February 2005 
Volume 03, Issue 9 
Main Feature

Great shot!

Carleton Bailie's photos have captured majesty of 400 rocket launches


Great shot!Carleton Bailie, who's been documenting Delta and Space Shuttle launches for Boeing since 1989, handles the task of photographing launches for the Delta program, including the Delta IV Heavy launch in December.

Photographing the liftoff of a spacecraft presents unique challenges and opportunities. Years of experience, technical knowhow and sometimes luck can result in spectacular images. Thanks to Bailie's skills, Boeing employees, as well as people worldwide, are able to appreciate the majestic, breathtaking sight of a rocket at liftoff.

Here, Bailie, who shoots for Boeing on contract, explains how he does his job and what his role is in the Delta program.

Q: How long have you been a professional photographer?

A: I have been a professional photographer for about 19 years, beginning with a Space Shuttle writing assignment for Countdown magazine. The editor liked the article, and I quickly switched from a novice aerospace reporter/photographer to a professional.

Great shot!Today, I'm devoted full-time to photography, and I've covered approximately 400 launches, including Delta, Pershing, Atlas, Space Shuttle, Titan, Poseidon and Trident. I have been officially shooting for Boeing since the launch of the British Satellite Broadcasting Delta on Aug. 27, 1989, and have covered every Delta launched from Florida since then.

Q: How much time do you spend on a typical launch?

A: A few days prior to launch, I begin planning the placement of several types of cameras. For Delta [launches], I usually begin setup the day before the launch. This can take two to three hours. I make sure all the batteries are charged and there's enough film to make it through three or four attempts. Cameras need to be checked after a launch scrub also.

Q: What is a typical prelaunch setup like?

Great shot!A: The launch pad tower cameras, as well as all the cameras in the field, are in place 24 hours prior to launch. I try to position the cameras to obtain a slightly different composition for each launch. Lighting conditions can vary at launch time, so to avoid a bad exposure I adjust each camera with different settings.

Approximately an hour before tower rollback, I activate all the cameras and remove any moisture that might have accumulated on the lenses. The film cameras I use are Canon T-90s, which are manual-focus, and Canon EOS A2s, 620s and 650s, which are autofocus. The digital camera that I manually operate at the press site is a Canon D10 model.

Q: Are the cameras protected from the elements?

Great shot!A: I have wooden boxes that can house two cameras for either vertical or horizontal shots. The box is set up and covered with a plastic bag, with the lenses protruding out the front of the bag. To prevent water intrusion, the bag is taped around the lenses, and there's also a solid plastic cover overhang.

Q: How do the remote cameras function?

A: The cameras located near the pad and on the tower have two types of "triggers," both activated by sound. I usually set the sound meter for 100 decibels; that triggers the cameras as the vehicle is launched. As a safety feature to thwart activation by stray noise, a sustained two-second sound level of 100 decibels is required.

The type of audio trigger used for my tower cameras (cameras mounted on launch pad tower) has no delay and immediately fires six frames a second. From pad 17B (at Cape Canaveral, Fla.) this is a necessity, as smoke and steam obscures the view of the rocket about one second after ignition.

Q: How do you capture those unique nighttime exposures?

A: A time-exposure launch shot (a streak shot) is accomplished at night when a long exposure is possible. Generally the trajectory of the vehicle is known; hence a camera with a wide-angle lens is positioned so the bottom of the frame has the launch pad in one corner. During the exposure, the streak arcs up the frame and descends down the other side. By keeping the camera on a tripod, only the rocket will appear to be moving and the engine plume will leave a burned-in visual on the film.

Great shot!To avoid vibrations that would distort the picture, a cable release is used to open and close the camera shutter. During the long exposure light builds up on the film, resulting in the night sky and surrounding areas providing an even more distinctive effect.

Q: What's your most unusual photo?

A: One of the most unusual shots I've taken involved an Atlas Centaur a few years ago.

After a lengthy hold, the rocket launched into a clear January night sky and unexpectedly passed in front of the full moon. I was able to capture one frame of the vehicle's silhouette against the moon. That prelaunch hold seemed to have aligned everything just right! After nearly 400 launches, that was a first.

Q: How do you feel about your work?

A: I look at each launch as being an eyewitness to history. What's most rewarding in covering these launches for Boeing is that I've been able to document the history of the Delta program for the company and the world to see.

I also view each launch as a challenge to do better than the previous. As the prime photographer for these events, I have been entrusted to document launches that, if missed, can never be repeated.



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