SpaceX Falcon 9 launch on 3/4/16, just after booster separation
It can be hard for Central Florida visitors to witness a launch. Schedules often change because of weather, technical, or other issues. It’s disappointing if you travel to the coast for one, only to have it cancelled at the last moment. This Falcon 9 launch was postponed six times before it finally lifted off on Friday evening. This article is a good summary about this particular mission.
But you don’t have to be right next to Kennedy Space Center to see a launch. Lynn and I are fortunate to live about 35 – 40 miles from the pads, which is well within viewing distance. We enjoy watching from our driveway.
Even though the space shuttle has been retired, it’s still exciting to see these and think about new commercial technologies that people like SpaceX CEO Elon Musk are adding to the US space capability.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos!
Space Shuttle Atlantis side view panorama – It’s displayed as if in orbit, with the cargo doors open, a satellite in the bay and the robot arm deployed.
In short, this new exhibit is outstanding. At the entrance to the building, there’s a full size model of the solid rocket boosters and fuel tank assembly. You enter and walk up a ramp to a room with a movie about the history of the shuttle program. Then you move into a second room with another movie about the launches before you finally enter the exhibit hall itself. The Atlantis is suspended as though it’s in orbit and you’re free to walk all around it and explore on several levels. In places you’re almost within arms reach – close enough to see a lot of detail including re-entry marks on the tiles. The hall also has many other exhibits including satellites, a transport van, space suit, a space station mock-up your kids can run through, and a group of simulators you can try including several where you attempt to land (OK if you must know, I crashed my simulated shuttle – but not too hard).
Space Shuttle Atlantis – front view
To put this into perspective, I went back through my photo archives to see if I had any previous photos of Atlantis and found several. Here are two – you can see they’re not as close up as the new ones are:
Atlantis on the pad in October 2009 before the STS 129 mission – This is as close as I got to a shuttle while they were operational.
Atlantis launch on STS 117 in June of 2007, just after SRB separation (made from Orlando, ~50 miles away)
And finally, here’s one last photo from my trip this week. It shows the Astronaut’s Memorial. In the background on the left you can see the Solid Rocket Booster assembly that stands in front of the building housing the Atlantis.
Astronaut’s Memorial – also known as the Space Mirror Memorial. The Atlantis Experience entrance is behind and on the left.
Photo hints: The light inside the exhibit hall is mixed so be careful with your white balance or shoot in RAW so you can adjust it in post processing. The lighting is also a bit dim. I shot at ISOs between 800 and 1600 with an aperture of f/4 and a shutter speed between 1/15 and 1/60 sec. I didn’t use a tripod, but I did have vibration reduction / optical stabilization. Atlantis is large – a wide-angle lens will help you fit all of it in the frame. I used a 24 – 120mm zoom lens and it worked well for most photos. I did have to make a multi shot panorama for the horizontal view above.
I’ve posted other Kennedy Space Center photos in this set on Flickr. Also, I’ve licensed the first photo above as Creative Commons. It’s free for non-commercial, no derivative use as long as you provide attribution. If you’d like to see / download a high-resolution version (~80MP), click it to go to Flickr. Then click on the “…” symbol at the bottom right of the photo and select “View all sizes”.
Living in Central Florida for so long, I feel a personal connection to the space program and I was extremely impressed with the Atlantis Exhibit. This vehicle flew 33 separate missions between October 1985 and July 2011 covering hundreds of orbits and over 126 million miles. It’s awesome to see something like this up close and I’m very grateful it’s nearby. But at the same time, it makes me a little sad. The shuttle program was wonderful, but it’s over now. With all the other competing priorities, will we ever have an ambitious space program again? I hope so.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Waiting to launch – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket sits on the pad at Launch Complex 37B before dawn at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
I got up very early on Friday morning and arrived on Merritt Island in time for the Delta IV Heavy rocket launch scheduled for 6:15am. I figured it might be very picturesque, since sunrise was scheduled for 6:30. Unfortunately, the sunrise happened on time, but the launch didn’t.
If you’re not a Florida resident, you may not be aware of how hard it is to actually see a launch unless you live very close to or are staying at the Cape. I live about an hour away, and going over is an investment of time and effort. The problem is that launches very rarely happen when they’re first scheduled. At least when I try to see them. There always seems to be a technical problem, hold, or reschedule. Maybe I’m a jinx?
Anyway, this one finally did go at about 9:15 – although it wasn’t as photogenic as I hoped.
Delta IV Heavy Launch – From Peacocks Pocket Road in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. This is not the kind of bird I normally photograph at Merritt Island.
The delay gave me an excuse to drive around the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge while I waited. It’s the time of year when there’s not much happening there. But I did see some of the usual birds including Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, Little Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Reddish Egrets, Red-winged Blackbirds, Turkey and Black Vultures, Killdeer, and others. I also saw a group of Black Skimmers, a Loggerhead Shrike, a few Terns and gulls, and some smaller shorebirds.
Great Blue Heron – I know, I know: these birds are common around here, but they’re pretty and it’s hard to resist making a photo when they pose in good light.
I also (of course!) took advantage of the opportunity to make a few landscaped photos.
Sunrise crossing – from the Bennett Causeway in Cocoa Beach, Florida. The rising sun’s reflection and a boat wake created the cross pattern in the water near the cruise ship dock.
I had a good time. You will too, as long as you keep your expectations in check and work the other photo-ops if the launch is late.