Story behind a photo - first launch
By Michael Peterson, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 05, 2016
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- It's almost 3 a.m. on a typical cold, foggy night at Vandenberg and the icy winds blast against the side of the truck. It's been less than three hours of waiting, but it feels like an eternity. It's probably just the anxiety though, after all - this will be the first time. My coffee is gone. On a cold night like this it's the first thing to go as I try to keep warm and stay focused on the mission. In the distance I can see a small flicker of lights that show where my target will be. Although it's been hours of waiting and preparing, this will all be over in a matter of seconds. I just have to stay locked in on the radio transmission, get the target in my sights and be ready to shoot when the time comes.
A flash lights up the night sky and a deafening roar hits our location.
CLICK-CLICK-CLICK-CLICK... and just like that, it's all over.
I snatch my camera off the tripod and quickly try to preview shots on its small display preview screen. Did I get it? Can you see anything? Please tell me you can see something.
Scroll, scroll, scroll... and there it is. A Minuteman III missile silhouetted against the flames.
I'm trying to remain cool and calm on the outside like I've been there and done that, but this was the first launch I've shot up close since working with Public Affairs, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little stressed out about getting the shot.
The thing is, I've been through quite a few launches in my time here at Vandenberg. Sometimes they woke me up in the middle of the night and sometimes I just caught the contrail in the sky because I forgot there was a launch and quickly ran outside to catch a glimpse. But this Minuteman III was the first time I was able to truly appreciate the team effort that goes into each launch here at Vandenberg.
Being behind the scenes I had the chance to better see the full scope of preparation and advanced coordination: passing by 30th Security Forces members manning roadblocks, seeing optics camera mounts set up at various observation sites, checking in with safety, listening to the constant back and forth radio chatter as countless pre-launch procedures get checked off, and the list goes on. Witnessing the effort from so many professionals throughout the base put into this one launch was an eye-opening experience, so I was anxious and excited to do my part to contribute to the mission. That's the benefit of seeing such a strong team effort - you tend to get more out of yourself because you don't want to let everyone else down.
Since this photo was taken back in September 2013, I've been able to photograph quite a few more launches. Although that anxious feeling I had during my first launch is still there when I go out to shoot, it's become more subdued with time and experience. When I look back on my old launch photos, I'm reminded of those little details like how cold the weather was or whether I ran out of coffee. It's my chance to reflect on the effort and experience of capturing that image - I like to also think when other Team V members involved in these launches see these same images, they are reminded of their own hard work and effort that went into supporting each launch mission.