Saturday, March 7, 2009

Delta II launch | Look at that! Yes, they call it the streak

I assumed my usual stakeout position for Friday's rocket launch: beside the sign at the main entrance of FLORIDA TODAY's headquarters along U.S. 1 and the Indian River in Melbourne.

There isn't much you can do with a photo of a nighttime rocket launch other than take a long exposure of it streaking across the sky. Whoop-dee-doo.

In keeping with that conviction and with my run-of-the-mill rocket picture-taking technique, I shot Friday night's delightful lights from in front of the FLORIDA TODAY building with even more lights - from ground-based vehicles - streaking through the foreground.

It's pretty much the same frame job as my last photo of a rocket liftoff on the Space Coast. See that here.

But this time, I cranked the ISO up to 400, which allows more light to hit the camera's digital sensor. The shutter was open for only 52.2 seconds, as opposed to 86.6 on my previous try. That's because this rocket was a Delta II, a considerably lighter and less bulky craft than the monstrous Delta IV. It's a more agile vehicle, so it climbed quickly, allowing less time for an exposure.

delta_vert_hq_0008After the liftoff and initial shot, I created a vertical version, left. In this photo, there's a slight errant streak on the left end of the main one. That's the ground-lit solid motors as they separated from the vehicle and fell toward the ocean.

The launch was a successful start for a NASA telescope called Kepler that will look for planets in the Milky Way that might sustain life.

I set up my camera and tripod just a minute before the liftoff. And minutes after taking the photos, I was inside, putting a staff photographer's work onto Page 1. His shot was all right.

Wednesday's nighttime show, starring shuttle Discovery on its mission to the International Space Station, should be more photogenic. I plan to start that stakeout five hours before liftoff to ensure a front-row seat at Space View Park in Titusville. There will be video, too.

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