Friday, September 25, 2009

Photos | Hanging with the pros for Delta II rocket launch

A Delta II rocket carrying two missile defense satellites lifted off at 8:20 a.m. Friday, after poor weather Wednesday and a technical glitch Thursday delayed previous attempts. Dedicated as I am, I woke up early again and drove to Jetty Park in Port Canaveral, where I set up my tripod next to FLORIDA TODAY co-worker and launch photographer extraordinaire Michael R. Brown. He warned me that launch pad 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station was engineered as such that the plume shoots upward at ignition, obstructing the view of the rocket. That indeed was the case, but this shot was taken as the spacecraft had just cleared the column of vapor.

As the rocket moved closer to the sun, I stupidly changed my exposure, resulting in some darker images. I had to lighten this a bit to show the shock wave that formed around the nosecone and solid rocket boosters. This is the first time I have captured such a sight, so it's disappointing to have botched the exposure. I blame the lack of sleep.

The solid rocket boosters separate from the vehicle.

The closed-down aperture that I had adjusted my camera to worked nicely for the contrail, as this shot shows all the lumpy details. The color of the sky, of course, is not accurate (this image actually turned out somewhat monochrome). With strong sunlight hitting the contrail, though, my digital camera couldn't handle the contrast to nail both the details and the sky color.

I set up my video camera along the railing on the opposite side of the pier at Jetty Park, which is a little less than three miles south of the launch pad. I'm in the white T-shirt in the middle, and Mike Brown and his considerably nicer and more expensive telephoto lens are directly to my right. See some of his shots here. We were the first two in a line of photographers, equipped with large lenses, who gathered at one part of the pier with a view that is the least obstructed by towers and vegetation. I usually avoid such groups because I'm not about to pose as a representative of a legitimate news organization, but I made an exception for the sake of positioning.

Some seagulls were stirred off the beach behind us, flying in front of the contrail.

You never know how the wind will blow the contrail from a rocket, but on Friday, the conditions resulted in a corkscrew.

An Air Force helicopter patrolling the airspace around Cape Canaveral was silhouetted against the contrail.

Taken before liftoff, this shot shows the helicopter and a military photographer dangling his feet out the door. He was shooting the pier full of launch spectators.

1 comment:

Carrie said...

Maybe you should join the military. You could do that guy's job. Unless you're afraid of heights.