Watch the moment NASA’s rocket launch camera actually melted

28 May 2018

NASA photographer Bill Ingalls’ camera after it was caught in brush fire caused by the launch of the NASA/German GRACE-FO from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Image: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA has seen firsthand what a powerful fire blast can do to a camera after a recent rocket launch.

Everyone loves a rocket launch, all the way from the initial build-up to seeing it soar outside of view and into the atmosphere.

So, it is very common for photographers to set their powerful equipment up near a launch to get the best view, but sometimes this doesn’t exactly work as planned.

Last week, veteran NASA photographer Bill Ingalls had set up a six-camera network ahead of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission launch at Vanderberg Air Force Base in California, expecting to get some good footage.

Little did he realise, however, that he was about to record something that he had likely never come across in all his years of photography, and his clip soon went viral on social media.

Camera catching on fire after launch

Images of a brush fire approaching, then destroying, a remote camera set up to photograph the NASA/German GRACE-FO launch on 22 May 2018. Image: NASA/Bill Ingalls

‘Toasty’ camera to be remembered

In the clip, you can see the rocket taking off but then, suddenly, the screen turns into an inferno before quickly fading to black.

The reason for this was that the vegetation close to the rocket launch caught fire and spread quickly, soon engulfing the affected camera.

When Ingalls returned to the area after firefighters doused the flames, he was able to recover his destroyed camera with the unaffected memory card inside.

“I had six remotes, two outside the launch pad safety perimeter and four inside,” Ingalls said. “Unfortunately, the launch started a grass fire that toasted one of the cameras outside the perimeter.”

Ironically, the four cameras set up inside the perimeter were undamaged, as was the other remote. The damaged camera was one of the furthest from the pad, nearly half a kilometre away.

Ingalls said that the so-called ‘toasty’ camera will now be displayed somewhere at NASA’s headquarters in Washington DC.

Meanwhile, GRACE-FO continues on its mission as part of a joint project between NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences to create global and high-resolution models of Earth’s gravitational field.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic