The first time I saw a shuttle landing it was STS-4 and Roanld Reagan was there. That was July 4th, 1982. I’ll never forget how amazing that day was. There were American flags everywhere and what seemed like millions of proud Americans, baking in the hot Mojave sun. I saw the president speak from a podium in front of the Space Shuttle Enterprise. He seemed so small to me – dwarfed by the orbiter. Twenty seven years later lor last Friday, I returned to Edwards Air Force Base to watch another.
Before I moved to California from Georgia, it seems like the shuttle landed at Edwards Air Force Base just a couple of times after they built a runway at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. They now try to avoid the cost of flying the orbiter across counrty on the back of a Boeing 747. Since, I moved here, the weather in Florida has conspired to allow me to see 4 landings now. None of them were as good as this one. My friend and reliable geek, Jonathon Redman drove us out to the North side of EAFB where we located an elevated train trestle, which would serve perfectly to elevate our line of sight above some sandy burms between us and runway 22. We had to drive down an access road of questionable density, bringing about the fear that after this was all over, we may have to get towed out of the sand and back to civilization.
We brought everything but the kitchen sink to help view/record the event: Celestron 20X80 binoculars on a paralellogram mount, Heather’s new Canon EOS 50D, Jonathon’s Sony video camera, Jonathon’s scanner with antenna to hear shuttle communications, two pairs of 10X50 binoculars and some water and snacks to power the eyeballs. Soon after we set up, I noticed that a radar tracking facility on the case had come online and had begun tracking an object. Taking our cue, we assumed that that object was Discovery and started to look in the general area at which the dishes were pointed. By the time we saw the inside of the dishes angled slightly toward us, we knew it must be overhead.
Every landing I’ve seen, someone always catches sight of the shuttle before I do or no one knows where it is until you hear the sonic booms associated with the craft breaking the speed of sound. This time, for a few short seconds, we spotted Discovery even before the sonic booms.
It was glorious. The partly-cloudy sky provided a reference to actually view the movement of approach instead of seeing the shuttle floating in a sea of blue sky, which provided for a much more dynamic viewing. The shuttle glided silently over a throng of tilted heads, over the desert and over it’s mother Earth. We couldn’t have asked for higher visibility or contrast. There, for the world to see, was proof that we can still achieve amazing things violently descending through the air. I wanted to catch it so that it wouldn’t break, the old man. I wanted to show the world how we’re not over yet and here is the proof. My eyes were locked on the shuttle. I switched from Binoculars to camera and back. At one point, through my trusty bino’s, I could actually read ‘the United States’ on the cargo bay doors. Our gamble with the train trestle paid off when we witnessed the puffs of smoke from landing gear touchdown, unobscured by the buildings that plagued viewers closer to paved roads. It was the best landing I’ve ever seen.
On the way home, I was wishing that Heather could’ve made it (she was working). Jonathon and I sat replaying the event in our heads, driving down the desert highway. The sun was moving on to Wester pastures but left a trail of clouds on fire in its wake. The windmills in Mojave served as reminders that there are forces much larger than us at play all around us.
The Space Shuttle program is coming to an end. The last launch is scheduled for May 2010. For several years, we will rely on Russian technology to reach the Internation Space Station. This is embarassing. I witnessed the construction of a single stage to orbit vehicle only to be canceled by our former president. There is no reason why we shouldn’t have some sort of active manned spaceflight program at all times. The science justifies it and we need it as our frontier. I look forward to the future of manned space flight, but I can’t help but think that we are taking a lateral step.
All images taken with Heather’s 50D and 28-135mm USM. I couldn’t help but snap a few shots of this guy riding his bike along highway 14. The images all had great blurred backgrounds invoking a ton of motion. I plan on really doing a shot like this correctly in the near future, so this is an informal sketch.
I’ve been very busy lately with classes at Cal State Northridge, so I haven’t been updating as much as I’d like. I’ve already got more Pin-Ups images to post before too long and I’ve got to get caught up before Canon releases the EOS 7D, my future new camera. I’ve spent many hours researching and I hope this is the right choice. The word is Bust Buy should receive shipment on October 11th. I just hope I can wait a month. I’ve already started to read the manual and it seems like it’ll be our goto machine for most of our work in our new photography business. We’ve also turned in our application for the Arbor Lofts mentioned in an earlier post so cross your fingers. All in all, things are going very well so stay tuned for much much more to come.