nasa, space shuttle, space program, columbia, tragedy, jewish, pride, history
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).
As NASA's Space Shuttle program continues to wind down, I'm reminded of a launch I covered for AFP back in January 2003. It was kind of a routine launch, with Space Shuttle Columbia scheduled to carry seven astronauts into orbit. The crew included Rick Husband, Willie McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla. David Brown, Laurel Clark and , notably, the first-ever Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon.
I decided to drive down to Jetty Park in Cocoa Beach, just south of Kennedy Space Center and see what was going on down there. Looking around, I saw the usual mix of beachgoers, fishermen, spce geeks and sightseers on the beach and jetty. Then, just moments before the launch, a group of 3 men caught my eye: Orthodox Jews Nachman Segal, Dov Kok, and Neftaly Hertzel were standing on the boardwalk waiting to view the launch. I introduced myself and the three men told me that they had travelled from South Florida to watch the first Israeli astronaut begin his historic journey in to outer space. The re was nothing profound in their presence at the launch, just there simple pride and there desire to be there as their countryman entered his name on the roll of space travelers form the planet Earth.
I asked if they would mind if I photographed them watching the launch and they said that would be fine. The launch was no more spectacular than any other launch and the photos were not particularly outstanding. As the space shuttle disappeared from view, we said our goodbyes and went of on our separate ways.
A couple of weeks later I was sitting in an office at Daytona International Speedway preparing to photograph the start of the Rolex 24 at Daytona auto race when I heard the tragic news that the Space Shuttle Columbia had disintegrated on it's return to Earth, with the entire crew perishing in the accident. My thoughts went to the three men whose paths I had crossed on the beach in Cocoa a few weeks earlier and tried to imagine what their thoughts might be following the pride they had felt a few weeks earlier.
I also realized again that life carries no guarantees. Today's triumphs are for today. Enjoy them for what they are and always be prepared for what life might have in store around the next corner.