NOTE: This is a guest post and images are Copyright Canadian photographer Quin Barrie
Ever since broadband came to my neighborhood, I’ve been watching “NASA TV” online and following the Space Shuttle launches and missions. With every mission, it’s been awe-inspiring to learn of the unbelievable complexity of the Space Shuttle and Station, and of the massively dangerous task of space flight.
While snooping around one of the many spectacular image archives at nasa.gov, I found a link to the ‘Sighting Opportunities’ page for the Shuttle and ISS. I went there and entered in my location info, and it returned a list of times when the Shuttle and ISS would be flying over my area – at a mere 17,500 mph and just 200 nautical miles overhead!
Über cool!! I had to check this out, and if possible, get photos. So, I jotted down the times and deciphered the Shuttle’s inbound and outbound directions and elevations, and headed out into the sunset with my Rebel and tripod. I set my cam and lens to full manual with a 20 second exposure at f6 ISO 100, and waited to see what there was to see. I thought it would only be like when you glimpse a satellite in the night sky…a barely visible but steadily moving pin-point of light against the stars…But not so!!
After a while of scanning, I noticed this star about 30 degrees above the horizon. Then I noticed it was moving! Another airplane? Nope, no blinking lights. OMG, That’s it!! Look at it go! I frantically aimed my camera and fired the shutter. I watched almost giddy as it gradually climbed overhead, repointing my cam and shooting again after each time exposure. The sun had long set, but the Shuttle and Station were still catching the full sunlight 200 miles up and making it shine like a star!
It was simply stunning to watch this point of light arcing across the sky knowing what it was – witnessing a the most complex machine ever built by man with 6 people on board, attached to a huge space complex with 3 crew on board – all racing by at mach 22, just 150 ticks outside the earth’s atmosphere. Simply awesome!! I got the last shot as it faded silently away into the earth’s shadow.
Every time I get the opportunity for a sighting, it’s just as thrilling – as much for what it is, as for the challenge of capturing the fleeting image against the odds of manual focusing and composing in the dark, the threat of clouds and the brevity of the event. For shooting, I normally use a 15 to 30 second time exposure (depending on remaining light), at around f4 and ISO 100 or 200 to reduce noise in the sky. The lens is focused to infinity in manual mode, and I always shoot RAW. I’ll usually vary the zoom in the 18 to 50mm range depending on the shot, but it always looks best if you can get the horizon or tree tops in frame to create a sense of scale.
The Shuttle and Station actually orbit the Earth every 90 minutes, but since neither have marker lights, sightings only occur around twilight when it reflects the sun’s rays from over the horizon and it’s set off against the evening sky.
For the Shuttle and Space Station sighting opportunities in your area visit: