This image represents a culmination of multiple long drives, failed attempts and lessons learned. I travelled 5 hours round-trip to this location for at least 5 prior night launches, each months apart, and failed each time for a different reason, learning an improvement in the process. The final image, shot from a distance of 30 miles and an altitude of 900ft, was a composite of three frames shot on two cameras, as the scene far exceeded the dynamic range capturable by any current camera technology. One for the arc, roughly 3minutes at f/22, one for the exhaust and orbiter,1/2 at 3.5, and one for the stars/Jupiter, just risen, seen to the right of the base of the arc. The “comet” at the left is actually the Space Shuttle Discovery, after SRB seperation, and the “tail” is an exhaust or moisture that is always present on launch, just not usually visible. The unique timing of this particular launch, just before sunrise, meant that shortly into the launch the shuttle and it’s contrail were illuminated by the rising sun, while the pad and my location were still in pre-dawn darkness, making for great contrast. Just five minutes prior to launch the International Space Station flew overhead, and five minutes after, I parachuted down, and made a hasty egress before the sun broke the horizon.
I recently posted it to 500px.com, where it generated signifigantly more interest than I expected,with 9,000 views in just over 48 hrs, and many inquires as to how it was created. Like most good images it was a mix of experience, planning and luck. It was published in the National Space Society’s quarterly, AdAstra, and the Shuttle Crew purchased large-format prints. If you are interested in purchasing a print, you can do so HERE.
If you would like to have it as your wallpaper or screensaver, you may download it here, totally for free.
I’m normally an advocate of “getting it” right in-camera, but occasionally the scene can only be captured by composite. This image is the closest representation that I can create to being there, and it pales in comparison. This launch will remain one of the most memorable moments of my life. It’s incredible what we as humans can achieve when we try…