft until around 2015, when digital cameras and 4K started taking over from analog and 70mm film. 

With Ride behind the lens, the 70mm footage captured by the camera was featured in the legendary 1985 IMAX documentary film, The Dream Is Alive (which I vividly remember watching during my first visit to the Kennedy Space Center in 1989!). 

You can see the astronaut training with the camera, along with a video of a replica and a still of the original (which has been donated to the Smithsonian) in the slides of the Instagram link below.

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James Artaius

The editor of Digital Camera World, James has 21 years experience as a journalist and started working in the photographic industry in 2014 (as an assistant to Damian McGillicuddy, who succeeded David Bailey as Principal Photographer for Olympus). In this time he shot for clients like Aston Martin Racing, Elinchrom and L'Oréal, in addition to shooting campaigns and product testing for Olympus, and providing training for professionals. This has led him to being a go-to expert for camera and lens reviews, photo and lighting tutorials, as well as industry news, rumors and analysis for publications like Digital Camera MagazinePhotoPlus: The Canon MagazineN-Photo: The Nikon MagazineDigital Photographer and Professional Imagemaker, as well as hosting workshops and talks at The Photography Show. He also serves as a judge for the Red Bull Illume Photo Contest. An Olympus and Canon shooter, he has a wealth of knowledge on cameras of all makes – and a fondness for vintage lenses and instant cameras.