NASA Reveals Unusual Reason Camera Melted 400 Yards Away From SpaceX Launch

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched seven satellites on May 22—including two from NASA—from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The rocket's nine Merlin engines roared to life, blasting the Falcon up toward space and spewing intense heat below.

A quarter of a mile away, NASA photographer Bill Ingalls had set up a remote camera to catch the action. But when he returned to retrieve it, firefighters were waiting. What was once a fancy camera was now a lump of charred and twisted plastic.

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NASA photographer Bill Ingalls’s camera melted after the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch in California on May 22. The camera’s memory card remained intact, recording its last, blazing moments. Bill Ingalls/NASA

"I had six [remote cameras], two outside the launch pad safety perimeter and four inside," Ingalls told NASA. The destroyed camera was the farthest from the launch site, some 400 yards away from the pad and outside the safety perimeter. However, Ingalls's other cameras survived the launch without a scratch.

Related: Stunning SpaceX launch photos of the Iridium-6, Grace-FO launch From California

Although its body was scorched, the camera's memory card remained intact. It had managed to preserve the camera's last, blazing moments, which you can see in the GIF below:

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In California on May 22, a few startling moments were preserved from the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch on this NASA camera some 400 yards away. The camera itself was destroyed by a brush fire that resulted from the liftoff. Bill Ingalls/NASA

A bed of vegetation, NASA revealed, was to blame for the damage. "Unfortunately, the launch started a grass fire that toasted one of the cameras outside the perimeter," Ingalls said. The intense heat from the launch set the arid California flora alight, causing a brush fire. Flames ripped through the plants and engulfed the camera, melting its plastic body.

What's left of the camera will likely end up on display at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., the agency reported.

Related: Why did SpaceX abort the Falcon 9 Block 5 launch moments before liftoff?

The Falcon 9 was carrying two NASA Grace-FO mission satellites, among others. Short for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On, Grace-FO will track how masses on Earth are moving around the planet. In most cases, this mass will be water, in the form of lakes, rivers, ice sheets and sea levels, for example. The Grace-FO, a joint venture with the German Research Centre for Geosciences, continues the work of the original Grace mission.