Incredible Space Shuttle Picture: Is it Real?

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:

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

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004, and has published over 6,000 articles on space exploration, astronomy, science and technology. She is the author of two books: "Eight Years to the Moon: the History of the Apollo Missions," (2019) which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible; and "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" (2016) tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond. Follow Nancy on Twitter at and and Instagram at and

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