Photo Feature: Rinse & Repeat – CLIO, CRS-4 and chasing rockets in the rain
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – United Launch Alliance sent the CLIO satellite to orbit on Sept. 16 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 8:10 p.m. EDT (2010 GMT) – at the very close of the launch window. For the SpaceFlight Insider team, it marked a week of near-constant rain, of challenges small and large – and rewards too precious to adequately define with words.
SFI’s team – are mostly dedicated volunteers who have a strong passion for all things space. In the end however, as a wise man once said: “Life is what happens while you are making other plans.” With CLIO, we were very limited to who was able to attend the events leading up to launch. In fact, only the author and one other contributor were on hand for remote setup – a situation which proved to be our undoing in terms of getting crisp launch imagery from the pad.
A rain storm parked itself over Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) where the Atlas and its precious cargo sat poised for liftoff – for two and a half hours before the launch. With only the most modest of understandings as to how to properly set up one of the new remote stations in place – it came as little surprise when the pictures that came from the two cameras we were able to field – was inundated with distortions due to droplets on the lens.
Not all was lost however, one of SFI’s newest recruits, Jared Haworth, assisted in the collection of the cameras and both he and I were able to begin coordination for the next time we would be required to place remotes on a launch pad – in just four days’ time.
For the launch of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 4 (CRS-4) mission, set to take place at 2:14 a.m. EDT on Sept. 20 – we would field the complete system of four stations and have a team of highly-skilled and talented photographers on hand.
The team, led by photographer and web-designer extraordinaire Mike Deep, and supported by Haworth, Pedro Vazquez and Michael Seeley, managed to set no fewer than three of SFI’s 4 Cape Canaveral stations – and four of Deep’s as well.
Rinse and Repeat
After the remotes were set, just outside the Cape’s SLC-40, the mother of all rains began to inundate Florida’s Space Coast. Starting at around 5 p.m. EDT and continuing into the morning hours of Sept. 20. NASA and SpaceX scheduled a remote reset for 3:30 p.m. EDT (1530 GMT) on Sept. 20. All of the cameras were soaked; one even had water in the camera’s lens. Not a good sign.
SFI monitored weather reports, noting that predictions as to what Mother Nature would provide – were all over the road. Predictions would end up running the gamut – from 30 percent to 90 percent of weather providing the conditions necessary to get the F9 off the pad. When the time for the Dragon resupply vessel with its 5,100 lbs of supplies to launch to take to the skies – the latter (and the better) of the two predictions turned out to be true. It was time for the Falcon – to fly.
The night greeted the launch vehicle’s ascent with mostly clear skies, clouds and one of the most beautiful launches the writer has ever seen. Clouds off the Florida Coast glowed a lazy, yet crisp, orange as the F9 thundered its way aloft. Staging was clearly visible as NASA’s press site speakers ticked off successful event after successful event.
A Good Job
Whenever I cover an event at the Cape, I stop at Kelsey’s Pizzeria in Cape Canaveral. I’m a regular and one of the waitresses there, Pavla, chats with me about what it is like to do what I do. This time, it was rather obvious that I was tired. Pavla noticed this and asked me; “Is it a good job?”
That gave me pause. Chasing rockets tends to eat up a lot of my time as well as that of the team at SFI. I hadn’t really considered that question before. I stopped and thought about it.
“Yes, it’s a great job, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
I meant it. Yes, the rushing around, long hours, dodging wonky weather and all the rest can be stressful. However, when the rain clears and the first stage’s engines ignite – it all becomes worth it. Covering the space program is a privilege I told her.
The opinions expressed above are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SpaceFlight Insider
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.