Monday, March 7, 2011

For Discovery's finale, a lame launch and a forgettable photo

These waves were nearly 6 feet high, which provided for decent surfing. But no surfers entered my frame during the short seconds when I could actually see the shuttle's burning fuel.

For space shuttle Discovery's final launch on Feb. 24, I wanted to do something different.

Work didn't permit me to get close to Kennedy Space Center: My boss told me to stay close to the office so I wouldn't get caught in the traffic associated with the spectators. I had to be available to respond in case news broke elsewhere in Brevard County.

So I went to the beach at Patrick Air Force Base, the closest beachside location to the newspaper.

For each shuttle launch, I'm trying to bring something different to the photographic table. A unique photo is more likely to be featured prominently in the pages of the newspaper -- the highlight being this shot of Atlantis when I thought it was that spacecraft's last flight.

For Discovery's finale, I put my Nikon into a waterproof case and planned to get a shot of the contrail arcing over the Atlantic Ocean, with a surfer or swimmer and large waves in the foreground -- something you can't capture from the shore. I would monitor launch updates from my car, ensuring that the shuttle was going to blast off, then run through the crowd, jump into the water and watch it emerge from Kennedy Space Center to the north.

That plan failed, however, when a thick cloud deck moved over my area -- a popular surfing location called Second Light -- about an hour before the launch. All I ever saw of Discovery was about five seconds of flame on the horizon. Then it disappeared into the cloud.

No arcing contrail. No interesting photo.

But at least I tried. And got all wet in the process.

Same wave as the one above, just a little different curl action.

For a less popular viewing location far south of launch pad 39A, this beach at Patrick Air Force Base was fairly crowded. I'm sure the beachgoers were disappointed when they could see the shuttle only for a few seconds.

Despite being far from KSC and the more popular spectator locations around Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral, traffic still was bumper to bumper across the causeway leading back to the mainland.

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