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Live at NASA TV for the Launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour

Anthony Burokas goes behind the scenes at NASA TV to shadow an event video crew that's responsible for bringing launches live to the world.

The nature of live events runs the gamut of a simple podium speech, to larger events such as weddings, to multicamera live concerts or sporting events with IMAG and/or live streaming. In most cases, the video crew has some control over the event—you can choose your positioning or alter the lighting scheme (within reason) at a wedding reception, and at a speech or corporate event, you can talk to the audio engineer to bring up the podium mic a little louder. Sporting events even wait for the commercial breaks.

But what if the live event was not stoppable, not repeatable, and the video crew was completely separate from the event itself, like a fly on the wall, but responsible for bringing the event live to the world? Well, that's what NASA TV does every day.

I had the opportunity to see NASA TV in action with the April 29 scheduled shuttle Endeavour launch from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida--a location and event very few get to see in person, but a select few get to see very often. The NASA TV crews have the production of the shuttle launch program down to a science.

The shuttle is completing its 30-year run as America's main transport into space. I had the opportunity to attend the launch on a media pass and get to meet some of the key personnel of NASA TV.

NASA TV has production centers at various NASA centers. The NASA TV office at the Kennedy Space Center is KSC TV. This is the team that I interfaced with for the launch of Shuttle Endeavour. There are also offices at the Johnson Space Center, Goddard, and at NASA TV headquarters in Washington D.C.

NASA-TV

The KSC TV production truck

NASA TV and Live TV

It's hard to apply traditional "Live TV" thoughts to NASA TV. This is because it's taxed with so many different, but simultaneous tasks. Not only is it responsible for showing the world each launch on the NASA TV cable channel, they also do live streaming of their program. NASA TV provides direct hookups to other media for each of the cameras they use to create their feed. The feeds they provide are digitized and compressed to at least three different formats and available for direct download in the press room just minutes after they finish. There are DVDs of the footage as well, and there's a YouTube channel where packaged footage us uploaded for the public to revisit later. It's live, but instead of one destination, it has to serve many different purposes.

Overseeing the Cape Canaveral operation is William Raukhorst, the manager of KSC TV. He has a dedicated crew that works together well to ensure a smooth production. Unlike live commercial TV, NASA TV does not have to fit things in between commercials. They have their own cable and satellite channel. When they go live with the shuttle launch programming at 7 AM, they are live until the shuttle is no longer visible-scheduled to be around 4 pm in the afternoon. That's a long show.

William Raukhorst KSC TV

William Raukhorst, manager, KSC TV

But there are also various packages that KSC TV produces regarding the active shuttle launch. These packages provide information about the payload, the astronauts on the mission, the training, the assembly of the shuttle, and more. These packages also provide short breaks in the live programming for the production crews to rotate out, eat, and get short breaks. These packages start to get produced often a year before the actual launch date. With so much going on at NASA, KSC TV is often working on capturing footage and producing packages for three different launches at the same time.