I was watching the last launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-132) and noticed some objects that moved during the launch. I was curious about what these objects were and why they were positioned that way. Did their movement pose any potential danger to the launch itself?

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1 Answer 1


Those are covers for the Reaction Control Thrusters (RCS). They were there to keep dust, debris, rain and insects from getting into the thrusters. The covers were designed to be blown off by airflow from the front to the back, so they would stay in place until launch.

  • $\begingroup$ Isn't it strange that they remove this covers immediately after lift-off. I mean they are still in low altitude, there could be still some stuff you need to cover RCS from. I know there was a few incident where birds collided with boosters and/or external tank. $\endgroup$ Sep 20, 2023 at 10:22
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    $\begingroup$ @LadyBeGood It's not about running into things while in motion, it's about the month-or-so between rolling the shuttle out of the VAB and launch day. Without the cover you could get all kinds of junk falling or blowing into the opening, birds deciding it looks like a good spot for a nest, and so on. In theory you'd remove it prior to launch, but that'd be awkward because there's no access to that part of the shuttle from the pad, and you'd have to then replace them in case of a scrub, which would be tricky. $\endgroup$ Sep 20, 2023 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ Presumably these covers are fragile enough that they would be destroyed the first time the thruster fired? $\endgroup$
    – MikeB
    Sep 21, 2023 at 9:55
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    $\begingroup$ They aren't there when the thrusters fire the first time @MikeB, they blow off moments after launch. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Sep 21, 2023 at 10:04
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    $\begingroup$ @MikeB Even if one managed to hang on all the way up, yes, the first thruster firing would just blow it off without a problem. $\endgroup$ Sep 21, 2023 at 12:25

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