April 12: The return of the Falcon9 first stage
As of 11pm on Monday night (April 11), no one knew for sure when the #SpaceX drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” carrying the #CRS8 #Falcon9 would arrive in port. Forums, Twitter, the SpaceX reddit page and Facebook were all full of theories that predicted arrivals as early as midnight and as late as mid-day Tuesday (April 12). I arrived at Jetty Park at around 11:45pm and found a small group of people already assembled, including ever-talented (and always entertaining) colleagues Julian Leek, Jeff Seibert and Lane Hermann. It was a lovely night, so I set up a camera looking east down the channel and started shooting star trails. Someone had a marine band radio and at around 12:15am we heard the news we were all eagerly awaiting: the captain of the tugboat Elsbeth III told the port pilot boat that they expected to be at “the dogleg” at around 1:30am, after some personnel loading and unloading. The tugboat captain also declared via radio that it was “the prettiest night in the history of the world”. While perhaps not the prettiest ever (in the history of the world), it was most certainly a great night to be standing under the stars, waiting for the first stage of a Falcon9 rocket to come home. About this image: I started the time lapse at 1:02am and let it run until 1:49am. My settings through most of the lapse were ISO400, f4 with an exposure time of 30 seconds. The whole thing is shot through an EF17-40L lens, set to 17mm. As the “OCISLY” carrying the Falcon9 entered the channel, I adjusted the settings to ISO1000 and an exposure of 6 seconds for the last frames in order to bring out just a bit of detail in the rocket – that’s the staggered white line curving around the entrance to the channel. I included one more frame, taken 2 minutes after I stopped the lapse (at 1:47am), to show the lit Falcon9 separate from the streak it created as it moved into the channel. The purple lights are from the tugboat Elsbeth III, and the green and white lines are from the pilot’s boat leaving the channel and there was at least one more tugboat that exited the channel before the rocket entered the port.