UNIQUE high-resolution bird's-eye views of a Space Shuttle launch were taken from a Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft circling over the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, at an altitude of 20,000ft (6,100m), 8km (4nm) clear of the Shuttle's flight path. NASA commissioned the recently released photographs of the STS30/Atlantis launch on 4 May, 1989, taken from a US Air Force U-2 based at nearby Patrick AFB, to enable engineers to assess whether debris was being shed from the nose caps of the solid-rocket boosters (SRBs) during the launch phase. During an earlier launch, the tiles of the orbiter had been hit on 707 occasions by small particles. It was later determined that some tile damage was caused by booster ablative material falling off the SRB nose cap because of a bonding problem, which was then rectified.

Source: Flight International