Quick Shot: Up in Space

I have always been a bit of a space geek. As a kid I went to Space Camp (okay, I went three times.....) and I marveled over the 3D images from the Mars Pathfinder printed in a special issue of National Geographic. A few years ago, when NASA retired the space shuttle program, I photographed the ceremonial final flight of the shuttle over Washington, DC. That shuttle (Discovery) was then moved into the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum outside DC, but I hadn't been to see it on display since the move.

Last week, I had a few hours to burn before hopping on my flight between DC and London. The museum with the shuttle is co-located with Dulles Airport, so I decided to jet over to the museum in the morning to pay my respects to Discovery before the crowds formed.

I got there before the gates open, and made a direct path for the space section of the museum once it opened, allowing me to get several images without any people in the scene.

The space shuttle is a naturally black and white subject, so it suited my choice of camera - the Leica Monochrom - well. I used the 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux to help create isolation, and focused on a variety of shots, including some more abstract images of the shuttle. 

Today I'm sharing some of my favorites of this incredible piece of human history. It's humbling to stand inches from something that has carried dozens of astronauts to space, and while I normally don't conduct many photo shoots in a museum, this was a special opportunity, and I appreciate NASA's emphasis in preserving our space flight history.

The space shuttle sitting alone in the hangar of the museum. I intentionally underexposed the image to isolate the subject - the morning light was perfect for capturing the shuttle in isolation.

Some of the tiles on the bottom of the shuttle, designed to protect the bottom from the extreme heat caused during re-entry of the atmosphere. Space Shuttle Columbia and all of her crew were lost in 2003 when damaged tiles caused the shuttle to burn up on re-entry. Each tile has a unique serial number and placement

The landing gear on the shuttle, along with more of the heat protecting tiles. You can see where various tiles have been replaced throughout the years and missions.

The main engines on the shuttle. During launch, the shuttle also utilized two external rocket boosters that helped propel the shuttle into orbit. 

The back end of the shuttle. I got very close so the image is a little more abstract. The monochrom of this image really highlights the aesthetic imperfections of this machine.

The side of the shuttle, looking across the wings. This is the first time I'd seen a shuttle that had been to space (NASA also had some shuttles that never left Earth that I've seen before) and I was surprised how 'dirty' it looked. You really gained an appreciation for the abuse space flight inflicts on a machine like this.

Close-up detail of the space suit worn by one of the astronauts on a space flight.

I was fascinated by the heat shielding tiles on the shuttle (these are on the nose). There is sense of controlled chaos in their arrangement and organization. It was the most perfectly aligned puzzle of pieces to protect the crew, but these were incredibly delicate and often broke.