Elan IIe, tripod
Sigma 170-500 w/ Tokina MC-7 2x teleconverter
Fuji Provia 100F
f11 at 1/125 second
Mission STS-113: Shuttle Orbiter Endeavour. November 23rd, 2002. An International Space Station mission to place the P1 Truss, and to bring the Expedition Six crew to the ISS, while bringing Expedition Five home after 185 days in orbit.
This time, I was able to get a bit closer, though the really close vantage points are within Kennedy Space Center and cost more than I could afford at the time. So I was at a boat launch with a few hundred other people, across the river from the launch complex (this one is really worth checking with the Google Earth placemark above.) Both the launch tower with the shuttle in place, and the Vehicle Assembly Building, are completely floodlit during a launch, and were plainly visible about 22 kilometers (13.5 miles) away.
The Parks Department had a truck at the boat launch, with a NASA band radio connected to a loudspeaker, so we had constant updates on the countdown, and the entire crowd chanted the final ten seconds. Quite an event.
I was on manual focus, unable to trust autofocus on the dim subject, and unfortunately was just a little off – the images lacked serious sharpness. These are as good as I got. Very frustrating.
While this probably comes as no surprise, night launches are impressive. Even in excess of 20 kilometers, the light that's put out is significant, lighting up the crowd where I was. I would have loved to have seen it from the air, illuminating the landscape, but that's impossible with NASA security. Unless you're an F15 pilot entrusted with airspace control at the time.
And it's been said before, but the launch itself seems silent (except for the crowd), since the sound has such a distance to travel. The shuttle is pretty high before the sudden roar of the launch rolls over the spectators, lending a very surreal quality to it all.
At left is my favorite shot – while it was a superbly clear night, the shuttle passed through some thin scattered clouds at high altitude, illuminating them for only a couple of seconds. Nobody even knew they were there until the shuttle passed through, evoking a great response from the crowd.
And a small bit of serendipity – the launch had been scheduled for the previous evening, but I would have witnessed it from the same location as the last mission, fifty-some kilometers away. It was scrubbed and rescheduled for the following night, and this time I could get much closer to the action.