How did NASA get those great film shots of Apollo and the Shuttle?

How did NASA get those great film shots of Apollo and the Shuttle?


These are some of the iconic pieces of
launch footage from the space race and the shuttle program, shots taken that would
be impossible for any human to see close up and personal and many of them were
done long before we had miniature high-definition cameras and high-speed
data links beaming the footage live from space so how did NASA film these
incredible shots of Apollo the space shuttle and beyond. Now as good as these
look from an aesthetic point of view they weren’t done just to wow the public,
they had a very important engineering role and that was their primary purpose
to show the engineers and scientists just what was going on at critical
stages of the launch and in some cases like the shuttle Challenger and Columbia
disasters they were key in finding out exactly what happened. The story of how
these techniques were developed goes back to the very first long-range
ballistic missile the V2, the world’s first CCTV system was developed by
Walter bruch in order to observe the rocket launches from a safe distance in
a bunker. At the time there was no way to record the video footage, so cameraman
had to stand within the walled test area to film the launches, an extremely
dangerous place to be so close to prototype rockets. Major General dr.
Walter Dornberger, the V2 project leader recalled how on one V2 test the rocket
launched but then stalled and hovered about four metres above the launch table,
something that normally preceded it falling back in exploding. About a
hundred meters from the rocket and next of a test area earth wall a cameraman
was filming it with a hand-cranked camera. After about five seconds the
rocket started to rise as its fuel was depleted and it became lighter, it
gradually rose up remaining vertical and slowly travelling sideways towards the
cameraman who continued filming till it passed almost directly overhead at which
point he then stopped filming and ducked down, the rocket exploded a split second
later and crashed about 40 meters beyond the
test area wall a remarkable feat of bravery on behalf of a cameraman who
survived unscathed. When the U.S. took the surviving stock of around a hundred
V2’s to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico after the war they needed
a way to observe and record their test fights in greater detail and safety than
was done before. In 1946 Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer who first discovered
Pluto 16 years earlier was invited to come to White Sands to help improving
optical instruments tracking of the Rockets. Tombaugh’s team built their
tracking system on a world war 2 M/45 quad mount anti-aircraft platform
affectionately known as “little bright eyes” this was because of a binoculars
the operator used to manually guide the field of view along the flight path
which were fitted between the five and six inch reflector telescopes attached
to two 35mm cameras which had replaced the 50 calibre guns.
But it wasn’t only ground cameras that were of importance. In 1946 Clyde Holliday
an engineer working on the V2 program modified a 35 mm movie camera to
withstand the shock of the launch and the impact when it came back to earth. On
October 24th 1946 the camera which used Eastman Kodak Super XX film running at 4
frames per second was mounted into an aluminium case with ten millimeter thick
walls and into the body of a V2 rocket and then launched to a height of a
107 kilometers. This was the first time that anyone had seen the
earth from the edge of space. From here they could clearly say 1,200 kilometers
in all directions in area the equivalent of 4.1 million square kilometers and
they could clearly see the curvature of the earth. The M-45 platform was used on
three further tracking mounts at the White Sands range and some of the T4
systems are still in use today. But as America went from testing small
ballistic missiles of a mighty Saturn V, a huge array of different cameras became
necessary to check the complex systems during launch. At the
John F Kennedy Space Center in Florida a concrete launchpad at complex 39a was
riddled with fixed high-speed cameras able to record on for 16mm film
at 500 frames per second. By the time of Apollo 11 there were 201 cameras recording the launch 119 for engineering and 82 for documentary purposes. This footage is from camera E8
which was housed within the concrete pad itself out of line of sight of the
engines and pointed at a heat-resistant mirror made of quartz glass to avoid
being destroyed at liftoff. Above the pad similar high frame rate cameras on
gantry’s film the Rockets clean separation from the umbilical
connections as for Saturn V cleared the tower. The ascent was broadcast to a live
TV audience worldwide from a camera on a mount descended from Tombaugh’s bright
eyes. From the mid-1960s purpose-built tracking mounts were made by companies
like Photo Sonic’s, their cine-sextant optical tracking mount held twin
telescopes on powerful motorized pedestals allowing heavier optics to
track the launch at greater ranges. This footage from Apollo 4 shows the first
stage separation and height of 65 kilometers, 211,000 feet and was captured by a camera on the ground but even with
powerful telescopes like this they couldn’t see the detail of what was
happening in the rocket itself. To see this cameras were fitted into the Saturn
rocket stages to film a stage separations. In fact the now iconic
separation footage seen here was from cameras mounted in the base of the
second stage and is often shown as part of Apollo 11 footage but he’s actually
from Apollo 4. These cameras weren’t used on Apollo 11 due to lack of space available. Apollo 4 was the first unmanned test of a full
Saturn V rocket and many things still remained unknown about how it would
react during the launch. The engineers wanted to see that the
stages separated cleanly and that the interstage structures, that’s the
smaller ring like object here, didn’t hit the engines during separation as the
clearances were very tight. The J2 engines seen in the top of the frame are
firing although the hot exhaust plume is invisible in the vacuum of space but its
effects can be seen on the interstage section as it falls away. On Apollo 6
there were six film cameras and two TV cameras. The film cameras ran out a
100 frames per second and were fitted into pods that were ejected from
the stage shortly after separation as you can see here. These would fall back
to earth and once they were in the lower atmosphere they would inflate para-balloons to Slow landing into the sea and allow them to float. There was also a
radio beacon which was activated and allowed them to be found in the Atlantic
Ocean normally around about 600 miles downrange but not all the pods were
recovered. On Apollo 6 only two of the six were found and in 1964 on mission SA-7 they ended up being ejected into hurricane Gladys as it made its way
across Atlantic. However several weeks later two of them were washed up
undamaged on the islands of San Salvador and Eleuthera. Whilst some of the cameras
filmed the subject directly others were the first to use fiber optics to
remotely place the lenses away from the actual cameras to film places that will
be otherwise inaccessible, like this the inside of the fuel tanks to see how the
fuel reacted in low gravity and how much it sloshed around during the launch,
something that could seriously affect the Rockets guidance if it was not
controlled. A decade later the tracking mounts again
had to catch up with a broadcast of the first flight of the American space
shuttle Columbia. When the shuttle launched on the 12th of April 1981 the
stakes were high, to broadcast the launch to a TV audience who were now more than
ever watching in full color. A government contract was awarded to the private
company Contraves to deliver a new mobile optical
platform which they called the Kineto Tracking mount or KTM. Like the photo
sonic platform these retained the recognizable format of the M-45 mount
however they could either be manned or set up for remote operation within the
launch exclusion zone. Although the new robotic mounts were greeted with
suspicion by the camera operators at the Kennedy Space Center, 10 mobile KTMs were positioned around the launch center. short-range optics on these mounts film
from T-10 seconds to T+57 seconds with longer range optics
capturing until T+165 seconds. This piece of footage here of the shuttle
discovery at T+40 seconds is shot from a medium distance camera about 3.8
kilometers from the launch pad using a 150 inch lens with a 4,000mm focal length as the shuttle is accelerating through 20,000 feet. As
discovery goes through a 145,000 feet at a hundred and 23 seconds into the flight, the Boosters separate which is captured
here by another 150 inch 4000mm focal length lens on a KTM. The weight of
the lens alone on these was about a 115kg and the
tracking to keep the discovery in the frame was done by a human and not an
automated system. After three minutes the job of filming the ascent was
transferred to the largest telescope on the site the permanently mounted 24-inch
aperture Recording Optical Tracking Instrument or ROTI. With a focal
length of up to 12,700mm ROTI had enough
magnification to follow the launch for up to five minutes after liftoff. ROTI
used both radar assisted tracking and a joystick for manual adjustment, which
had such a fine sensitivity but it could register the heartbeat of the user if
held to firmly. During the early shuttle launches over a 130
cameras were used to record all aspects of the launch combining 16mm, 35mm and 70mm film formats as well as
high-definition video. Film was used even after the advent of video because of its
high resolution an actual wider dynamic range that’s its ability to keep very
bright and normally lit objects in the same scene without them being washed out.
The video was used for quick access to footage whilst the film was being
processed. The high speed film cameras were placed in explosion-proof boxes
close to the launch pad to record different aspects of a flight. Here is
camera E-19. It’s running at 400 frames per second with a 10 mm wide
angle lens and recording the engine startup and flame pattern. The cameras
were fitted with automatic exposure control to allow them to film the
exhaust plume that from the solid rocket boosters, which looks as bright as the Sun. You can see how wide the dynamic range this gives and how well it works when
combined with film as in this shot you have the super-bright SRB exhaust with
the blue sky behind it and both are perfectly exposed. This shot is actually
recording the operation of the explosive hold down bolts, four of which held down
each of the SRBs to the mobile launch pad until the point of liftoff. Another
great shot is that of a tail service mount disconnect from camera E-18 there
was one of these on each side of a shuttle, one for the liquid hydrogen and
one for the liquid oxygen. Again the 16mm camera used a 10 millimeter
lens and was running at 400 frames per second as were most of the engineering
cameras on the mobile launch pad. What’s not easily apparent from this shot is
the size of a connector. Each one was 1.2 meters wide by 1.8 meters high that’s
bigger than most house doors. They were pulled in with a force of 9,000
kilograms before the protective blast doors dropped down. One of the biggest
challenges was that once the door was shut it was pitch black inside so they
had to be lit by tungsten but the vibration was so strong but it
would blow the filaments in the lamps so on the latest missions LED lighting is
now used instead. Cameras were also vital to the investigation of the Challenger
and Columbia disasters. As the space shuttle Challenger rose into the sky on
the icy morning of January 28th 1986 the high frame rate cameras on the launch
tower filmed a puff of gray smoke escaping from the side of the right
solid rocket booster but by the time the pictures were examined it was far too
late. 17% of all Americans were watching
including millions of schoolchildren as challenger broke up 73 seconds after
launch broadcast live the footage of STS 51- L remains among the most
unforgettable tragic for the space program. During the investigation of the
disaster footage from NASA’s tracking cameras was essential to identifying the
sequence events during challengers last flight with the ROTI’s high
magnification the burst of superheated gas from the SRB can be seen and during
the explosion the individual elements of the orbiter can be identified including
the crew cabin which was designed to survive much greater pressures than the
fuselage and was only destroyed on impact with the ocean surface below. Such
tragic accidents led to wider use of cameras for each launch with a number of
KTMs increasing to 14 following but Columbia Shuttle disaster in 2003 with
the return to flight in 2005 STS-114 had over 400 cameras monitoring the launch
on this launch rocket cam would be used for the second time this is a camera
system that is fitted to the outside of the SRBs and the main fuel tank. At about
127 seconds into the flight a large piece of debris about 92 centimeters by
27 centimeters was caught by a rocket cam falling from the main fuel tank but
luckily not hitting anything. 20 seconds later another smaller pace
hit the right wing but after checking with the orbiter boom sensor system, it
was found not to have caused any damage. Rocketcam is now used on most launches
and is responsible for the amazing external footage of things like booster
separations and the landing of the SpaceX reusable rockets. The return to
flight also used high-definition cameras aboard the B-57 canberra aircraft at an
altitude of 60,000 feet over 18 kilometers for WB 57 ascent video
experiment was able to film a shuttle even in overcast weather tracking the
launch over a 643 kilometre path into space. So what’s your favourite piece of
launch footage let me know in the comments below and maybe you’re one of
the amateur rocketry servers or one of the workers of the Kennedy Space Center
it will be great to hear your views in the comments.
This was also another video voted for by the curious droid Patreon group which
I’d like to thank for all their ongoing support and also you can find out more
by clicking on the link now showing so thanks for watching and please subscribe
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  1. any CEO that tells you failure is not an option at the start..he is a rookie…its the mistakes that makes us smarter on second run…its those people that fail before us, ,that makes us heros,,,up until we fail,then the next crew.. takes over…

  2. 2:00 you say he stopped filming and and ducked when the rocket was overhead, yet there's literally like 7 seconds of footage of it coming down and exploding, he obviously continued filming the whole time. did you even look at the clip?

  3. Fascinating–high quality video. I was very interested to learn of Clyde Tombaugh's contribution to the early rocket imaging effort. I used to see him around the campus at NMSU in Las Cruces, NM, in the 80s.

  4. I'm a 64 year old Norwegian amateur photographer. I had NO idea of the scale of all this. Fantastic video and presentation!

  5. had to use CC to read what he was saying because the music was way too loud, but this is still a cool video

  6. 6:01 6:29 The footage of the rocket stages separating with the earth in the background are among the most amazing images I have ever seen.

  7. Launch and separation has always been my favorites n now with space ex n reusable rockets I love watching the landing of those rockets

  8. this guy is literally here to explain away all of nasa's fuckery. i suppose he'll be saying that tilting shot on the moon was remote controlled by nasa eh….

  9. Thank you for your clear speech and clarification. Really interesting, both as an engineer myself. Thumbs up and an abo given. Your smooth, decent and clear way of talking makes this good to follow, even for someone whose English is not his native tong.

  10. Great video! New sub. One question tho (if anyone knows the answer)…
    If the Challenger problem was actually detected before the “throttle up,” how would they have aborted the mission?

  11. Absolutely fascinating. So many new details for me. I'm not the biggest space nerd in the world but I have been following the US space effort since childhood. This was almost all new to me.

  12. What are those sparks that start flying under the rocket engines right before start up? Is that a special spark generator that throws those sparks to ignite the engines?

  13. My favorite is the full sequence of the E8 camera. I think the burn is the closest you will get to what I think Hell looks like.

  14. I remember being in class 1986 watching the challenger on the tv and remember the challenger explosion but or a brief moment because the teacher turns the tv off.

  15. I also remember living down in Florida in 2003 and outside waiting for the fly of the shuttle and never seen waited for for a while after it supposed to fly over I quit at noon newscast i found out what happened to it

  16. My grandfather RIP was one of those people taking those photos. He worked out of Vandenberg Air Force Base. Of course they took photos of many other things that the air force was developing, most of which he couldn't talk about.

    When I was a young boy my grandfather took me out on the base one day to see the Thunderbird's, a newly formed aerobatic squadron. They we're putting on a show for the purpose of getting some promotional shots. Selected personnel and their family members where invited to attend. While waiting for their arrival my grandfather put me in the operators seat of the mount and let me control it. You looked through a view finder shaped like a pair of goggles and controlled the motion of the mount with a control stick much like an airplane has with buttons that fire the various cameras instead of Gatling guns. I got to swing the mount around a little bit. It was pretty cool.

    My gramps worked on all of the big projects of the space race. I have some pretty cool photos of his that have never been seen before. I avoid publishing them due to possible conflicts with classification but most of them are of things that have been declassified like what's shone in this video so it most likely wouldn't be a problem but who knows. I don't want to take the chance.

  17. 9:40 150" lens?? This is certainly an error! There is no such big lens. It is certainly 150mm lens. Or maybe you meant 15" lens? But certainly NOT 150" !!!

  18. Crazy seeing those old cars in front of that huge rocket. I can understand the moon landing hoax people, it was just plain crazy what they did and with what tech.

  19. If I recall correctly Wernher von Braun himself nearly became a casualty of one his V-2s. It makes me shudder to think that if he'd gotten killed, the Apollo moon landings might never have happened.

  20. This is where Youtube shines – well-made and intelligent mini-documentaries. So sad that the flat earth types believe it's all conspiracy and CGI…

  21. Your coverage of the history and the camera's used is spot on. In 2004 and 2005 we began to use digital camera's with the same optics and platforms. As we worked through the limitations of memory storage and the configuration of the sensors developments in optical tracking also moved forward with creating a nominal trajectory profile for each mission taking in to account the position on the earth of the optic, it's focal length and acquisition time. This is controlled by a computer, but the overall control is still managed by photographers. The sensor size and the exposure dynamic range for digital camera's enabled the transition away from film based sensors. Overall this created a significant cost savings as the film stock used was no longer being manufactured in any quantity or only in special pre-orders for a limited time. The testing and development of high-speed digital sensors has provided support for a number of scientific and engineering processes. Spin off benefits you may have experienced from the development of the sensors and camera system can be found in films and live action sports.

  22. they cant go to space ..there is not outer space …deep blue sky …the firmament ….water above as water below…..BLUE WATER SKY……read your bibles
    note 3:35 rockets veers off…and notice 3:40 the DARK camera aperture .widen over earth type object .use hen decrease aperture creating fake curvature of earth e as we see the black shows change shape ,,BLACKED OUT curve can be seen …bottom and top of earth type image …pay attention ……….pause it
    ,,,all fake bull shit..

  23. During the fake Apollo missions the rocket went unmanned and after it was well out of site it fell into the ocean.
    Men never got to the moon as they realized early on it would have been basically a suicide mission.
    Rather than ending up embarrassed – they simply faked the whole thing.
    Odds of them doing 7 missions to the moon and returning all of them safely would be like
    winning the lottery multiple times in you life.

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