Advanced Imaging


Advanced Imaging Magazine

Updated: July 8th, 2008 05:26 PM CDT

Shuttle's Imaging Network Captures Falling Debris

Advanced Electronic Imaging Network Used by NASA
Shuttle Discovery
Discovery launches.
Cargo Bay
Discovery's cargo bay over Earth's horizon was photographed by one of the seven STS-114 crew members as the astronauts move within 24 hours of docking with the International Space Station.
Soichi Noguchi
STS-114 Mission Specialist Soichi Noguchi gives the camera a quick wave while working on Space Shuttle Discovery's flight deck on Flight Day 1. Flight controllers in the Mission Control Center gave Noguchi the "Electrician of the Day" award for his quick thinking, troubleshooting a problem with the camera.
Commander Eileen Collins
STS-114 Commander Eileen Collins, right, holds a communicator and grins for the camera on Space Shuttle Discovery's flight deck. Mission Specialist Steve Robinson works behind her.
Mission Control
Moments after the launch of STS-114 signaled the Space Shuttle's return to flight, Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston is buzzing with activity.

Larry Adams By Larry Adams

The Discovery shuttle launch appeared flawless, but that was what the eye could see. What the eyes could not see was captured by an upgraded network of electronic imaging equipment on the ground, in chaser planes and onboard the craft while the shuttle was in flight.

The expansive imaging system is an interconnected network of cameras, which ranged from the infrared to the handheld digital, image processing tools and data delivery links to NASA computers.

  • More than 100 cameras captured the launch and landing of the space shuttle Discovery.
  • Inflight inspection was conducted with a series of cameras, lasers and data was downlinked to engineers on earth.
  • Spacewalkers used a space-hardened digital camera to document damage to the shuttle.

Improving Launch and Data Imagery

The upgraded Ground Camera Ascent Imagery system did what it was intended to do. A Sony XC-999 camera, one of 107 ground- and aircraft-based cameras that fed back images and data to engineers at three NASA facilities, caught what NASA calls a "debris event."

The camera captured a piece of insulating foam that tore from the external tank about the time of solid rocket booster separation. This was a problem similar to the one that eventually led to the February 2003 destruction of the shuttle Columbia 16 days after takeoff. The chunk did not strike the Discovery, but was nearly as large as the estimated 1.67-pound piece of insulating foam that struck the Columbia.

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