Nikon Press Releases

To the Moon and Beyond: Modified Nikon Z 9 in a Spacesuit Is Handheld Camera of Choice for Artemis III Astronauts

HULC. No, not that green-skinned, muscular superhero with superhuman strength and anger issues who wants to smash everything and everyone in its path. Also not to be confused with HuLC (Human Lander Challenge). Instead, this HULC stands for the Handheld Universal Lunar Camera and it will be a Nikon Z 9 full-frame mirrorless camera heavily modified and strengthened to resist the harsh environment and cosmic radiation that the Artemis III astronauts will face on the Moon surface when they land there in September 2026 for a 30-day mission. You probably will be hard-pressed to recognize this Nikon Z 9 as it will be clad in what amounts to basically its own special advanced “thermal blanket” spacesuit. The Artemis III crew will be the first humans to explore the lunar South Pole region and the HULC will allow them to record the mission in still images and videos.

But why the Nikon Z 9 when there are so many other capable full-frame mirrorless cameras? Well, for one, NASA has always had a special relationship with Nikon. When NASA went about shopping for a handheld camera back in the 1960s for use in its space missions, Nikon was selected as a special manufacturer of 35mm film SLR cameras. In 1971, a heavily modified Nikon F SLR camera and some modified interchangeable lenses accompanied the Apollo 15 mission. Two years later, in 1973, another modified version of the F camera, this time with a motor drive, was sent aboard Skylab. In 1981, NASA formally declared the Nikon F3 SLR camera to be an official NASA camera and modified Nikon F3s went aboard the space shuttle. Interestingly, these modified F3s were very similar to the consumer models. In 1984, the F4 with even less modifications were delivered to NASA. Starting in 1999, Nikon F5 SLR cameras and NIKKOR lenses have been used aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to aid in scientific research, maintenance and aiding astronauts capturing iconic images of the Earth. In 2001, the F5 was fitted with a minimally modified Kodak DCS 760c digital back (equipped with a 6.3-MP image sensor) and sent aboard the Shuttle Endeavour. Most recently, physically unmodified Nikon Z 9 mirrorless cameras were delivered to the crew of the ISS.

Source: Nikon

The early modified Nikon cameras meant for space were very costly to produce and Nikon took heavy losses. But they learned a lot in the process in how to build cameras for space. There is no doubt that Nikon will probably incur losses to design, test and produce the HULC — but this should be offset by the tremendous amount of PR and prestige gained in being selected by NASA and especially by the expertise and technical know-how developed that can be applied to improve the reliability and operational performance of Nikon products in very challenging environments. (Perhaps, wink, wink, Nikon will at last be able to industry certify their flagship camera to be water-, dust- and ice-proof after that?)

The first mirrorless camera to the Moon. Smashingly incredible, if you ask me. Nuff said.



Nikon and NASA Collaborating on Handheld Camera Development

Melville, NY (February 29, 2024) – Nikon Inc. has entered into a Space Act agreement with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to support the agency’s Artemis campaign with the Handheld Universal Lunar Camera (HULC) development. The Nikon Z 9, Nikon’s mirrorless full-frame flagship, as implemented in the HULC system, will be the handheld camera for the upcoming Artemis III mission which will be used by the crew returning to the surface of the Moon.

The Artemis campaign is an ambitious and important undertaking for humanity. Artemis will return us to the Moon in order to establish a foundation for long-term scientific lunar research and exploration, eventually leading as a passageway for travel to Mars. Since humankind’s first forays into space, handheld cameras have been used to document the journey, sending back iconic imagery and for research. This Space Act Agreement is a collaboration between NASA and Nikon Inc. to ensure the current state-of-the-art full-frame camera can survive lunar environments while developing an efficient and optimal platform for image and video capture for the mission.

“The opportunity to collaborate with NASA on this endeavor is simply exhilarating yet humbling, as we realize the benefits of this mission have the potential to affect all of mankind in the future,” said Naoki Onozato, President and CEO, Nikon Inc. “As one of the many suppliers and manufacturers collaborating with NASA as part of the Space Act, our aim is to best equip the crew as they bravely bring humanity back to the surface of the Moon, and possibly beyond.”

The Artemis III mission is scheduled to launch NASA’s SLS (Space Launch System) rocket with the agency’s Orion spacecraft in September 2026. The crew’s historic expedition will be the first human landing on the lunar surface since 1972, and this mission will also mark the first time a woman will walk on the Moon. During this 30-day mission, the crew will enter lunar orbit, after which two astronauts will land on the lunar surface in the lunar module (SpaceX’s Starship Human Landing System). After spending approximately seven days on the lunar surface conducting research and multiple Moonwalks, they will return to the Orion spacecraft to join the other two crew members and return to Earth. To help capture imagery, the mission has the need for a common camera platform to reduce overall mass and development efforts while simplifying training and increasing efficiency.

About the Modified Cameras
The Moon surface and lunar environment is a harsh and unforgiving vacuum, which poses multiple technological and engineering challenges. The surface is subject to massive temperature swings, with constant bombardment of cosmic radiation that can damage electrical components. Nikon’s engineers are working closely with NASA to develop solutions to maximize reliability when operating under this kind of extreme environment, including the redesign of various circuits and control sequences within the camera to withstand the vast amounts of radiation. Support will also be given for thermal vacuum testing, running various tests and simulations to help ensure that the camera maintains operational status when 238,000 miles away from Earth.

Additionally, the camera will need to be used by astronauts during extravehicular activities (EVAs), which are instances when the crew will be in space or on Moonwalks. In order for astronauts to comfortably and easily use the Z 9 when wearing the thick gloves of a spacesuit, a custom grip is being developed by NASA, which includes common controls such as a shutter release, playback, still/video capture switching and more. This grip will connect to the camera via the 10-pin terminal, which will be usable with specialized custom firmware created for the cameras. To protect the camera, lens and housing during EVA, a special “thermal blanket” will be created by NASA, which is similar to those currently used during exterior spacewalks by International Space Station astronauts. A selection of NIKKOR Z lenses will also be used for the mission, and those that will be actively used on the Moon will be modified to withstand the harsh lunar environment.

Like the cameras used by the Space Station crew, the firmware will also be specially modified for this mission.  These modifications include accounting for the different circuitry, expanding noise reduction to lower shutter speeds to account for the effects of constant bombardment of cosmic radiation that the crew and gear encounter. Additional changes have been made to the file naming sequence, as well as default settings and controls that are optimized for exterior missions. Changes have also been made to the in-camera communication control to simplify the astronaut’s workflow.  Additional modifications include shutter shield optimization, enhanced HDR functionality and modified default settings for menu items.

Chronicling History Together
Nikon cameras have been used by NASA and space agencies extensively, most recently with the arrival of unmodified Z 9 camera to the crew of the International Space Station. Since the Apollo 15 mission more than 50 years ago, Nikon cameras and lenses have been used by NASA for space exploration. Starting in 1999, Nikon cameras (Nikon F5) and NIKKOR lenses have been used aboard the ISS to aid in scientific research, maintenance and aiding astronauts capturing iconic images of the Earth, the heavens and beyond.

For more information about the NASA Space Act agreement, and a list of the current Space Act agreements, please visit the website here.

For more information the Z 9, Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless flagship, please visit

About Nikon
Nikon Inc. is a world leader in digital imaging, precision optics and technologies for photo and video capture; globally recognized for setting new standards in product design and performance for an award-winning array of equipment that enables visual storytelling and content creation. Nikon Inc. distributes consumer and professional Z Series mirrorless cameras, digital SLR cameras, a vast array of NIKKOR and NIKKOR Z lenses, Speedlights and system accessories, Nikon COOLPIX® compact digital cameras and Nikon software products. For more information, dial (800) NIKON-US or visit, which links all levels of photographers and visual storytellers to the Web’s most comprehensive learning and sharing communities. Connect with Nikon on Facebook, X, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Vimeo and Flickr.

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Specifications, equipment, and release dates are subject to change without any notice or obligation on the part of the manufacturer.
his document is in no way an endorsement from NASA.