Tuesday, November 23, 2010

SkyRise Chicago, 2010

This is the second year in a row that I was the official photographer for SkyRise Chicago, the run to the top of the tallest building in North America.  It is a fundraiser for the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, and begins early in the morning, just as the sun in starting to peek above the horizon. 
I was assisted again this year by the always capable and helpful Joanne.  She covered the ground floor activities while I photographed the participants reaching the skydeck on the 103rd floor. RIC is a great organization because the whole staff really gets involved, including the board members and major donors.  President and CEO Joanne Smith does the run up the stairs, then stays to congratulate and cheer on everyone else that comes after her.  This is always an emotional event, with lots of hugging and crying. 
A number of patients show up to help hand out medals to everyone that completes the race.  So many of the people I meet during this event have an important reason for being there; either they know someone who was treated at RIC, or they went there themselves.  The girl with the glasses was one of the first volunteers on site, arriving around 6am with her father.  She was also one of the last to leave. 
Just like last year there were a number of firefighters that climbed the entire thing while wearing their uniform, gear, and helmet in honor of the many firefighters that died in the WTC on Sept 11th.  
And for all of you that think you just can't do something as difficult as this, I want you to think about Mark Stephan, seen below in red.  He fractured his spine, can barely walk, and needs assistance standing.  It took him a few hours to complete the climb, but he does it... one difficult step at a time.  This was his second year reaching the top.  If he can do it, you can do it. 

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Friday, November 5, 2010

Space Shuttle- So Long For Now

Well, yes, I'm crushed.  I was getting close to the security gate when I heard on the radio that the launch of Discovery had been postponed.  I still drove in to the press center to wait for details.  There was a great deal of disappointment all around, but the saddest people were over at the Twitter tent.  I didn't see any actual tears, but I'm sure they were there. 

To console the group, NASA had astronaut Dan Tani stop by to talk to the group and answer questions. 

The Tweetup crowd had seriously dwindled after the days of endless delays.  But the ones that remained still enjoyed the visit.
The mood in the NASA press center wasn't much happier.  They were still going to try for Monday.  In which case I would miss the launch altogether. 

This is the Lightspeed Media Team in the back of the press room as we sat and contemplated our next move.  We thought that we might get quick clearance to run out to the launch pad and service the cameras.
We didn't get cleared, so we decided to head to Port Canaveral for lunch.  As we arrived we learned that the mission has been officially pushed back to Nov 30th.  And I am absolutely thrilled!  Because as it stands right now I have some free days from the 30th - 5th.  So I'll get one more shot to photograph from on top of the VAB. 

Right now I am packing up my gear and heading to the airport!  Other members of the team are going out to KSC now to grab all the cameras and gear.  Stay tuned... I'll have more soon. 

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This Could Be The Day!

It's the middle of the night.  I should be sleeping, but I can't because I'm too excited.  The launch is set for today and, barring any bad weather, I think it has a good chance to make it. All the photo on this post are extras from the past few days that I thought I'd share.
There is something I haven't talked about much before, because I'll be crushed if it doesn't happen.  But if Discovery does launch today, then I'm supposed to photograph it from on top of the VAB.  For those of you that aren't space geeks, that is the gigantic Vertical Assembly Building that is such an icon at Kennedy Space Center.  I grew up down here, and I've seen that amazing building my whole life.  It's one of the largest buildings in the world, and it is such a symbol of everything that is amazing about the space program.  I never imagined in a million years that I'd have the rare opportunity to stand on top of it. 

The shuttle HAS to lift off tomorrow or I'm afraid I'll miss it.  My flight back to Chicago is set for Saturday afternoon, and I'll never make it to the airport if I stick around for a Saturday launch.
Most of this past day was spent working on our remote cameras that are stationed all around the launch pad.  They look very similar to the one you see on the left below.  The cameras sit inside a handmade housing, and the whole thing is anchored to the ground as securely as possible to protect against the violent shaking of the launch.

There are escape cables for the crew in case there is an emergency.  And here is where they end up.  I was told that the first net slows them down, and the second net catches them.
And this last photo doesn't have anything to do with the launch.  I just thought it was a beautiful view that nobody ever gets to see.  This is the beach just east of the launch pad, with the old train track that isn't used any more.  It's a wonderful image of Brevard County that is never shown, and really isn't known about.
Hopefully the next blog posting I have for you will be after the launch!  Keep your fingers crossed~

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Early Hours and Late Nights

Ah, the storm clouds are gathering around our noble efforts!
The Shuttle is currently set for liftoff on Thursday, but the weather is not looking good.  And we are all really hoping that it beats the odds and gets off the ground soon.  I have already had to change my plane ticket once, and my credit card isn't looking forward to having to do it again.

The past two days we've been entirely focused on setting up our remote cameras all around the launch pad.  They will be stationed in different areas and triggered by sound-activated remotes.  One of our days started before the sun came up.
As you can see, all the press and media people have to line up their gear on the ground so bomb-sniffing dogs can come through and check out our bags.  After we've been cleared, we gather our stuff and hop in a van to be escorted to our locations.  We have two different 3-D camera setups, as well as one camera doing video, one doing Infrared, and another doing hi-speed single shots.  Thanks to our trusted guide, Roy, we found this great location on the back-side of the shuttle near some old decommissioned train tracks.   There are giant gopher turtle holes all around this area.  One big turtle even came out to see what we were doing. 
This evening we were all bussed out again to document the RSS retraction.  I should mention that everything associated with NASA has to be in acronym form.  So I don't know what RSS stands for, but I'm guessing it means Really Slow Structure.   This is when the Shuttle is uncovered and the structure is moved out of the way in preparation for launch.  It's was pitch-black again when the Shuttle finally started peeking out!

And here is how it sits right now! Discovery really looks amazing out there in the pitch-black wilderness, while being lit up by the giant xenon spotlights.
In just a few hours NASA administrators will make a decision on if the weather is going to be too severe to launch.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it happens today or tomorrow.  As much fun as I'm having, I do have to get home and work on a few other projects.  I have one eye on the Shuttle, and one on the calendar :)

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Twitter Twitter! And Launch Pad 39B

On Monday I finally got my badge and made my way out to the NASA press site.  I arrived about an hour before the rest of the team, and I suddenly found myself smack dab in the middle of a enormous Tweet-up!  Twitter-loving tweeters from all over the world are gathering for the launch and they have their own special tent in the press area.  There were more computers than people, I think. 

Several NASA administrators stopped by to speak to the group, including NASA Flow Director Stephanie Stilson.  The creator of Twitter was there to talk to the group and ask questions too, but since I only signed up for Twitter about 3 days ago... I didn't feel qualified to ask anything of any importance.  But what I did get from his talk is that somehow Twitter is going to save the world.   Make a note of that, people. 

When the rest of my group showed up we headed out to photograph the deconstruction of Launch Pad 39B.  It wasn't the most exciting photo opportunity, but I still did my best to find an interesting angle. 

And this is how you get that photo! :)  Of course some of the other photographers saw me doing this and slowly started doing the same thing behind me.  I sat up and looked back to see all these other people down on the ground.
 And if I ever see any marks or nicks on my camera, it makes me slightly happy to know that I got them from lying down on the rocks in the Shuttle crawler path.  How many people get to say that?

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Monday, November 1, 2010

Last Shuttle Project- In A Holding Pattern

This day was almost a carbon copy of the first!  We had a morning meeting, then spent most of our time at the Cocoa Beach Pier.  And if the shuttle doesn't go off soon it might just become our home-away-from-home.  We look like we're starting to settle in a bit.  And honestly, who wouldn't want to sit out here for a few hours-
Still, we always try to stay connected.  
This unexpected down-time has been a good bonding period for the group.  But we have made a number of new friends too.  Considering how much gear our group is lugging around, we've been attracting quite a bit of attention.  Jook (in the red shirt) has been taking some VR-360 degree images.  I'm carrying two big telephotos.  The black lens on my right shoulder is the Sigma 50-500mm, commonly known as the Bigma.  The lens on my right shoulder is a Canon 500mm.  It's much, much heavier than the Sigma, and noticeably sharper. Rhonda has the excellent Canon 100-400.  I like that lens quite a bit, and after today I think Rhonda does too. 
The airshow is still going on, and it was easier to track the planes with the Bigma lens, so I used that most of the time.  Here is an awesome close up shot that I took today of the Thunderbirds.  It really shows how close together they are.  You can see that the nose of the one plane is in the shadow of the other's wing.  Crazy.
But vacation time is over and Monday we finally get down to business.  We'll pick up our NASA security badges and take some photos of Launch Pad 39-A being torn apart.  We don't know how much is left of the pad, so hopefully it's a good photo-op.  I'll leave you today with a shot of me and my curly hair battling the sea breeze.  Rhonda and Cathy tell me its adorable... but I'm somewhat skeptical :) \
 Some of these photos (like the ones with ME in them) were taken by team member Cathy Brinkworth.

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