Night Launch

Adventures of a first-time shuttle photographer.

(Ed Darack)


(Ed Darack)

Like the night before, a number of journalists arrived at the media site within an hour of the planned launch. We passed the 30-minute mark, then the 15, then 5. Once the clock hit T-20 seconds, everyone at the water’s edge became quiet. At T-15, the first of the 300,000 gallons of water of the sound suppression system crashed onto the launch pad below the craft’s engines. Endeavour’s three main engines fired in quick succession at approximately T-6 seconds. I waited for the flash of the solid rocket boosters, at which point the shuttle would be orbit bound. This image, shot within one second of solid rocket booster ignition, is taken from one of my remote cameras. After setting the focus manually, I had taped the focus ring so that the vibrations caused by the launch wouldn’t shake it out of focus.

With a burst of light, Endeavour lumbered into the sky at 4:14:08 EST, quickly accelerating as it roared through a low deck of clouds and began its eastward arc.

Within minutes, the shuttle was just a pinprick of light—albeit a very bright pinprick.

About Ed Darack
Ed Darack

Air & Space/Smithsonian contributing editor Ed Darack’s forthcoming book, The Final Flight of Extortion 17 (Smithsonian Books, 2017), covers the story of the people and circumstances of Extortion 17 and its downing in Afghanistan in August 2011. The shootdown was the single deadliest incident in the war in Afghanistan. The book grew out of his article in the Feb./Mar. 2015 issue. See his website and Facebook page for more information.

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