It Actually IS Rocket Science

September 01, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

From the moment I first saw a photo of a rocket launch, the sweeping graceful arc glowing in the sky, I knew it was something I wanted capture and perhaps even see in person. Now that I'm living in Florida, I have more of an opportunity. Then came Artemis. The mission that was going to take man back to the moon. The big rocket. History in the making.

I live approximately 150 miles from Kennedy Space Center where rocket launches are occurring on a regular basis. I could make the 3 hour drive to go down and see one after work or on the weekend any time I wanted to, but did I mention, 3 hour drive?!

So I resigned to watching Artemis from the dock on Santa Fe Lake where we live. Bonus, it was a night launch, so this was my chance to try my hand at creating my coveted arc shot, a long exposure single shot of the launch from start to finish. Single exposure, meant only one chance to get it right, and with Artemis being such an historic launch, I had better not muck this up. 

I spent several weeks leading up to the launch reading up on how to shoot a nigh launch, how to follow trajectory, getting good resources to follow. Little did I know I was just dipping my toes into what was going to be a glorious ocean of vast experiences and loads of fun (and a lot of work).

The night arrived when Artemis was scheduled to go up. My husband and I waited impatiently on the dock to see if we would be able to make it out from so far away, we had no idea what to expect. I had my camera on a tripod all set up with what I hoped were the correct settings, ready for one long shutter speed single shot. I was so excited, I couldn't wait. More people started to wander onto the dock for viewing. I was getting more excited. We started the live feed on our phones to listen to the play by play, how thrilling. The sounds of the shuttle as it worked to ready itself for the historic launch. T-60 seconds. I started shaking I was so excited. T-30 seconds...  THE WHOLE DAMN SKY IN THE SOUTHEAST BEGAN TO GLOW... Thats when we learned there was a delay in the live feed to real time.

It was happening!  I fumbled to hit my shutter release cable. Did I catch it in time?  The glowing sky grew as if a bomb had gone off (or as I imagined that to look) with a slow red golden glow expanding across the entire horizon, breaking the black of night. As it slowly faded back, we saw it, the rocket rising above the tree line in a slow climb, steady and confidently toward space. I saw the graceful arc into orbit and prayed I had it all on camera. 

I was totally dumbfounded, my mouth hanging open at how magnificently bright and beautiful it looked from so far away. It was from that moment I knew I was hooked. 

It took all of 4 minutes. It seemed to last forever. Did I catch it? I couldn't wait to check, but I dare not stop the camera too soon and miss any part of that graceful arc. As soon as I couldn't see the shuttle any longer, I stopped the exposure and quickly hit the playback button to reveal the one single photo, the only chance I had for this historic launch.... moment of truth, I would be crushed if I didn't get it.

And as if I heard angels singing, when the image came up on the screen, there was that beautiful glowing arc, I HAD DONE IT! My first attempt at the rocket arc, and on such a meaningful launch, I had done it!

Thing is, it isn't as easy as I though it should be, it actually IS rocket science (pun intended). I've tried several since, I totally missed one (heartbreaker), messed a few others up, but with each one, I learn something new. This is certainly a skill I am working on growing, and I'm loving it. It takes dedication, long drives, staying up until wee early hours of the morning, carefully learning and researching manual exposures on my camera, learning all about rockets (the coolest part) and learning my way around a town I'm not at all familiar with which is also strictly controlled by NASA security during launch events. And its all worth it.

 

Artemis Launch, my first ever rocket launch photograph.

Artemis 1Artemis 1Off to the Moon! Artemis 1, the 322 foot 5.75 million pound rocket launches from Cape Canaveral FL on November 16, 2022, at 01:47:44 am from Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center. It is seen here from Santa Fe Lake, over 150 miles away. This is the first in a series of launches to return man to the moon after over 50 years!


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