A SpaceX Rocket Launch Melted a Veteran NASA Photographer’s Camera

A launch with some collateral damage. Bill Ingalls/NASA

Elon Musk may be busy building his journalism rating site Pravda, but he also owes this guy a camera.

Veteran NASA photographer Bill Ingalls was at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base on Tuesday, where Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 launched two NASA probes into orbit.

Ingalls set up six remote cameras to photograph the launch, and five of them emerged unscathed.

Then there was this one.

Oof. Bill Ingalls/NASA

“Well, one remote cam outside the pad perimeter was found to be a bit toasty, sigh,” Ingalls wrote on Facebook.

The “toasty” camera was a Canon DSLR situated a quarter mile from the launchpad. It wasn’t damaged by the Falcon 9 launch itself, but by a brush fire that was triggered by the launch.

Vandenberg’s fire department arrived at the base after the launch ended in order to routinely secure the site. A firefighter found the damaged camera.

This was the first time one of Ingalls’ cameras melted during a launch—he’s been a NASA photographer for 29 years.

Amazingly, the camera was able to take pictures until its demise, and Ingalls was able to save them.

It got one shot of the Falcon 9 achieving liftoff.

We have liftoff. Bill Ingalls/NASA

Then the fire started, and Ingalls’ Canon got a photo of that as well.

Holy smoke! Bill Ingalls/NASA

While this was Ingalls’ first experience with a melting camera, he told Space.com that other launches had kicked up debris on his machines. His cameras have protective housings and lens filters to minimize damage.

Ingalls has not responded to an Observer request for comment.

Other Cape Canaveral reporters have plenty of experience with melting equipment.

In March, photojournalist John Kraus attended the Atlas V rocket launch at NASA headquarters. He brought two Nikon D7000s wrapped in plastic grocery bags for protection.

One of the cameras zoomed in for a closeup shot of the rocket engine and boosters. The other was 300 feet away from the rocket and just to the left of the flame trench, where the rocket directs most of its energy.

The far camera was hit by solid exhaust mixed with water from the rocket’s suppression system. The resulting substance adhered to the lens and caused some damage.

But Kraus said on Twitter that the extent of Ingalls’ damage (and the viral photo that resulted) still takes the cake.

So while several interstellar agencies are working to combat space debris, it looks like they should deal with the debris right here on Earth first.

A SpaceX Rocket Launch Melted a Veteran NASA Photographer’s Camera