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5 Tips for Taking Care of Your Lenses in Outer Space

Darin Bradley

You’ve read everything the internet has to say about protecting your equipment on a shoot, but what about working in outer space?

We all know how to protect our equipment on a shoot. All those short films and school assignments and video tutorials have taught most of us what can happen to your gear on a shoot—the hard way. The issue can be an even bigger pain when you’re talking about rented equipment and insurance. We could build an entire internet out of articles on tips and tricks for protecting your gear, but what if your first job out of film school is taking care of the lenses for a sensor crew on a Klingon Bird of Prey? Where are those articles.

Bird of Prey
Serving the Klingon Empire aboard a Bird of Prey is a great way for young filmmakers to jumpstart their careers and see a bit of the galaxy. Image via CBS.

In this helpful guide, we’ll walk you through a few important details of taking care of your equipment in space so you won’t look stupid on your first day. First up: making friends.

1. Make Friends

Images via CBS and Paramount Pictures.

One of the biggest risks to the lenses in your care when you’re cruising around faster than light is space crap. There’s a lot of crap in space. Little pieces of crap, big pieces of crap. It’s everywhere. You think space would be clean because nothing can really live in it, but no—it’s dirty. If any of this crap slams into your lens, you’ll hear about it during your next quarterly report.

So, you need to make friends with the deflector crew. These guys usually run with the engineers and may not want much to do with your science team (especially with a civilian contractor like you), so bribe them. The deflector will keep all of that space crap from hitting your lens while you’re flying around, which will keep your department head happy the next time the captain calls for emergency sensor sweeps.

2. Don’t Breathe

We’ve been breathing on things to “clean” them for ages—video game cartridges, eyeglasses, ancient artifacts in caves. But when it comes to lenses, this isn’t a good idea. The lenses for your sensors are highly sensitive instruments—even boring old Earth satellites can do cool things like “capture Earth imagery with a resolution of 1m (3.2ft) from an orbit distance of 600km.” The capability of the sensors and their lenses onboard a Bird of Prey makes this look like the My First Magnifying Glass you got for Christmas when you were five.

Images via Shutterstock’s Space collection.

Breathing on your glass isn’t a good idea under any circumstances, but when you’re out on the hull servicing the sensors, your breath will freeze on your lens. And, unless you’re capable of using space magic to keep yourself alive in the vacuum of outer space, you’ll also be dead.

3. Remember Your Lens Caps

Everybody knows that one person on set who just doesn’t keep up with lens caps. They all end up with little strips of tape and a number so everyone else can keep them straight, and then you just find them multiplying and lying everywhere like tribbles. Yelling at the lens-capless doesn’t seem to work either—it just encourages them to do more annoying things like coiling cables improperly and never returning the plate to the tripod head.

Images via Shutterstock’s Space collection.

Starship captains don’t like it when you do this, so be sure to replace the lens caps on the sensors after every use. Anytime your superiors want to survey a nebula or scan a spacetime anomaly, it’s your duty to crawl outside and uncap the lenses. Hang on until the scan is complete, replace the cap, and then you can come back inside. Forget, and your Klingon hosts will show you the business end of a bat’leth.

4. Negatively Charge the Air

Interstellar warships use all kinds of different sensors, many of which your Klingon hosts will not allow you to mess with. You’re a filmmaker, after all—what do you know about gravimetrics? You’ll want to stay away from most of these, but the sensors that use lenses can, like their Earth-bound counterparts, become dusty. This is a problem.

James Tiberius Kirk
James Tiberius Kirk via CBS.

When you’re magnifying space images to identify enemy vessels, alien species, or hazardous space debris, you could cause a real fuss if your sensor is reporting something that isn’t there simply because it’s got space dust on it because you keep switching out the lenses. But, the last thing you want to do is start messing with the sensor itself. That way lies malfunction, downtime, and being launched out a torpedo tube.

Get to know your new home with this helpful walkthrough!

Instead, you’ll just want to keep your sensor surfaces negatively charged during operation to repel dust, and if you must, shake them rapidly (but gently) at a rate between 35,000 and 50,000 hertz—or a few tens of thousands of times per second. (You should probably take a shake weight with you to practice.)

5. Double-Knot Your Grav Boots

Working on a sensor crew involves a lot of walking around on the outside of the hull. It just makes sense to send crew members out for routine maintenance, operations, and upkeep—relying on automated computer systems, robotic arms, and system backups would just be flat-out more expensive and less . . . human (or Klingon). The best warriors like to get out and crawl around on the ship to make sure everything is in fighting order for the next volley of phaser blasts and torpedo detonations. How can you really know your ship if you stay inside it all the time?

So, you’ll be out there, changing lens caps, not breathing on lenses, and shaking sensors pretty regularly. Luckily, you’ll have a pressurized EVA suit and a trusty pair of grav boots. Just be sure you double-knot those laces, or you can slip right out of them and drift out of transporter range before you can get your universal translator up and operational. You’ll have some pretty cold toes by the time you call for help, and it won’t matter anyway.

And, there you have it. Keep these five tips in mind, and you’ll get your sea legs aboard your host vessel in no time. You’ll be chugging Klingon blood wine, singing hymns to Kahless, and munching gagh before you know it, and who knows—you just might capture enough B-roll for that documentary project you keep telling everyone you’re going to finish.


For more filmmaking tips and advice, check out these articles:

Top image via Shutterstock’s Space collection.

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