Leitz (known today as Leica Microsystems) Trinovid binoculars were on the Apollo 11 packing list fifty years ago. Yielding to strict size and weight restrictions, the binoculars were modified – essentially cut in half – to create a monocular that promised the astronauts exceptional “optical clarity, ruggedness, and efficiency” on the moon.
The following is an excerpt from When Neil Armstrong, “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins flew to the moon 50 years ago, they used German technology by Philip Artelt and Nana Brink.
On the third day of the flight to the moon, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin radioed back to Earth: "We’re thinking about taking the monocular with us on the lunar module." He uttered these words to the delight of many people at the optics manufacturer Leitz in the town of Wetzlar, Germany. Just prior to that, however, Aldrin had complained about the single-barrel telescope made by Leitz. He had noted that the image was too shaky, and that the most sensible way to keep the device steady was not to hold it at all; instead, Aldrin let the monocular float weightlessly in the air, allowing him to get a much less wobbly image.
The initial plan had been to leave the monocular in the Columbia space capsule, but the fact that it even made it onto the Apollo moon mission was a big deal. Due to limitations regarding the weight and space taken up by each item, NASA had been forced to plan precisely which equipment could be brought aboard the lunar module. Some items were even left behind on the moon to make room for collected moon rocks.
At Leica, as Leitz is known today, the NASA monocular is not a big topic. "Binoculars never had a special cachet," explains Alfred Hengst, former head developer of the relevant division at Leica and now a retiree. People mostly talked about 'the Leica,' the world-famous camera, he notes. Still, the Leitz Trinovid binoculars were a great innovation; they were small and light yet had outstanding optical performance thanks to their newly developed roof prisms. The Wetzlar-made binoculars were ultimately convincing enough to win over NASA.
At the time, however, they were much too bulky, so the space agency ordered a single-barrel version, pretty much a pair of binoculars cut in half. They also scrapped the attractive leather encasing, as it was unnecessary in the spaceship. One of these rare monoculars is said to have been bought years later by a very lucky individual at a flea market in the US for only a handful of dollars.