On May 22, NASA photographer Bill Ingalls left six cameras near a 230-foot-tall SpaceX rocket just before it blasted toward space.
Like other photographers who’d traveled to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for the event, Ingalls positioned his camera gear at locations near the launchpad that he thought were safe. The remote cameras are designed to automatically capture stunning up-close images once the thunderous roar of the rocket is heard.
SpaceX successfully launched five telecommunications satellites and two gravity-mapping NASA spacecraft into orbit. But when Ingalls went to retrieve one of his remote camera setupsafterwards, the 30-year veteran of NASA photography was surprised to find firefighters huddled around what he now calls his “Toasty” camera.
“I had many other cameras much closer to the pad than this and all are safe,” Ingalls wrote in a Facebook post. “This was result of a small brush fire, which is not unheard of from launches, and was extinguished by fireman, albeit, after my cam was baked.”
Ingalls says he lost a Canon EOS 5Ds camera body, a Canon 24-105mm lens, and a tripod owned by NASA. His setup also included a microphone and remote-triggering box.
If purchased new today, such a collection of gear might cost about $5,000.
“I could not answer if this NASA gear is insured by NASA,” Ingalls told Business Insider in an email. “We will replace these units.”
Though the camera died, it managed to protect some precious cargo: a memory card full of images of its fiery doom, not to mention photos of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket leaving the launchpad.
NASA released an animation on Friday that shows a time-lapse sequence all of the photos taken by Ingalls’ remote camera during and after the launch. (Remote cameras are typically programmed to snap photos until their memory cards are full.)
The following clip shows the launch, the rapid growth of the brush fire, and the black plastic lens hood melting to goop and blocking the camera’s field of view:
Ingalls’ “Toasty” camera will likely be displayed at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC, the space agency said.