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Launch Memories

Posted on August 12, 2021

Through the Camera's Eye

Ed Whitman

Senior Staff Photographer

Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

One of the amazing things about my job at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab is the opportunity to go behind the scenes of the incredible missions APL manages for NASA; to document the spacecraft as it goes from the virtual drawing board to full metal reality, and to get to know the team of creative and inspired engineers and scientists who pour years of their careers, and lives, into these missions to explore the solar system in new and exciting ways.

It’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite image from these experiences, but when I look back on the activities leading up to Parker Solar Probe’s launch, a few stand out.

I shot this during the prelift meeting just before the Parker Solar Probe team was about to hand off the spacecraft to United Launch Alliance that would attach it to the third-stage over the Delta IV rocket. I called it “Sharks and Jets,” since it reminded me of the standoff between the gangs in “West Side Story.” This was an intense moment; the people who had worked on this spacecraft for years were about to hand over their baby to another team for a critical operation, and they wanted to make sure everything would be done right. Happily, it went smoothly.

This moment occurred when the spacecraft was being encapsulated in the large fairing that would protect it during launch. As I was shooting the spacecraft, I turned around to find then Project Scientist Nicky Fox and then Project Manager Andy Driesman gazing up, examining a relatively tiny Parker Solar Probe in the large fairing for the first time, with looks of incredible joy and awe that captured the feelings around the room. You can’t really see it here, but there’s also a sense of sadness, knowing that when the fairing is closed up, it’ll be the last time most of the people in that room ever see the spacecraft.

This last image, like so many others, occurred by chance. On the day before liftoff, scanning the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch pad for good shooting angles, I turned around to check the towering Delta IV rocket – and in the sky to the right was Venus, which would be Parker Solar Probe’s first “stop” on the way to the Sun! What an incredible opportunity to capture both the rocket and the spacecraft’s next immediate destination. (The other cool thing about this image is that it won first place in the international Aviation Week 2018 competition.)

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