When talking about the most incredible accomplishments in human history, traveling into outer space is undeniably one of the most impressive. Ever since the first American launched into space in 1961, the United States' human spaceflight program has been a huge source of national pride and worldwide interest.
At every launch from Kennedy Space Center on Florida's east coast, media from all over converge to cover various aspects of the space program. Thanks to NASA's generous open-door policy to accommodate professional media (and the incredibly kind and knowledgeable on-site media relations staff), coverage in all forms of media comes from every launch, sharing the mission of NASA with a diverse audience.
HDNet and NASAWhile NASA maintains a great television network of their own (NASA TV), many of the world's best media outlets have permanent presences at Kennedy Space Center (including CNN, CBS, and NBC). One media outlet partnering with NASA was the first to bring NASA's work in HD -- HDNet.
HDNet, based in Dallas, Texas, is a very unique channel. Producing much of it's own programming, HDNet broadcasts to cable and satellite networks completely in high-definition. High definition coverage -- especially of a dynamic event such as a space shuttle launch -- is a special challenge.
Launch in Stunning HDIn 2005, NASA was searching for a network to provide high definition coverage of space shuttle launches. HDNet was the only network up for the challenge, providing splits from NASA's own standard-definition cameras as well as their own high-definition cameras, switchers, and instant-replay devices.
Recently, NASA has upgraded their on-site cameras to high-definition. Now, HDNet is given feeds from NASA's high-definition splitter into their own switcher, which is then mixed with HDNet's own cameras.
HDNet operates a production trailer adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center News Center at the Complex 39 Press Site. From this trailer, both NASA-provided audio and video feeds as well as HDNet's own high-definition and audio feeds are combined to form the final product -- stunning, lifelike high definition coverage.
To accomplish this, HDNet uses high-definition switchers from Kayak as well as high-definition cameras by Panasonic, Sony, and Canon. Panasonic provides video recording and playback equipment.
Aside from NASA's provided camera angles, HDNet captures launch images with both remote cameras and cameras located at the Complex 39 Press Site -- which is located a little over three miles from the launch pads.
Along with from NASA commentary from both Kennedy Space Center and Johnson Space Center in Houston, launch coverage on HDNet is hosted by Greg Dobbs, providing in-depth mission information.
Perfect Launch SoundWhile capturing a spectacular space shuttle launch visually is a challenge, capturing the audio provides to be a special challenge in itself.
It wasn't until I witnessed the launch of STS-123 that I understood what many previous launch viewers had told me about the noise. From three miles back, the sound pressure levels were impressive; the ground shook, car alarms were triggered, and the roar (more like a constant firecracker noise) of the space shuttle's solid rocket boosters hit high SPL readings. Capturing this sound for broadcast takes carefully selected tools.
HDNet receives some of its audio feeds from NASA. At every shuttle launch, NASA provides access to commentary, air-to-ground communications, and launch sound. However, with the special nature of high-definition production (and the need for surround sound), HDNet records several channels of audio for their feed.
Since Kennedy Space Center sits in the middle of a wildlife preserve, capturing the ambient noise before launch gives an interesting perspective to the serene surroundings before the launch happens. The space shuttle itself emits a sound all it's own -- the pumping, breathing noises of the shuttle are extremely unique, almost as if the shuttle itself were alive.
HDNet uses a pair of AKG C414 microphones to capture these ambient noises, sent into the surround channels of their broadcast.
Another unique perspective is a microphone at the launch pad to capture the noise of main engine ignition, solid rocket booster ignition, and liftoff.
Due to the extreme sound pressure levels at the pad, an unprotected microphone would be unusable. To capture the sound of ignition, HDNet uses a Crown PZM microphone (with high SPL handling capability) embedded in a bucket of sand, effectively dampening the high SPLs.
As the shuttle climbs, the extremely loud sound of the solid rocket boosters and main engines working in tandem saturates the surrounding areas -- able to be heard (and felt) over ten miles away from the pad!
The launch sound varies from launch to launch -- taking into account factors such as wind and humidity -- so HDNet uses an array of microphones to find the "right" sound.
Capturing the noise at the three mile mark from the pad -- giving a great picture of what those watching the launch are experiencing -- are a pair of Sennheiser 416 shotgun microphones alongside an Audio-Technica 822 stereo microphone.
Seeing a space shuttle launch in person is an event you'll never forget, but HDNet's live coverage brings you very close to the real thing. HDNet plans to continue to provide coverage of the space shuttle program through it's end in 2010, and also plans to continue covering the space program into the next project, Orion.
HDNet is available on most major cable and satellite networks which offer high definition coverage.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this look at how America's space program is brought into homes around the world -- a look inside NASA TV's own media production team.