Sunday, August 7, 2011

Zooming out and enjoying the scenery for Atlas V, Juno launch

An Atlas V rocket carried NASA's Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft into orbit early Friday afternoon. I watched from my favorite place, Playalinda Beach at Canavaral National Seashore. It's Brevard County's northernmost and most remote beach that's often known for nudity at its most remote parts.

This was the best-attended Atlas V launch I've ever witnessed at Playalinda. I waited in a long line in my car at the gate. And all the parking lots were jammed. I'm suspecting that had something to do with the fact that NASA's space shuttle was recently retired, and this is the best we can do here on the Space Coast.

Aside from Jetty Park for Delta II launches (of which there are few these days), Playalinda is the best place to view a rocket launch -- at only a little more than 4 miles from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Once you park your car, you have to walk (or run, like I did) a mile southward on the beach to get to the closest spot. But the trek is enjoyable and worth it.

Surf was pounding me as I stood in waste-high water and took these photos. The waves were slightly elevated because the remnants of Tropical Storm Emily were churning the Atlantic Ocean.

I have a tendency to use my largest lens for rocket launches (a 500mm), but I decided to take it down a notch for this launch and use my 18-200mm. It was totally worth it. I was able to capture the scene around the launching rocket, instead of just the rocket itself. Above is the closest shot I got of the rocket in flight.

This Atlas V rocket was fixed with five solid boosters (the 551 configuration), which gave off the smoke trail. Such a long, arcing contrail makes a launch quite beautiful against a clear blue sky. All the engines also gave off a very pronounced rumble. I heard many people say it was even better than a shuttle launch -- mainly because the general public can get so close to the Atlas V (4 miles, as opposed to 13 miles for a shuttle launch).

The sky was clear, aside from this line of clouds that started forming north of the launch pad. I believe the people on this boardwalk were special guests of NASA, as it leads to the Air Force watchtower overlooking the fenceline on the beach. (The beach in front of the launch pad, of course, is blocked off to all comers.)

After the rocket was well on its way toward orbit, its wind-whipped contrail created some interesting shapes in the sky. This one sort of looks like a fish.

And this one looks like a pretty bow.

Some showers quickly popped up -- fortunately, after the launch. I stopped at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge to take a quick pic of the scene along a dirt-surfaced, swamp-lined roadway called Gator Drive or Gator Boulevard or Gator Trail. Something like that.

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