Mar 11 2008
06:30 am

We debated whether to go see the 2:28AM scheduled launch of STS-123. We went back and forth all day. It's an hour's drive down and back. It's scheduled for 2:28 AM. It might get scrubbed because of cloud cover.

Around 9:30 PM we decided we're here, the latest NASA reports said weather conditions were 90% go for launch and the main engines were fueled, so we figured why not. We loaded up and headed down to Titusville.

Some photos after the jump...

At first I thought there was no point in leaving early at 10PM. We arrived around 11PM and were glad we did. We got one of the last parking spots just across the Hwy. 402 Max Brewer Memorial bridge. The people in the foreground were touring from France. The guy further down in the white hat looking down had a laptop with wireless broadband to monitor the launch status. He and some friends had driven over from Orlando, and had to be at work in the morning.

There were people there from all over the world. A bus unloaded some Japanese tourists. A German kid asked me for help setting up his camera because he had borrowed it from his Dad and he wasn't familiar with it. He had to translate the menus for me. Hope he got some good pics.

Everybody with a camera was walking around asking everybody else with a camera if they knew the right exposure for a night shuttle launch. Nobody did. I decided to set mine on ISO 320 and "P" mode (auto aperture/shutter speed) and hope that the Nikon engineers who designed and programmed the thing would figure it out for me.

The spot we picked is about 12 miles across the Indian River from the Kennedy Space Center. Floodlights lit up the launch pad and the low-lying clouds above. The larger structure to the right is the Vehicle Assembly Building.

The Vehicle Assembly Building, zoomed and cropped from 12 miles away.

Another view of the floodlights.

Finally, after a three-and-a-half hour wait, liftoff, right on time at 2:28AM. Here's a zoomed and cropped view, seconds after Shuttle Endeavour lifts off. As far as I can tell, it's virtually impossible to get a good exposure of the entire vehicle at night. The rocket flare is almost as bright as the sun.

A telephoto view of Endeavour entering the low-lying cloud layer. Unfortunately for those of us who drove an hour (or came from half way around the world) and waited two or three hours, the shuttle was only visible for about 15 seconds because of the cloud cover. But it was worth the wait.

Shuttle Endeavour punches through the clouds to the other side, headed for orbit.

While I handled telephoto duty, the Mrs. was in charge of wide angle shots. Here, she started a long exposure a couple of seconds before ignition, capturing a pretty spectacular explosion of light.

A wide angle view of the launch and reflection.

Another reflection, just as the shuttle is entering the clouds. For some reason, the camera's auto white balance picked a different setting, giving this shot a different look. In all the excitement, I can't honestly say which one is "correct."

Another wide angle reflection shot...

One last wide angle shot as the shuttle lights up the clouds from above.

People arrived at intervals spanning a couple of hours, but everybody left all at once. Traffic was stopped back across the bridge for about half an hour. We got back to the beach pad at about 4AM.

R. Neal's picture

Yes, you could hear it

Yes, you could hear it, but it took about a minute for the sound to arrive and the shuttle was long gone. It was like thunder interspersed with loud popping static. You could feel it.

I think they used to launch from a different complex, and I have some photos from 20 something years ago taken from where Highway 50 dead ends at Titusville, and it seems like that spot was a little closer but it is further away from the launch pad they use now.

The closest a civilian can get now is about 6 miles, out on the causeway going to the KSC. They sell tickets for $51 and take you out on a bus. The only problem is that tickets go on sale weeks ahead of time and sell out in minutes.

Justin's picture

Sweet pics. Thanks for

Sweet pics. Thanks for sharing.

Russ's picture


Spectacular photos, SKB. Wow.


fletch's picture

Great shots. I tried from

Great shots. I tried from 100 miles away but the flash of light only lasted about 5 seconds tops here and it was over. I got one pic handheld with a long exposure but with lens wobble. Thanks for staying up and sharing these pics with us.

Brian A.'s picture

Cool report. Brian A.I'd

Cool report.

Brian A.
I'd rather be

gttim's picture

Great shots!

I guess it was worth the drive?

I always shoot raw format now, just so I can adjust the white balance. Frequently there are color shifts to exposures.

R. Neal's picture

These were all shot raw,

These were all shot raw, using the in-camera auto WB. They were processed with the camera selected WB. I'm not sure which one is "correct," but it's probably somewhere in between the cooler and warmer ones. (I kept looking for the "night time shuttle launch" WB setting, but I couldn't find it.) :) Yes, it was definitely worth the drive.

Average Guy's picture

Nice shots

If the US really wants to promote our space program, field trips to see a launch should be a must for primary aged children. I got to see it as an adult, but I was still awe struck.

Truly remarkable pics R. Thanks for posting.

The real important Titusville question, can you get into any of the local BBQ joints that late?

R. Neal's picture

About the only thing open

About the only thing open was 7-11. They have good coffee that will keep you awake for the drive home.

ForaProgressiveKnoxville's picture

Those were some of the most

Those were some of the most amazing pictures i've seen. Thank you for sharing these!

Pam Strickland's picture

Thanks, Randy. Just

Thanks, Randy. Just beautiful.

I have friends who live in Titusville, who never go to launches but do talk about seeing them from their yard. Never got pics from them though. Great shots.

Pam Strickland

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." ~Kurt Vonnegut

gttim's picture


I was born in Orlando, and my parents used to watch Apollo launches from our front yard. We moved back to GA when I was 8 months old, and I had trouble understanding f-stop and shutter speed at that young age, so I never got any decent shots back then.

I usually try and get all my shot's WB for a series the same, picking something in between. (I am a bit obsessive compulsive about things like that. And about many other things, as it turns out.) You don't have a rocket's red glare setting?

I like the blueish shot- fourth from the bottom- the best.

Pam Strickland's picture

Commander is UTSI grad


Just a little FYI

Pam Strickland

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." ~Kurt Vonnegut

DF's picture

Awesome shots!

We were able to get tickets for the Visitor Center to see the launch. We arrived there about 7 in the evening after driving from Homosassa on the Gulf Coast. I wish we had known about the location you were at because your view was terrific. I agree that it was anticlimactic a bit, the clouds were so low, and the actual launch was SUCH a rush, and then a couple seconds later--all over. After waiting 7.5 hours, we were hoping for a little more view. There were no delays though, and it went off without a hitch which was nice. The reflections of the water in your photos were awesome. Thanks! Great job!

poopie's picture



JaHu's picture

Randy, those are remarkable

Randy, those are remarkable pics. The cloud cover may have limited the time for getting a good shot, but you definitely made the best of it.

On a downside:
Seeing the enormous trail of smoke tailing the shuttle, no matter how beautiful, it seems as it punched a hole through our ozone, it would do more damage than anything we could ever do from the ground.

Adrift in the Sea of Humility

F-Stop's picture

Holy wow! These are

Holy wow!

These are niiice...thanks for sharing them.

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