Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Greetings from Orlando

Haven't written much of late...busy recharging my batteries in sunny Florida. I've now been here a week and wish I had another week to do all the things I would love to do. For now, I'll just have to settle for the things I've done.

The main intent of this trip was to photograph the launch of the space shuttle Discovery. Originally slated to take off around 9pm on March 11th, STS-119 looked to be a full blown night launch...a small hydrogen leak postponed things for a couple of days and the new launch window called for a dusk 7:43pm on March 15th. From a photographic standpoint, it posed a few challenges...especially for someone that had no experience shooting a launch, much less one with tricky lighting. I will have to admit, at some point in the process, photography became less than important.

The site we selected for viewing was in the city of Titusville, directly across from the Vehicle Assembly Building and offering a slightly obstructed view of the actual launch pad. Ground level haze also added to the difficulty of shooting the event. Being 11 miles away, I was painfully short in the lens department. One of Canon's new 800mm lenses with a 2x teleconverter would have been just the ticket, especially when coupled to a tripod with a full gimbal head, which would allow for easy tracking. Instead, I attacked the problem with 2 with a 300mm lens and stacked 1.4x and 2x teleconverters and a second one with a 70-200mm lens and a 1.4x teleconverter. While these equipment choices worked...I would definitely attack things differently for the next launch.

With me on this safari were my parents and my best friend Doug (who is also my step-mom's youngest brother). For those of you that don't know Doug, he has Down Syndrome. Perhaps his condition served to draw us together originally...starting the day we first met in Kindergarten some 47 years ago and continuing to this day. For whatever reason, Doug and I were drawn together that first day of school, a fact that didn't go unnoticed by our teacher, Mrs Cline. From that day on, she made a point of having Doug and I in close proximity to each other at all times. Even without the teacher's help, I am sure we would have spent most of that school year watching out for each other anyway, because for whatever reason, Doug and I have always had a special bond. Perhaps it came from our classroom, were we had a replica Mercury space capsule that we spent large amounts of our time in and around. Doug and I both liked rockets then and we still do.

As the countdown wound down, you could feel the excitement building. Suddenly, the timer hit zero...the sky lit up and Discovery began what appeared to be a gentle ascent into the twilight. I tried hard to juggle cameras and photograph the event...but suddenly I became more aware of what was taking place by my side...Doug was cheering at the top of his lungs...Go,go,go!!! Next thing I know, we were both cheering...slapping high fives and just plain dancing around with excitement. I tried to snap a few more photos...but a hug from Doug and more cheering just seemed a whole lot more appropriate. I honestly wished that I had a video camera with me so that I could have recorded that moment for posterity. Two small town boys from upstate New York had just flown over the moon without ever leaving the ground...fulfilling a nearly 50 year old fantasy and proving that dreams do come true. I can honestly say that I had leaky eyes for a moment...

I wish that I was a more skillful writer or even speaker, with the ability to craft this tale in a manner that would be easier for folks to fathom. I called my wife after the launch and tried to explain the moment. I failed dismally. She could sense the excitement in my voice, but she couldn't grasp the moment. If you have never had the experience of seeing a Shuttle launch in person, you simply can not begin to comprehend the enormity of a launch event. The sights, the sounds, the feelings...there is an assault on all of our senses...not a bad assault in the strictest sense of the word, but instead more of a sensory overload as the magnificent beast climbs to the heavens. There are only a few launches left on the calendar...if there is any way you could experience a launch in person...I couldn't recommend it any more highly! And I'm sure Doug agrees.

(I should also mention that my folks were pretty darn impressed with the launch too!)