Fact Check: Image depicting launch of space shuttle Endeavour has been altered

The claim: Picture shows space shuttle launch captured by NASA

On April 3, an image of a space shuttle emerging from the clouds trailed by an extended smoke plume was posted on Facebook.

“Nasa has captured the picture of a space shuttle leaving Earth’s atmosphere,” reads the post with more than 500 shares and nearly 1,000 reactions. The image was shared by the group Universe explorer.

The image was taken from a shuttle training aircraft, confirmed Patti Bielling, News Chief at the Kennedy Space Center, to USA TODAY via email.

But the image has been modified.

An altered image

The image was posted to NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day page on May 25, 2011, and depicts the space shuttle Endeavour launching into orbit on May 16. The image is titled Space Shuttle Rising and credits NASA.

After the launch, similar images taken from different angles began circulating on the web.

But when compared to the original, the image posted on Facebook is darker and the clouds have been blurred on the top and bottom. This is a result of “tilt-shift” photography, also known as “miniature faking.”

When taking a picture, the “tilt” is the physical tilting, forward or backward, of the camera. This impacts the focus plane. The “shift” is moving the camera from side-to-side or up and down.

This can be also imitated on an existing image using Photoshop to blur the top and bottom while maintaining the focus on the central axis. A graduated filter can be used to make the image slightly darker at the bottom.

That what was done to this image.

“While the filter or technique may highlight a certain aspect of the photo, like other filters or (effects), it is ultimately an altering of reality,” said Emily Johnson, visual editor for USA TODAY.

Johnson added that in photojournalism the mission  is to capture reality, therefore an image that has been altered loses its credibility.

Our rating: Altered

An image posted on Facebook claiming to show a NASA-captured image of a space shuttle launch is ALTERED, based on our research. While the image does depict the launch of Endeavour, the image has been edited, using a tilt-shift effect.

Our fact-checking resources:

  • Facebook post, April 3
  • Snopes, April 4, 2016, “Is This the Space Shuttle Leaving Earth’s Atmosphere?”
  • Astronomy Picture of the Day Archive, Accessed on April 5
  • Astronomy Picture of the Day, March 25, 2011, “Space Shuttle Rising”
  • Tweet, May 22, 2019
  • Camera House Blog, Jan. 27, 2017, “What Is Tilt Shift Photography?”
  • Digital Photography School, Feb. 3, 2018, “How to Easily Simulate a Tilt-Shift Effect Using Photoshop”
  • Patti Bielling, News Chief at the Kennedy Space Center, April 13, emailed statement to USA TODAY

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Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

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