Night Launch

Adventures of a first-time shuttle photographer.

(Ed Darack)

Camera Set-Up

(Ben Cooper)

I met with Scott Andrews, who probably has more experience photographing shuttle launches than anyone in the world. Scott very kindly loaned me two seismic camera triggers and a Canon 1DMK3 so that I would have two remote cameras to work with. With my tripods, cameras, borrowed seismic triggers, lenses, and thick plastic bags in tow, I boarded a bus bound for Pad 39A. My escort was retired Air Force Colonel Johnny Johnson, former deputy commander of Cape Canaveral’s Patrick Air Force Base. People at KSC told me that Colonel Johnson has witnessed more launches from the area than just about anyone alive.

I asked Colonel Johnson where he thought it best for a first-time photographer to position his camera, and he mentioned the mounds at the periphery of a field to the southeast of the shuttle. Using a heavy Gitzo tripod, I secured the camera assembly with tent stakes and rope. The trash bags not only protect the cameras from rain, but also from the possible cloud of solid rocket booster exhaust and water vapor expected at launch.

Pictured: Ed positions the camera in anticipation of the launch.

About Ed Darack
Ed Darack

Air & Space/Smithsonian contributing editor Ed Darack’s forthcoming book, The Final Mission 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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