Alligators and Armed Guards

March 13, 2014 at 6:53 pm 1 comment

Lately, I’ve been shooting Star Trail pictures at night in Florida. For a successful picture, you need a clear night, no wind, a view of the north star, and something interesting to put in the foreground. So far, I’ve used palm trees and even the Ferris Wheel at the Port Canaveral Seafood Festival. But, with the upcoming #NASASocial event for the SpaceX CRS-3 mission, I wanted to get a picture with KSC in the background.

While the massive VAB is visible from all of the causeways in Merritt Island, the new, other highly visible symbol is the solid rocket boosters and external fuel tank positioned at the entrance to the Atlantis exhibit at the KSC VIC.

On Wednesday, the forecast was for increasing clouds, so I figured I would not be shooting star trails for a few days. But, late on Wednesday, March 12, 2014, I noticed a clear sky so we hopped in the car to try to find a vantage point where the Atlantis exhibit and the north star would be lined up. We found one parking lot where we set up and captured a 40-minute image, but frankly, the wind was too strong. We had rented a 500 mm lens from The Lens Depot in Oveida, and that big lens was acting like a sail, catching the wind and shaking the camera during the long exposures. The star trail at the end of 40 minutes was disappointing:

Shaky picture of a star trail

But, we continued on to scout other areas. If you could get into the KSC VIC parking lot, you would be south of the rocket boosters. Perhaps with a wide angle lens, you would get a good star trail. We pulled up to the VIC parking lot and two female guards were there at the entrance. I asked if there was any chance we could set up a tripod inside the parking lot? Not until the morning was the answer. I asked if we could set up in the driveway or along the road in front of the VIC? (The road is clearly posted with Emergency Stopping Only, but I figured I would ask. After all, the same signs are along S.R. 401 where people watch the rocket launches.)

The first guard responded “Not if you don’t mind getting shot by the armed guard”. The second parking lot guard jumped in with the better, “Only if you don’t mind dealing with the alligators.” I’ve seen the armed NASA guards – we spoke to one when we tried to get close for Morpheus Free Flight #5. He set the limits, and as long as we were outside the limits, everything was fine. Somehow, I doubt the NASA guards would shoot a photographer and ask questions later.  But, the alligators are real. A deep stream of water lines both sides of the road near the VIC.  Here is a picture Mary Ellen Jelen took of a gator and his lunch adjacent to KSC last week. In the end, I think the fear of gators was greater than the fear of the armed NASA guard.

Alligator and Bird near KSC

So, while we set out to get a nice, 40 minute exposure of a star trail over the solid rocket boosters, we had to settle for this 40 second exposure. Nicely, one airplane flew across in the 40 seconds. At least, we did not get eaten by an alligator.

40 second exposure


Entry filed under: #NASASocial.

Watching a Morpheus Lander Free Flight at KSC

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Mike Girvin  |  March 13, 2014 at 11:49 pm

    The star path is not disappointing to my eyes. It is rather cool!

    I am glad that you did not get shot or eaten by aligators…

    Mike Girvin


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