Early this morning we drove down to Cape Canaveral to watch the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery. We arrived at 3am to allow time to board a bus and set up our cameras on the NASA Causeway for the scheduled 6:21 am launch. The launch was originally set for the afternoon of March 18th but due to cold weather in Florida, the preparations to the launch vehicle could not be completed in time for that date. Because the shuttle launch has to be synchronized with the orbit of the International Space Station, the launch time gets 25 minutes earlier for each day it is delayed. That's how we ended up with a pre-dawn launch, which is much more challenging to photograph.
Today we were fortunate that everything went very smoothly and the weather cooperated very nicely as well. Discovery lifted off right on schedule at 6:21am. It was a nice cool morning approximately 60 degrees, which is what I consider perfect weather.
Below is a chronological sequence of launch photos. There were over 20 images in this series but I am only showing 5 of them. The camera settings I used were vastly different for the first few photos, before the shuttle cleared the launch tower. Once it cleared the tower and the huge flame from the solid rocket boosters became visible, I had to raise the shutter speed from 1/100 second to 1/640 second to prevent the photos from being completely washed out. Since I knew the smoke plume would billow out toward us and momentarily block our view of the shuttle after the solid rocket booster ignition, I used this 1 to 1.5 second interval to adjust my shutter speed. I was ready when the shuttle emerged from behind the smoke and I had the right settings thanks to a good friend from the Marshall Space Flight Center in Montgomery, Alabama who advised me early this morning. Thanks, Joby!
[ click any photo to enlarge ]
Ignition of Discovery's 3 main engines.
Firing Solid Rocket Boosters (here comes the smoke plume)
Discovery emerges from behind the smoke plume.
The photo below shows the International Space Station as it flew overhead 17 minutes before the shuttle launch. I snapped a few photos as it passed between us and the moon, getting both in the frame.
[click photo to enlarge]
Finally, here's one that Cindy snapped right before the launch. Since we were in total darkness, I look like deer in someone's headlights from the camera flash.