SpaceX is a private spaceflight company founded by Elon Musk (who also founded the Tesla electric car company). At the end of September, we saw a launch of its Falcon 9 rocket as it sent a weather satellite into polar orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Under the right conditions, we can see and photograph VAFB rocket launches from our home, but to witness this one, we decided to make the 3˝-hour drive out there. And we did this twice, making a scouting trip the day before.
It was a good thing we did. The base is very large, and its website was not clear where to go. Google maps kept sending us into restricted areas, giving us plenty of chances to explain ourselves to various personnel. Eventually we pieced together that SpaceX’s launchpad was in south base at launch complex 4, and the best place to view it would be the Surf Beach Amtrak train station, right on the shoreline. We arrived back home around midnight and got up 3 hours later to go back so we could set up early.
Again, it was a good thing we did- the base closed off the road to the train station! Fortunately, we were able to set up just outside the base at a spot about 3 miles from the launch complex.
It is nerve-wracking waiting for any launch,
because chances are good it will be aborted. Not so this time- it launched
at 9am just as scheduled. It was very, very cool, especially being close
enough to hear the rocket engines.
for more photos and details.
Dave’s composite image of the launch (above) was a big hit. Space.com featured it with the title "Wow! Photographer Captures SpaceX Falcon 9 Launch Like Never Before", a sentiment echoed even by SpaceX engineers!
Update 1404.09: Dave's composite image was also published in the May 2014 issue of Sky and Telescope Magazine.