Recording a 156 – foot tall, 23.000kg object

PLASMA 5 online article

by Pauline Acalin

I’ll never forget the afternoon I decided to enter the profession of photojournalism. After several public attempts, SpaceX had finally launched and LANDED an orbital class booster for the first time in history. It was a rather exciting moment for the space industry and the company decided to place the booster on display at their company headquarters in Hawthorne, CA.

December 7, 2018 – Thrice-flown Falcon 9 B1046.3 is transferred from droneship Just Read The Instructions to its inspection mount following arrival to Port of Los Angeles a couple days prior.

As a rather obsessed fan of space exploration, I was there to document the event for my very first gig as a writer/photographer. It was this historic rocket (Falcon 9 B1019) that inspired me to begin paving a career in the field. I’d been watching the company’s progress for years and, like so many others, was simply following my intrigue of their relentless innovation. Recording the spectacle of a 156-­‐foot tall, 23,000kg object hoisted into its permanent position was nothing short of majestic. It took two large cranes at either end of the booster to lift it vertically before just one was eventually bearing the entire load. During this maneuver, which lasted only a few minutes, traffic was stopped while the crane gradually pivoted, and the dangling rocket swiveled over Crenshaw Boulevard like a massive Tinkertoy before being lowered into its permanent position above its landing legs.

March 30, 2018 – Falcon 9 lifts off from SLC-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base carrying the Iridium-5 payload during a stunning early morning launch.

I was mesmerized, and there began the merging of my love of photography and space exploration. Up until that point, herding photons had always been more of a serious hobby than a visible career path. I’d been enchanted with capturing moments since my teen years (before digital cameras entered the scene) and began experimenting with settings on my first Pentax K1000 using 35mm film. Soon thereafter, I discovered Canon and began understanding various lenses and the vast creative possibilities they enabled. I never left the house without a camera strapped over my shoulder and practiced on as many subjects as I could. I enjoyed documenting people in their element, preferring candid shots at formal events versus the typical formal poses, as I felt they better told a story. I was also heavily drawn to the art of astrophotography, and spent countless nights under the stars collecting ancient light, submitting my final images to online galleries like The Planetary Society and Sky & Telescope. Little did I know that the knowledge accrued through years of exploring different photographic realms would lead to rocket launch photography. One of my favorite things to portray with my rocket imagery is a sense of scale. It fascinates me that a rocket can look larger than life next to a human, yet so small while in flight against Earth’s vast landscape.

December 10, 2018 – Technicians help guide Falcon 9 B1046.3 as it’s lifted from its inspection mount at Port of Los Angeles. The booster spent several days dockside after recovery from the SSO-A mission out of Vandenberg Air Force Base.

It’s fulfilling to be able to share images and hear responses like, “Wow, I had no idea it was that big! Thanks for sharing.” And feel you opened someone’s eyes to the magnificence of rocketry. In terms of educating, there’s nothing more fulfilling than creating wonder for others through an image. Wonder inspires people to learn more.

Pauline Acalin


full article published in PLASMA magazine 5

PLASMA 5 article by Pauline Acalin


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