Monday, December 1, 2014

The Clock Has Started

The new digital countdown clock at the KSC press site. Image source: NASA.

On November 26 I posted an article about the demise of the historic Kennedy Space Center countdown clock that had been in use since the Apollo 12 flight in November 1969.

The new digital clock was installed a few days later, and today NASA issued a press release about its features.

The new display, which sits on the same mount as the former countdown clock, is already up and running and has been showing NASA TV images along with a test countdown in the lower corner. The completion of the display came about a week before Orion heads to space on its first flight test. News media, families of center employees and NASA guests will do as so many have done before: follow the progress of the countdown on the grassy area around the turn basin while looking out toward the launch pad for the rocket to ignite.

This time though, they will be able to get far more from the display than the clicking lights and numbers. NASA's whole prelaunch program will be available to showcase on the display. So if the numbers stop counting down, those following along won't have to wonder whether it is a built-in hold or a technical glitch with the rocket — they'll know quickly from the screen.

“I think this is an upgrade that will really surprise news media with how much more information they will get to see while they are outside to watch the launch,” said George Diller, a NASA Public Affairs officer whose launch commentary has accompanied dozens of countdowns for space shuttles and expendable rockets. “It's really neat to be able to see the launch pad up close on the monitor while still experiencing the magic of seeing the countdown and then the rocket rise above the tree line.”

The new display is very similar in size to the historic clock, with a screen nearly 26 feet wide by 7 feet high. While not true high-definition, the video resolution will be 1280 x 360. The new countdown clock sports a widescreen capability utilizing the latest breakthroughs in outdoor LED display technology. The display, which comes at a cost of $280,000, will provide images from multiple sources, as well as the countdown launch time. Also, streaming video will be an option.

UPDATE December 2, 2014 — NASA has released more images of the new clock's installation and testing.

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