NASA Podcasts

Shuttle Era: Imagery
› View Now
Mike Curie, STS-133 Launch Commentator: 2, 1, booster ignition. And the final liftoff of Discovery!

Perhaps one of the most impressive images is that of a space shuttle lifting off the launch pad, riding plumes of bright orange flames.

But more than just providing an impressive sight, shuttle images play a critical role in launch safety.

Each successful launch depends heavily on still and video images that allow the launch team to closely scrutinize the spacecraft both before and during liftoff.

Long before the main engines fire and the solid rocket boosters ignite, the entire shuttle stack has been thoroughly photographed and continually monitored by TV cameras as the countdown clock ticks down.

Members of a group called the Final Inspection Team play a key role, providing the imagery directly from the launch pad and analysis from the Launch Control Center.

Tom Ford, NASA Team Lead: "The images we take on the Final Inspection Team are sent back to the LCC. When we give the report to the Mission Management Team, and to the launch director, to the SPE, they can look at our imagery, and in particular the ones we single out and tell them that we know there is a problem here, they can do analysis of their own on those images."

The team members can identify and photograph problems that might go undetected without their on-the-spot inspection.

But the launch director and his team aren't limited to just images from the inspection team.

Ivan Bush, Engineer United Space Alliance: "In the LCC we have the ice-frost console and we continuously monitor upward to 135 different camera locations. Those assets are controlled by NASA and other contractors, some as far as, I believe, close to 20 miles south and 20 miles north of the launch complex. Some of these assets are basically large telescopes and they are able to film the orbiter several minutes into its flight profile. We also have, I want to say, about 60 cameras within the actual perimeter of the launch pad. Some of the various assets some are infrared, some are HD, some are standard cameras, some are at higher and slower speed. A lot of them are at about 400 frames per second so we can catch a very, very slow behavioral aspect of each vehicle component, because some components we want to watch how they work the moment they are supposed to go to work. And we'll see them frame-by-frame we watch them frame-by-frame."

So as the final space shuttle pierces the sky over NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, both technology and trained eyes will once again be keenly focused to ensure a safe and successful mission.

› View Now