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What Really Happened to that Melted NASA Camera?

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Posted May 26, 2018

NASA’s “melted camera” has become a social media thing. As with many photos that spread like wildfire on the Internet, only part of the camera’s story has been exposed so far. Here is the rest of it.

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

NASA photographer Bill Ingalls has been shooting for the agency for 30 years. His creativity and efforts to get unique images are well known within the agency and to those who follow it. He knows where to set up his cameras, so what explains the view from the camera, as seen in the GIF above?

NASA Photographer Bill Ingalls’s remote camera setup before the NASA/German GRACE-FO launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base on May 22, 2018. Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

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

The location and vegetation can be seen in the set-up picture at right. Once the fire reached the camera, it was quickly engulfed. The body started to melt. When Ingalls returned to the site, firefighters were waiting to greet him. Recognizing the camera was destroyed, Ingalls forced open the body to see if its memory card could be salvaged. It could, which is how we can see the fire approaching the camera.

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, a quarter of a mile away.

NASA Photographer Bill Ingalls’s camera after it was caught in brushfire caused by the launch of the NASA/German GRACE-FO from Vandenberg Air Force Base on May 22, 2018. Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The “toasty” camera (below right), as Ingalls calls it, is likely headed for display somewhere at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. Meanwhile, Ingalls himself will soon travel to Kazakhstan to photograph the June 3 landing of the International Space Station’s Expedition 55 crew. He expects that will be a completely normal assignment.

Source: NASA

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