Karen’s Blog

Thoughts on a changing profession and life

Archive for February 2010


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Palm trees frame the shuttle “Endeavour” as we wait for liftoff.

The last scheduled night space shuttle launch inspired me to jumpstart my blog again.  My husband managed to snag a couple of VIP tickets for us.  I immediately went onto Expedia and reserved cheap flights to Orlando for my daughter, Katie, and myself.  My husband’s company was paying for his. We left DC just hours before the first of this month’s two big snow storms shut down the city.  Katie was just looking for a weekend of warm weather, but I was revisiting a childhood dream.

Since I was tagging along, I was not allowed access to those lovely long lenses that Nikon lends to photojournalists covering the event.  I was fine with that.  I was going to witness my first ever space shuttle launch.  Almost all the websites that talk about shuttle launch advises if this is your first launch, just experience it.  I thought about that briefly, but I’ve been a shooter longer than not and I knew I would beat myself up if I didn’t take a frame

I packed two digital cameras and brought along two cheap lenses.  One was an ancient Nikkor 500 f.8 manual focus.  On the plus side, it’s small and compact, but manually focusing a lens during a fast and exciting event, after years of using auto focus, well…. what was I thinking?  The other lens performed beautifully and most of the pictures I’m showing came from that piece of glass.

I attached a small 70-300 f4.5-5.6 G lens to my Nikon D300s.  I set it to what I thought it should be after soliciting advice from just about everyone, from the Nikon rep to other photographers around me at the launch. Everyone—and I mean everyone—gave me different settings.  I stood besides my tripod looking at two pieces of paper where I had written eight different recommend exposures for a night launch. I took an educated guess.  I set it to 500 ISO, f.8, 1/200 of a second, infinity focus and gave the camera to my daughter with the directions to start shooting when she saw the light coming from the bottom of the rocket and don’t stop until she couldn’t see it anymore.  OK.  That’s as technical as I ever will be on this blog site.

I’ve included three images to show what we got.  I’m happy.  These are personal souvenirs for an amazing event was both exciting but melancholy to witness.

Endeavour lifts off at 4:14 am.

The shuttle engines turned the night sky to day.

Endeavour cleared the low clouds.

I was one of those dorky kids who always wanted to be an astronaut.  My husband and I bonded over that.  On our first date, we spoke about our dreams and aspirations.  Almost simultaneously, we each blurted out that we had always wanted to be an astronaut.  We laughed and I knew I had found my lifemate.

Even with the wonderful career I had as a contract photographer for National Geographic, if I could do it all over again, I would apply to become an astronaut.

Why didn’t I in the first place?  It was not to be my destiny.  As I grew into my teens, I lost my 20/20 vision, devastating my space travel dreams.  Maybe it’s ironic I became a photographer, another profession dependant on vision.

We ended this wonderful adventure the same way we started it, trying to outrun a blizzard.  The second big storm was on its way to Washington and our flights back were cancelled.  Worried about leaving our house alone with over three feet of snow falling on and around it, we decided to drive our rental car back.  During that 14-hour 900-mile dash home, we only stopped twice.   Once was to clean up the back seat when my poor daughter, who never could handle long drives, vomited all over it.  Our second stop was at 1:30 am to pick up a few groceries outside of Richmond, Virginia at a 24 hour Super Wal-Mart, I found on my iPhone.  Friends had warned us that the grocery stores in the Washington area were all running low on supplies.   We finally arrived home at 3:00 am.  And ended up shoveling snow until 3:30 am so we could get our car into the driveway.

Even though I never did become an astronaut, my life always does seem to end up an adventure.

Arriving home to an historic snowfall, after a 14 hour drive.

Written by kasmauski

February 17, 2010 at 12:20 am