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The Launch Seen Around the World- Inspiration4

A new space age has emerged.

SpaceX launched a Crew Dragon Spacecraft from Kennedy Space Center at 8:02pm EDT on September 15, 2021. It would orbit the Earth for three days before returning safely with its inspiring crew of four.

This is no easy task, and this was no billionaire joyride either. Inspiration4 was  a mission with  purpose and drive to not only break the frame of who can be astronaut, but to also push the envelope in their SpaceX Crew Dragon Spacecraft by reaching an epic orbit as high as  590 km (366 miles). While the space exploration side of this mission is a grand tour in itself, there was one mission objective for here on Earth, a fundraiser for St. Jude Research. 

The crew of Inspiration4 represents some of the finest qualities a human being can have. Hayley Arceneaux, a childhood cancer survivor turned physician assistant at St. Jude, represents hope. Chris Sembroski, an aerospace engineer, won a ride to space by entering into a raffle. Dr. Sian Proctor, a finalist in the 2009 NASA astronaut class, an explorer, and all-around science educator represents prosperity! Finally our benefactor and commander, Jared Isaacman, who is a successful businessman, an experienced jet pilot, and the one who started Inspiration4 with the goal to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

In less than six months the crew was assembled and trained. They went on a mountain adventure at Mt. Rainier, completed extensive training with SpaceX, including simulations lasting as long as 30 hours, flew in jets, and even did a Zero-G flight. SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft can fly autonomously, but in-depth training was needed to learn the ins-and-outs of the whole system in case human intervention was ever needed. Each had their own role on-orbit as well. Sian was the Mission Pilot, Chris the Mission Specialist, Hayley was the Medical Officer, and as previously mentioned the Mission Commander, Jared. Though the training was often times rigorous, they proceeded well— all while forming lifelong friendships with their crewmates. 

Afternoon Flight Around KSC with Falcon9 & Dragon on the Pad

The day before launch the crew flew in fighter jets around the spaceport with Falcon 9 and their Crew Dragon capsule, named Resilience, vertical on Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Here they are departing KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF), flying to the northeast for formation flights past the pad for photo-ops, coming back west over Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, then flying to the south over the Indian River Lagoon past Titusville, Port St. John, and then scrambling before landing at Space Coast Regional (KTIX).

Visiting the Pad for Remote Camera Setup

My very first time setting remote cameras was for the 22nd SpaceX Commercial Resupply Service mission (CRS-22). That first time out was an intense experience! It was also a lot of fun, and since then I have had several opportunities to set cameras, experience failures, and I have continued to hone my craft with photography & videography.

When we got on the bus that morning to set cameras for Inspiration4, I felt a huge and sincere responsibility to do my absolute best. Don't make any mistakes, line up a great shot, trust the gear, trust my experiments, trust my workflow, remember everything I've learned for this moment in time. I also felt a huge sense of responsibility to capture something galvanizing for all to be inspired by. It wasn't just another Starlink batch or a GEO- satellite— this mission was different. And that Crew Dragon atop that Falcon 9 was the vehicle in charge of driving our inspiring crew of four beyond the edge of our world.

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The launch was one of the most beautiful ones I have ever seen. That orbital sunset interaction on the upper-stage plume is magical. I love being able to see the Reaction Control System (RCS) thrusters pulsate and plume outwards away from the Falcon 9 booster as it re-orients itself for an eventual re-entry and landing on the Just Read the Instructions (JRTI)  Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) out in the Northern Atlantic Ocean.

For this launch streak I was located at the KSC 39A Press Site, which is 3.22 km (3 miles) from the pad. I also placed a remote camera along the crawlerway. Inside the gates of the Historic Launch Complex 39A was a video camera recording the action up close.


I captured some incredible footage of Falcon 9 lifting off from 39A. This close up was shot in 4k @120fps and I just love how it worked out. It's amazing to see the Ground Support Equipment (GSE) at work, the way the plume engulfs the scene, the ice chunks falling from the rocket and of course the flames of the nine Merlin 1D engines. There's so many little details and evidence of how lively rocket launches are. Being able to see these details amazes me every time.

The engine close-up clip was also included in the Netflix/ TIME docuseries "Countdown: Inspriation4 Mission to Space." This was unexpected and I feel incredibly lucky to have even just a few seconds of footage included in a already-stellar production. Seriously, the whole thing is just perfect. And the launch sequence will blow your mind. I am forever thankful for Ryan at Cosmic Perspective for introducing me to filming rockets, and whom I collaborate with when planning shots like this. It's far from just pointing and shooting and a lot of trial and error goes into film and photography using autonomously-activated cameras.

There's a lot to consider for a shot like this, aside from the composition and camera settings, the potential length of time you need to record for, having margin for a 24 hour scrub, or gamble it all on that first T-0. Ryan and I decided to gamble it all, fill the 1TB card in the camera during the first window. SpaceX nailed the T-0 they set, and believe it or not, they launched the day they originally planned with the crew since the beginning.

Liftoff up Close

Thank you for checking out this portion of my website. This is my first try at really sharing my thoughts about the content I create and the experiences I have while chasing rocket launches on Florida's Space Coast. It's a special privilege to document spaceflight with such access. Being able to witness the Inspiration4 mission up close like this was life-changing in a way. I felt so connected to the mission, and what it meant for so many individuals with their hearts set on reaching space, and being able to look back at our world from above.

The doors may be open for civilian spaceflight, but the work is long from over. The more I talk with folks in my community, the more I realize that not enough people knew about this mission, what it was about, and more importantly, what it means for our futures.

My mission here is to inspire the next generation of space pioneers, and to stoke the curiosity of others.