SoCal Photographer Captures the Dramatic SpaceX Rocket Launch Earlier This Month

The Falcon 9 rocket took off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on October 7.

  • Category
    Life Outside
  • Written by
    Brandon Yoshizawa
  • Photographed by
    Brandon Yoshizawa

A little bit of planning and being in the right place at the right time gave me the opportunity to capture these photos of the historic SpaceX launch this month. It marks the first attempt and successful landing of the rocket’s booster on the California coast. All previous successful booster recoveries were landed at Cape Carnival in Florida or on a droneship.

After the first and second stages of the rocket separate, the initial plume takes on the shape of a flower.

I make a trip to the Eastern Sierras every year in October to photograph the fall colors and our beautiful Milky Way galaxy. I didn’t learn about the launch until after I had already booked my trip so I was excited to hopefully capture it from a unique location. I spent the day in Aspendell, which is about 15 miles west of Bishop. Given my location I knew that Vandenberg was to the southwest and in the general direction of the Milky Way. The launch was scheduled for the twilight hours, which is the best time to see the rocket’s plume being illuminated by the sun.

The second stage of the rocket curves around earth into orbit where it is carrying an Argentine environmental satellite.

However, there were a lot of unknowns. Being up in elevation at around 8,500 feet, I was unsure if it would even be visible over the mountains. In addition, delays can occur based on weather or other technical issues.

My main goal was to find a scene to capture the fall colors and the Milky Way. I had two cameras setup—one with a wide-angle lens and one with a 50mm lens. I had just finished taking exposures of the trees and was adjusting the settings on both cameras for the Milky Way when I saw a small flash in the distance.

A wide view of the second stage with the Milky Way galaxy above.

It took me a little while to process that the launch was happening directly in my camera’s field of view. Between shooting pictures on both cameras and looking at the sky in awe of what was happening, the 15-minute launch felt like it was over within a matter of minutes.

While I was not close enough to hear any of the sonic booms from the rocket breaking the speed of sound, I was treated to a spectacular display of colors in the sky to go along with a brilliant display of fall colors. I caught myself saying “wow” several times during the whole sequence. This was definitely one of the most amazing things I’ve seen and to be able to photograph it from such a beautiful place makes it that much sweeter.

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