One of the things that always fascinated me about covering a Space Shuttle Launch was the fact that once the “fuse” was lit and the shuttle lifted off the pad, you had about a minute between the time the shuttle left the ground until it was too far aloft to take much of a useful photo, except, of course, for the smoke trail left behind. There is no “pause” or “re-do” button and you can’t rewind the tape to try again, Once the shuttle is gone, it’s gone!
So on the morning of March 8, 2001 as I was preparing to photograph the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery I was especially excited after learning that the actual launch would occur right a sunrise, as the sun peaked over the Titusville, Florida, horizon.
My challenge became to find a spot where the rising sun would line up with the launch pad at Kennedy Space Cemter to create a unique image of sunrise and shuttle launch in the same frame.
I arrived on the scene plenty early and began to drive up and down US1 in Titusville looking for such a site. I was not prepared enough to have an exact location pinpointed as the spot where the sun would appear, but I studied the slowly brightening sky to try and determine an approximate location. With just a few minutes remaining before the scheduled launch, I settled on a small park along the Banana River as a likely spot for a decent photo. There was an added bonus of a group of space shuttle watchers and a stand of palm trees to add to the composition of the photo.
The final obstacle standing in the way of my photo was the possibility of a hold or delay in the countdown, which could allow the sun to rise higher in the sky, thereby eliminating the rare opportunity for a sun rise shuttle launch.
This morning, though, was one of the rare occasions when everything came together as envisioned, and I followed my one-minute game plan to capture some tight shots, wide shots, people shots, tree shots and spectacularly illuminated smoke trail shots, before the moment became a memory as the shuttle roared into orbit.
I would rank these photos as some of my favorites in the dozen years that I covered NASA’s space shuttle operations. (View the entire gallery here).