Saturday, August 29, 2009

A midnight ride for a space shuttle and a midnight ticket for a driver

As space shuttle Discovery streaked into the Friday night-Saturday morning sky, I felt bad for the person who was getting a ticket alongside U.S. 1 just south of Rockledge.

The launch I had been anticipating for some time finally came. But I wasn't in Titusville, waiting for hours in the pouring rain for a brilliant shot of Discovery as it streaked into the night sky. Instead, I was working on Page 1 at the newspaper in Melbourne, helping to cover the event with FLORIDA TODAY's space team, stationed about 30 miles to the north at Kennedy Space Center.

I managed to complete all aspects of the page 10 minutes before the launch at 11:59 p.m. Friday, so I headed out to the side of U.S. 1. There, I set up my camera as a police cruiser pulled over a vehicle in front of me. Thinking the lights would mess up my photo, I closed the aperture all the way to f/22, hoping that the flashing strobes wouldn't overexpose the image. The shutter was open for four minutes and 36 seconds, and the camera's ISO was set at 100.

The police lights proved to add an interesting effect. It was the first night launch for which I have attempted the time lapse shot of the space shuttle's streak into the cloudy air. There even was some lightning off to the south, but it was too far away to capture in the same shot.

The liftoff was a successful start to mission STS-128, in which seven astronauts will deliver science experiments and a treadmill named after Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert, among other supplies, to the International Space Station.

In hindsight, there were some adjustments I could have made to achieve a better image, but the shot wasn't as bad as I was expecting. After the shuttle had faded into the distance, I thought only one thing: The driver who was pulled over probably was speeding to a location to view the launch. If that were me, I would have been devastated.

And 30 minutes after midnight, Page 1 - with a photo and a story - was on its way to the press. A successful night all around.

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