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  STS-51L: Airborne footage of Challenger disaster

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Author Topic:   STS-51L: Airborne footage of Challenger disaster
garyd2831
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From: Syracuse, New York, USA
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posted 11-12-2012 12:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for garyd2831   Click Here to Email garyd2831     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Is there any known footage of the Challenger accident from any airborne cameras?

The question came to mind after watching "The Dream is Alive" and seeing the airborne footage of the launch.

dabolton
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From: Round Lake, IL, US
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posted 11-12-2012 04:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dabolton   Click Here to Email dabolton     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In a similar train of thought: Columbia had onboard handheld camcorder footage that survived; would have similar footage had survived the ocean impact/immersion from Challenger (had they been aboard) in 1986?

garyd2831
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posted 11-12-2012 04:20 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for garyd2831   Click Here to Email garyd2831     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I would probably say no to camera footage being found on the ocean floor. It was several weeks I believe before the destroyed crew compartment was found. My guess would be that the salt water at that depth would have destroyed any film found.

I would still like to know if there is any airborne footage of the accident. It would be interesting to see from that attitude and angle a pilot would of had of the tragedy unfolding.

dabolton
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posted 11-12-2012 06:31 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dabolton   Click Here to Email dabolton     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
According to the new John Young biography, he witnessed the accident from a T-38. No indication if footage was obtained.

p51
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posted 11-12-2012 07:00 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I couldn't imagine such footage doesn't exist. This was a very well-covered launch due to the whole teacher in space angle, more so that any other launch (ironically, given what happened) prior to that, other than the first few test launches...

garyd2831
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posted 11-12-2012 07:10 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for garyd2831   Click Here to Email garyd2831     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If footage does exist, it surely has been kept under wrap. I would have to agree due to the amount of attention given to the mission, I can't see why there wouldn't be any footage. In addition I would figure this would be footage that NASA would want to have for all fights for at least study purposes.

dabolton
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posted 11-12-2012 08:26 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dabolton   Click Here to Email dabolton     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I don't recall any mention of this in the accident report. It surely would have been called out as evidence.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 11-12-2012 08:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If I am not mistaken, aerial photography was expanded as a result of the loss of Challenger. After the initial test flights (STS-1 through STS-4), it wasn't deemed a requirement for flight.

Also, media attention wouldn't have overruled closed airspace, and despite the attention to Christa McAuliffe, only one network (CNN) was providing live launch footage.

Jay Chladek
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posted 11-12-2012 09:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Any aircraft airborne at the time over KSC would have been in support of an RTLS abort and Young was likely flying approaches to the KSC runway to report on weather conditions. Even though 51L might have garnered more press coverage than other recent flights due to the Teacher in Space angle (but with the launch coverage satellite feed only being carried on CNN as Robert said), to NASA at KSC, it was more or less still just a "typical" shuttle launch for them and considered routine.

Challenger did likely have a standard set of internal television cameras and a video camcorder on hand, but they would have been stowed for flight. Camcorders back then were rather large beasts weighing a few pounds and you don't want to potentially risk damage if one pops loose during a rocket ascent.

Headshot
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posted 11-13-2012 06:44 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Headshot   Click Here to Email Headshot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I seem to recall a few years ago that someone had discovered aerial footage of the Challenger explosion.

It wasn't really revelatory though. I believe it was taken with an 8mm movie camera by a civilian flying a private plane on the outskirts of the launch area no-fly envelope. It was hand-held, a bit jerky (no image stabilization), not in sharp focus, and the image of Challenger was almost invisible as the camera was not equipped with a decent telephoto lens. If the viewer knew the sequence of Challenger's destruction, he/she could tell what was happening by the rocket plumes, if he/she did not, then it would not have enlightened the viewer at all.

I do not recall where I saw it, but it may have been on CNN's site as one of those finding-a-piece-of-history-in-the-attic stories.

Jay Chladek
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posted 11-13-2012 01:23 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I don't recall anything shot from a private plane, but two videos did surface (one of these being film based if I recall correctly). One was taken at the Orlando airport and the second one was I believe taken from the Causeway south of the pads.

The Causeway footage provided the best angle of the destruction I had ever seen since you could see the breakup and the debris from the orbiter continuing an upward trajectory for a few seconds before beginning its fall. But as you say Headshot, it was a deal where one had to have studied the sequence of the breakup to identify what they were seeing. It was most certainly better than the TV pool feeds from back by the pad and the VAB.

Only other footage that I know of which surfaced were some black and white footage with tracking cameras at CCAFS which Range Safety uses in their determination whether or not a destruct command is needed (which they did issue to the SRBs after the breakup of the vehicle). That footage aired on the "When We Left Earth" series. It was a very tight in shot of the vehicle though, so it didn't necessarily reveal anymore than what had already been seen and analyzed to that point.

garyd2831
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posted 11-13-2012 09:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for garyd2831   Click Here to Email garyd2831     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I found this webpage with an airborne photo claiming to be moments before the accident.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 11-13-2012 09:40 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That is the launch of STS-52 (space shuttle Columbia) in October 1992.

garyd2831
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posted 11-13-2012 09:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for garyd2831   Click Here to Email garyd2831     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks Robert. Good find.

I actually have some ground photos that were given to me that were taken from two different view points of the launch and accident.

jr-transport
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From: Grunthal, MB, Canada
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posted 01-11-2013 12:41 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for jr-transport   Click Here to Email jr-transport     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
How about this?

I saw this thread and immediately thought of When We left Earth. Great DVD set. I quickly pulled this from my DVDs.

Shows the explosion from a couple of angles. I tried posting another bit, but YouTube keeps telling me it's a duplicate.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-11-2013 01:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Despite the video being labeled "from the air," the footage appears to be from ground-based, long-range tracking cameras.

jr-transport
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posted 01-11-2013 02:22 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for jr-transport   Click Here to Email jr-transport     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My bad, I thought the angle was indicative of it being airborne. I was wondering why nobody had posted that footage. I'll change the title of the clip.

garyd2831
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From: Syracuse, New York, USA
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posted 01-11-2013 06:42 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for garyd2831   Click Here to Email garyd2831     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Other than the couple of newly discovered video tapes of the STS-51L launch, this one that is on YouTube provides a very unique view of the launch and one I never see on TV.

Lunar Module 5
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posted 03-13-2013 03:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lunar Module 5   Click Here to Email Lunar Module 5     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There is footage from other pre-Challenger launches taken from helicopters -

And I would be surprised that if John Young was in a T-38 that he didn't at least have a hand held camera onboard - to be used by a backseater. I take it chase were up in case of a RTLS?

On another but related subject - Why are there so few launch photos from the pad cameras available?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-17-2014 09:10 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A "new" set of photos, originally posted to Reddit by Michael Hindes and making their way around social and now traditional media, appear to be NASA aerial shots of the STS-51L launch. Hindes, who I have been in touch with, writes:
My grandmother actually passed peacefully last week, and was because of her passing that I found these.

We were all going through boxes and boxes of photos to find pictures to display at her memorial. I just happened to get the box with the Challenger pictures at the bottom, which was kind of special for me because I am the biggest NASA fan in the family.

He says that it was his grandfather's friend who took these shots.

After discussing the photographs with a few friends, it's believed these are from the vantage point of a NASA or Air Force helicopter. The view is aerial, but too low to be from the Vehicle Assembly Building roof and too high to be the Launch Control Center roof. A helicopter would also explain the inconsistent framing and horizon.

A lot of the resulting news reports have suggested these are photos never seen before, but that's almost certainly not true. If indeed from a helicopter, than they are nearly certain part of the NASA archive (though may not be online). At least one of the photos has appeared on a Feynman-focused site for at least a decade.

ea757grrl
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From: South Carolina
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posted 01-17-2014 03:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ea757grrl   Click Here to Email ea757grrl     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I know these photos have been seen before - although maybe not widely - because I won a set of them in an eBay auction in early 2006.

I don't know the story behind the set, but the photos were in a 1986-vintage photo envelope, and someone's last name was written on the envelope. My guess is the person who took the photos had duplicate sets made for friends/co-workers. They're heartbreakingly vivid pictures.

garyd2831
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From: Syracuse, New York, USA
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posted 01-19-2014 05:52 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for garyd2831   Click Here to Email garyd2831     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Just noticed this article via CNN.com.

Jay Chladek
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posted 01-19-2014 11:34 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If I had to guess the vantage point where these were taken at, I would say in front of the VAB, possibly from on top of a parked MLP or the crawler vehicle given they seem to be a little higher up than ground level. Even though they are of a vehicle in its final seconds, the shots are very well done. Somebody knew their camera settings well when they took them.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-19-2014 11:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I could be mistaken, but I believe the deck of an MLP would be too low.

The photos show the ocean behind the pad.

From the roof of the LCC, which is taller than the MLP, the ocean is barely visible.

From the ground, the ocean is not visible; from the VAB roof, the horizon is farther.

Another reader suggested it could be from a platform inside the VAB looking out through an open door.

mach3valkyrie
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posted 01-20-2014 01:06 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mach3valkyrie   Click Here to Email mach3valkyrie     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In the 12th photo in the sequence, scrolling down, what is coming off the shuttle stack? A piece of debris or wisp of burning fuel? I hadn't seen it prior to that photo.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-20-2014 01:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I believe that is a bird in the foreground.

cspg
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posted 01-20-2014 03:09 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
On the 18th frame, do we see the burn-through on the SRB? It seems so but I'm not sure.

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