Bringing the mail: Spectacular imagery from launch of ULA Atlas V with NASA’s TDRS-L
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — For Florida, the days leading up to and of the launch of NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay L (TDRS-L) spacecraft – were cold. Powerful winds blew across Kennedy Space Center and the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on January 22, the day prior to launch. The photographers huddled atop the mound which sits between the historic Astronaut Beach House and Space Launch Complex 41 – were not happy campers when they heard that the rollout would be delayed for another 30 minutes. However, as this event and others scheduled during the lead up to launch showed – covering these events is a learning experience.
NASA hosts what has come to be called (unofficially of course) “ShuttlePalooza” whenever the space agency has a launch at Kennedy Space Center. Essentially, NASA opens the doors to the media (and social media aficionados as well) to attend a variety of events, allowing the press to get updated on what the agency has been up to. The launch of TDRS-L was no different.
NASA held an event at the Orion Operations and Checkout or “O&C” Building the day prior to launch at around 8:30 a.m. EST (13:30 GMT). Wanting to get some imagery of the spacecraft and to confirm that the September 2014 launch date was still a “go” I opted to attend. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to see, the service module, obviously under much construction, was behind a number of structures and workers. Similarly, the command module of Orion, was surrounded by milar and scaffolding. Although some photographers groused about the situation, for those eager to see mankind escape from low-Earth-orbit again – it was a very positive sign things were moving forward.
The Mailman Doth Not Cometh…
After the aforementioned rollout, we were scheduled to meet back at the NASA Kennedy Space Center Press Site at 2 p.m. EST (19:00 GMT) to set up remote cameras around the base of the Atlas V at SLC-41. The SpaceFlight Group, to include our news site, spaceflightinsider.com – is a mere four months old. We’re still working to get all the bits and pieces that are required to cover these events professionally in place. This was evident as we got the triggers (electronic devices which set the camera off when the rocket launches) handed to us just prior to getting out on the bus!
This proved to be my downfall. As anyone who has spoken to me about the subject will tell you – I’m not a photographer. I rely on the highly-skilled team of professionals who provide content for us for that. Still, when you’re small like we are – each person tends to become a one-man band – so that any one element does not become a single point failure. As such, I too had developed boxes (in this case I used a mailbox) to set remotes in and had purchased triggers for them. Only the cable and adapter, when plugged into the camera, would not allow for it to fit into the box. All efforts to correct this failed, we also ran into some other issues which apparently reset the trigger. At some point you have to surrender to fate, I opted to do so and worked to help our other staff photographers, Mike Deep, Mike Howard set up their remotes.
Thankfully as this was a night launch, there was time to rest and start fresh the next day. Sierra Nevada Corporation along with Space Florida and United Launch Alliance hosted a teleconference (another ShuttlePaLooza event) to detail the fact that the company was getting all the elements in place to conduct the first flight of the Dream Chaser spacecraft in November 2016.
Afterward, launch operations continued apace and, with one slight hiccup, the launch team with ULA sent the Atlas V rocket thundering off of the pad and into the icy black of space. It was a gorgeous launch, with each element needed to ensure that TDRS-L reached its geosynchronous position happening like clockwork.
While I was chatting with our launch photography team, one of our affiliate crew members, Jeff Seibert with Wired4Space, wandered in with a plastic Ziploc bag in his hands. In it were a wide-range of cables – including one which looked to be at a 90 degree angle, and thus would have solved my problems with the remote trigger at the pad. I steeled myself, saying that this cable couldn’t work. John, with an evil grin on his face plug Jeff’s cable into the camera and the trigger. Making a noise – the camera activated and began snapping pictures. Seeing the look on my face – John Studwell burst out laughing.
Covering space, while it is a great lot of fun, is also a never-ending learning experience. Like anything in life, you enjoy the good times, work to reduce those things which make your life stressful – and you continue to push forward. Much as the ULA launch team had shown earlier in the evening, I opted to take this as a lesson learned, to continue to try and emulate, in some tiny degree, the amazing work that the two Mikes, John and the rest of our photography team do whenever one of these amazing events takes place. I can never match their skill and professionalism – but I can learn the lesson taught that night. Persevere – and watch the professionals work.
The views expressed above are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The SpaceFlight Group
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.