Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Launch

As promised, I took a drive over to Titusville today to see the shuttle launch. When we first parked the car, it was pouring down rain and you couldn't see 50 feet out the window of the car. We went and got some lunch, and when we got back, the weather was near perfect. We had less than two hours to go until launch, and the time flew by. I actually got the right launch pad this time, unlike last time when I was zoomed in on the wrong pad. The shuttle took off from 39A, which is the one to the right. I need to remember that for next time... For the longest time there wasn't much to see, just a hazy launch pad, almost 12 miles away.

Suddenly, there was smoke! I thought it was still a minute or two before the actual liftoff time of 5:02 PM, but I was wrong.

More smoke, and you can just barely see the tip of shuttle Discovery peeking above the launch tower.

And there she is, Discovery, after clearing the launch tower and just about ready to start rotating around and assuming the correct orientation for orbital flight.

Compare this picture to the previous one and you can see that the shuttle has rotated about it's axis. It's amazing to me that they can control all that power.

The roll maneuver continues as Discovery emerges from behind a low cloud.

She finally got into the right position and from there on out it was just foot-to-the-floor raw power. This is probably the best picture of the day, with the nice blue sky, the colors of the shuttle are close to correct (and dark) and the fire is beautiful!

Eventually, my 400mm telephoto lens with 1.5X auto-converter and 1.6X digital cheat couldn't keep up with the rapidly-climbing bird. She's just a dot at the top of a flame that's leaving a trail of smoke across the sky.

You may recall that I got a new camera last weekend. Well, I put it and the old one both to good use this weekend. I used the new one with the long lens to capture the close-up shots you saw first, then I used the old camera with one of the new IS lenses to capture these two shorter shots, so you can see as little bit better what the launch looked like to the naked eye. I remembered that when I shot the launch last year, I'd hated the fact that I couldn't zoom out and capture the smoke trail like I wanted. But not this year. The shots above and below are both great and give you a sense of what the launch looked like to the people on the ground. I always wondered why I saw professional photographers lugging around more than one camera at big events. Now I know. There's no time to be swapping lenses when things are happening in a hurry. And there's no such thing as a truly do-it-all lens. Not that I intend to carry two cameras around all the time, mind you. But it's a great trick for when the situation demands it.

I guess there are only a few shuttle launches left until they retire the fleet. I hope I get the chance to go to more of them. It's really an awesome sight and a great photo opportunity.


CaptainOT said...

How lucky can one guy be? A new camera and a shuttle launch to try it out on!

If I don't ever see a shuttle launch in person (and I want to before the program ends soon), I can always visit these breathtaking pix!


Anonymous said...

the little fishman pic is truly incredible. wow

Anonymous said...


(I knew I was correct to keep this blog in my feed reader outside of the xmas season.)

Stephen said...

Wow, Ernie. I'd love to be able to see a launch one day. Glad you got to experience it. Again.