See the September 22nd feature at Astronomy Picture of the Day for a unique series of still images of the Earth-to-Mars injection burn given to the MER B (“Opportunity”) spacecraft at the end of its Delta II rocket’s launch sequence in July.

These images were extracted from Ecliptic’s onboard RocketCam™ video transmitted live during the event. They show MER B separating from the Delta second stage and the Delta’s 3rd stage solid rocket motor igniting and sending MER B on its way to Mars. Shortly after the burn started, the motor’s high-speed exhaust products streaked back toward the RocketCam and coated the surface of its camera lens, precluding further images. A similar effect was observed with the RocketCam mounted on the external tank of the Shuttle Atlantis last October as the twin spent solid rocket boosters separated from the tank.

An aft-looking RocketCam on the second stage — not shown at APOD — captured video of these same exhaust products ruffling the protective thermal blankets wrapped around the second stage propulsion tanks.