Monday, May 16, 2011

STS134 Launch Day

Twitpic - The beautiful space shuttle blooms inside of a clou... on TwitpicTrey Ratcliff wins the best launch photo prize with this piece of work he posted to Twitter soon after the launch. (TwitPic requires me to embed that thumbnail link. Can't get it any bigger legally.) The full size version has a lot of detail and no noise. Trey's HDR style was just the ticket for the overcast weather of today's launch. This even got a mention on the NPR blog. (tip from @Harbles) I wouldn't characterize this as "a nice shot" though. It kind of diminishes what he did here, starting with getting up at 3 am to set up a tripod in just the right spot to get a good setting over the water. Then this is probably multiple shots combined with software to get the high dynamic range that makes it so striking. Edit: I did some research and found out that I've been making HDR photos this whole time and didn't even know it! Apparently if you use just one image and do a lot of dodging and burning and adjusting of brightness and contrast and noise reduction that is considered HDR. Well hell! I've always done that! Even back in the darkroom. I'd pick the contrast value of the paper, dodge and burn parts of the image on the print, adjust the chemicals, all kinds of tricks to get the picture the way I wanted it. So it was just natural to look for the same adjustments in Photoshop and use them. Anyway, that's what this image is. Just a regular handheld prime lens photo. I still want to to know what the light is at the launch pad. Did they still have the Xenon lights on even though it was daytime?

*More Edits on Tuesday: Phil Plait blogged the same thing I did. I told him I thought we were wrong now and it was a single image. He tweeted Trey Ratcliff and got this response.

 Trey Ratcliff 

It's still a professionally edited photo, though, and it kind of makes me cringe to see NPR equate this shot to the one somebody took with their camera phone from a plane window. And Phil did it too. And people on Trey's own blog linked to that plane photo in the comments. Dang.

I left NASA TV via going on the computer at the end of my bed all night so I sort of half-followed the tanking and progress through the countdown. I woke up fully at around 7 when the commentators started grating on my last nerve. Somebody really hosed up the audio. The microphones were way too hot and it was clipping like hell. Then when the countdown got to 0 Livestream started stuttering about every 30 frames. It was intensely annoying. The clouds reflecting the light of the flames back up the ship made the camera feed on the external tank go all overexposed everywhere except the important part, the tiles, which is fine for the engineering but less fun to watch. So I have to say it wasn't my best launch experience. Something was just off today.

I tried to find a better source for NASA TV and came up with Ustream, with beautiful video, but the audio out of sync by at least an entire word. It was good audio though, so I listened to all the press conferences. The standard launch briefing was followed by Gabby Gifford's staff answering questions. Her chief of staff, Pia Carusone, is really good. She gave honest, non-evasive answers to all the questions, most of which were very personal, but for the most part understandable coming from People magazine. I think the Orlando reporter that wrote this is the one that asked how the experience changed the congresswoman's relationship to God. Carusone immediately said, "I don't know. I guess I'd have to ask her," then she tried to think what she was supposed to say and came up with something ambiguous to keep her from getting in trouble with the faithful. "Nobody has ever asked that before," she concluded. Well I'm glad about that! And I'm glad she said "I don't know," instead of producing some pandering pabulum. The reporter clearly couldn't write anything about "I don't know" so it doesn't turn up in the article. It will just warm the cockles of my heart if Gabby Giffords continues to progress through cranioplasty and the rest of her recovery with this kind of spiritual-free dignity.

The reporters tried to get Carusone to give them something sentimental to write but she wouldn't do it. "Did she clasp Mark's wedding ring as the shuttle launched?" "No. I didn't see her do that." She also explained very plainly that the congresswoman sat down for the last few minutes of the countdown because it might have upset her balance to tip her head back as the shuttle went up. They wanted her to be comfortable. That's very sensible I think.

I could find no other mention of the shuttle launch on the People magazine web site. I guess they take that name really literally. Rockets aren't people. Who cares.

Outside the US it is actually news though, including the part where they're going to do some PHYSICS with the cargo in the shuttle. Thank you Guardian.
Tens of thousands of people crowded in and around the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida for the launch of the shuttle's 16-day voyage to deliver $2bn (£1.23bn) worth of astrophysics equipment to the International Space Station, designed to search space for antimatter. Nasa is planning just one more flight, of the Atlantis in July, before the 30-year shuttle programme is shut down.
I love this paragraph. It is perfect to go with Endeavour, spelled the British way. "Centre" and "programme" and the pounds conversion point out how foreign this commentary is. Nobody in the US gives 16 ounces about the science. I'm relieved that one media outlet thinks some of their readers are interested.


  1. Barbara,

    I agree that Trey Ratcliff's photo is more than a "nice shot". Photographers work hard and wait years to get the great photos. Oh, sure, every now and then, you get a nice break, but mostly because you're prepared, knowledgable, and talented while being in the right place at the right time.

    So, hats off to Trey for his terrific capture!

    Side comment, based on your last bit in the blog but one that really bugs me. It seems to me that too few people are interested in:

    - Science
    - Space
    - Space Science
    - Space Shuttle Launches
    - Science
    - Learning
    - Learning how science works

    You get the idea. I still get excited - actually EXCITED - when there's a launch. But I invariably get little or no interest from family, and I can't think of the last time a friend showed any interest in one.

    But lots of people I know made sure they got up in the pre-dawn hours to watch a royal wedding recently, which is just great if living vicariously through people who wouldn't give you the time of day is your thing.

    When I was a kid, I used to watch EVERY National Geographic special and write about each one. I'd turn it in to my teachers just because! No assignment, totally on my own, just because science and nature really made me feel something.

    And if there was a Jaques Cousteau special on...Katy bar the door!!! Nothing was keeping me from those. I had autographed photos from him, and used to plaster my bedroom cork board with pictures, drawings, writing, etc. I was, however, outvoted when I tried to name a new dog "Calypso". I was cool with it.

    Ok, my dork alarm won't stop sounding, so I'd better quit now.


    I always love your blog!

  2. Glenn, I think you and I may be in a "takes one to know one" situation. I've looked at your photos and they are amazing. You clearly are lugging a lot of glass to remote locations. I'm weak and poor so I just take my trusty Casio. I did have a bit of back-and-forth with the Japanese producer who tried to buy my rocket video for what they pay for amateur home movies. I allowed as how I am not an amateur. I get paid for my pictures. Besides, I had to travel hundreds of miles from home and pay an admission fee and go to the space center two days in a row on purpose to take that video. They eventually gave in and gave me twice the (claimed) going rate, but it was pretty insulting in the meantime.

    I did a 20 page term paper based on Jaques Cousteau's book "The Silent Sea" in Oceanography grad school. The Cousteau part of my paper was mostly pointing out how he was not a scientist at all and never claimed to be. He was an explorer and inventor of diving gear. He was quite clueless about sound in the ocean. It is NOT silent. Still, exploration is fun and he made people interested in what was under the water. And it was really useful to have citations of concepts people assumed were true in the '50s that turn out to be totally wrong. That's science!