Incredible Space Shuttle Picture: Is it Real?

by Nancy Atkinson on February 5, 2013

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A composite image of NASA's space shuttle. Credit: NASA/Richard Silvera. Copyright Richard Silvera.

A composite image of NASA's space shuttle. Credit: NASA/Richard Silvera. Copyright Richard Silvera.

This fantastic — or perhaps fantastical — image of a space shuttle launching through the clouds has been getting a lot of comments on the social media circuits. But is it real?

No, it is a composite of two different images put together by photographer Richard Silvera.

“The picture of the sky and clouds was taken by me from an airplane,” Silvera wrote on his website, “and the shuttle is a picture from NASA. Then the assembly was done in Photoshop & Lightroom.”

While this is a beautiful image, as some have commented on the G+ Space Community, there are several tell-tail signatures that this image could never have been taken. The shuttle did not launch perfectly vertical (roll program starts shortly after launch, about 10 seconds after main engine ignition), and with the restrictions on aircraft being in the area during a launch, no one could have had this perspective and been so close as to take a picture like this.

However, here is a “real” image to compare, of Atlantis launching through the clouds, during the STS-129 mission in 2009:

Atlantis Breaks Through the Clouds

Space shuttle Atlantis emerges through the clouds over Launch Pad 39A on a balmy Florida afternoon at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Liftoff on its STS-129 mission came at 2:28 p.m. EST on Nov. 16, 2009. Credit: NASA

Thanks to Richard Sivera for allowing UT to post his composite image. You can see more of his work on his website.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Mohamed Helmy February 5, 2013 at 5:41 PM

I don’t think it’s real pics

Forrest Tanaka February 5, 2013 at 12:44 PM

Was thinking it might be possible if there was low-level fog while the shuttle was being transported on the crawler, but they probably don’t get that kind of fog in Florida the way we do here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

kkt February 5, 2013 at 6:06 PM

I don’t think it’s that great a photoshop. The solid rocket booster on the right’s shadow indicates that the sun is almost at the horizon off the right side of the frame, so the shuttle should be casting a long shadow over the clouds on the left.

Zoutsteen from Holland February 5, 2013 at 6:07 PM

at least he could have tried to scale it correctly. The shuttle would have to be gigantic in this image (in comparison of the clouds).

Christopher February 5, 2013 at 6:09 PM

I think the scale is wrong as well. Judging by their appearance, the clouds are acutally much larger and farther away than they appear given the size of the shuttle. If this were correctly scaled to the clouds, the shuttle would have to be relatively tiny and far away. If the size of the shuttle was maintained, the “cloud” would be just a mist because you’d basically be inside it.

Zoutsteen from Holland February 5, 2013 at 9:56 PM

lol, 2 minutes difference in posts. we must have been typing at the same time, but I typed the short version ;-)

Alex February 5, 2013 at 1:14 PM

Also, for more realistic view the composite image should have bright light shining trough clouds. Example: http://www.washingtonpost.com/rf/image_606w/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2011/07/01/Health-Environment-Science/Images/Space_Shuttle_Legacy_0dd59.jpg

William Nicholls February 5, 2013 at 6:59 PM

It’s not a very convincing composite. I agree with the scale comments and the clouds close to the craft would be illuminated by the rocket motors.

Bruce Thompson February 5, 2013 at 7:22 PM

The pic is obviously not real – for one thing, the glow from the SRBs would have lit up the clouds.
It’s cleverly done, though.

Lorin Ionita February 6, 2013 at 8:14 AM

Not just the clouds would have the glow. The shuttle itself would have an orange tint, just like the second image posted.

Kevin Frushour February 5, 2013 at 9:04 PM

Those are obviously mashed potatoes and not clouds.

Liembo February 6, 2013 at 12:05 AM

This shuttle still has the lift points attached (the bars on the cargo doors), which would only occur on the pad and never be present in flight. The only time I can recall seeing it outside the VAB in this configuration (with this hardware attached) was the Enterprise when it was undergoing pad tests at Vandenberg on the SLC-6 launchpad (no shuttle ever launched there, however).

Gozlemci February 6, 2013 at 5:03 AM

Shock waves should have disturbed the clouds next to the shuttle…

Stellare February 6, 2013 at 11:06 AM

Real or not real, I think the picture is great! You can rather instantly see that it is not real, but what the heck – it looks fab’. ;-) Equally – or actually more – cool is the real version of the shuttle breaking through the clouds. We can enjoy both. Chill out!

NancyAtkinson February 6, 2013 at 2:19 PM

Oh yes they do! I should have included this picture in the article! This is Challenger moving through the fog on its way to the launchpad. Picture link: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/17/Space_Shuttle_Challenger_moving_through_fog.jpg

Forrest Tanaka February 6, 2013 at 9:50 AM

Beautiful! Didn’t know that could happen there.

kkt February 6, 2013 at 8:46 PM

That’s a really nice picture.

nWo February 6, 2013 at 9:26 AM

Definitely tell the shuttle is not in flight.

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