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Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-135 launch Gordon Laing, July 2011

Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-135 launch

On July 8 2011, NASA plans to launch the last of its Space Shuttle missions: STS-135. This will be the 135th Shuttle mission, the final launch of Atlantis, and the last of the entire Space Shuttle program, which started three decades ago.

Once Atlantis returns to Earth 12 days later, it will join the remaining Shuttles, Endeavour and Discovery, to be displayed at museums across the USA. From that point on, anyone wanting to visit the International Space Station - and get back again - will need to pay $200 million for a return ticket on a Russian Soyuz craft (with a seat custom-built for your bum), or wait for private enterprises to offer alternative transportation.

I've been fascinated by space and space travel since childhood, and witnessing a manned rocket launch in person has been a lifetime ambition. When NASA announced the closure of the Shuttle program, I realised I was running out of time. I made two attempts to view Endeavour's last mission, STS-134, first in July 2010 which was delayed long before I even left home, and most recently on April 29 2011, when it was scrubbed three and a half hours before launch. Frustratingly I had to return to New Zealand before it finally flew two weeks later, leaving me with one last chance to view a launch: STS-135, the final flight of Atlantis and the entire Space Shuttle program. On this page I'll detail my own mission to see the flight, and of course the equipment I'll use to hopefully photograph and film it. I'll also make suggestions on locations and settings to photograph the launch yourself!

I'll update this page over the following days, so check back soon! There's also an official thread in the Cameralabs forums which accompanies this page for any questions or comments! To get the ball rolling, here's a short film I made about my attempt to see the April 29 2011 launch attempt of Endeavour / STS 134. I hope you enjoy it!

Video: Gordon's attempt to view the STS-134 Endeavour Space Shuttle launch


Space Shuttle report

My photographic kit for the final STS-135 Space Shuttle launch is essentially no different from what I took out for the earlier STS-134 Endeavour launch. The viewing location and recording requirements are exactly the same as before, and while I didn’t actually manage to witness the previous launch in person, I was really happy with the gear I’d previously selected.

As before, since I wanted to record a mix of 1080p movies at a variety of frame rates, along with high resolution stills, I stuck with the Canon system. Nikon has finally rolled-out 1080p on its latest models, but at the time of launch, only the D5100 offered 1080p at multiple frame rates, and that body was lacking the continuous shooting and RAW buffering I also required for stills. So my primary body remained the Canon EOS 7D, a model which may now be getting on in DSLR terms, but which still delivers excellent performance for both stills and video; indeed the only thing it’s really lacking for me personally is an articulated 3:2-shaped screen and a movie crop / digital zoom option, so fingers-crossed for the next generation.

Those additional desires hint at my choice of a second body: the EOS Rebel T3i / 600D, which matches the still and movie resolution of the EOS 7D, but delivers them in a smaller, lighter and cheaper body with an articulated 3:2 screen and the movie crop / digital zoom facility.

As before I’ll be mounting a Canon EF 500mm f4L IS USM lens to the EOS 7D for high-power stills at launch, and the Canon EF 70-300mm f4-5.6L IS USM lens to the EOS Rebel T3i / 600D, using its movie crop facility for high power video. Both were lenses I used last time and I was delighted with their performance. In particular, the EF 500mm f4L ended up being one of the most enjoyable lenses I’d used for a long time, and while I never managed to actually point it at a Shuttle taking-off, it proved invaluable for surfing action shots, wildlife photography and captures of the setting sun; I even used it to grab some nice shots around San Francisco. Surprisingly it ended up being the most used and versatile lens of my last trip, and you can read all about it in my Canon EF 500mm f4L lens review.


The Canon EF 70-300mm f4-5.6L IS USM was overshadowed by the glamour and muscle of the 500mm during my last trip, but it too proved to be a good solid performer and I look forward to doing a full test report of it in the future.

Last time I also had a backup EOS Rebel T3i / 600D body with a Canon EF 10-22mm USM lens for wide shots of the bigger stuff around Kennedy Space Centre, but while I still highly rate this lens, I personally missed having image stabilisation when shooting handheld video with it. The excellent Warp Stabiliser in Adobe After Effects CS 5.5 managed to iron-out a lot of my wobbles after the event, but understandably struggled with the more complex moves, so this time I switched this lens for Canon’s widest stabilised option: the EF-S 15-85mm IS USM. Again this would be mounted on an EOS Rebel T3i / 600D.

Why buy when you can rent?

An EOS 7D and two T3i / 600D bodies, along with a 15-85mm, 70-300mm and of course the 500mm lens. That’s a lot of kit; indeed it’s the best-part of ten grand’s worth in US dollars, the lion’s share of around seven thousand devoted to the EF 500mm f4L alone. The best part though is I don’t own a single part of this setup: as before, I rented the lot from Borrow Lenses, an excellent firm I’ve used on several trips to the US before. While I’d love to own an EF 500m f4L lens, I don’t have that kind of money and besides, it simply doesn’t make sense for something I’d only use a couple of times a year most. But for around $250 per week including insurance and round-trip delivery, you can rent the EF 500mm f4L which works out around 28 times less than buying one.   

Borrow Lenses has a ton of equipment, which makes it ideal for getting hold of something special for a one-off event like mine, or simply if you want to trial a body, lens or pricey accessory before buying. I’m not based in the US, but if you don’t have a domestic address for delivery, you can have your stuff sent to selected camera stores in California; Raykal is their downtown San Francisco location, South of Market. I’ve been so impressed with their service they’ve become one of the Cameralabs’ Affiliates, so you can support me by clicking-through to their site from this link or the banners on this page before placing an order – thanks!


Camera support and accessories

For support, the EOS 7D and EF 500mm f4L lens would be mounted on my own Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod, although this time I switched the Manfrotto 393 bracket head for a Wimberley Gimbal II. The Manfrotto 393 was certainly very good on my last trip, but it was large, heavy and didn’t fit into my tripod bag when mounted on the legs, and besides I wanted to see if Wimberley’s performance lived-up to the hype, so I added one to my rental order at Borrow Lenses. In the meantime, the EOS Rebel T3i / 600D and EF 70-300mm f4-5.6L would be mounted on my own Gitzo 1541T with a Gitzo fluid head. I’d have preferred something bigger, but Kennedy Space Centre demands you carry everything by hand on launch day, and with hours of queuing, any weight-saving is desirable. Besides, the 1541T may be relatively compact and light, but is surprisingly stable – it’s still my favourite travel tripod. Well, that and the Gorillapod, and as always I packed my Focus model.

I also travelled with my two trusty Rode microphones, the Stereo Video Mic (SVM) for ambient capture, and the Video Mic Pro (VMP) for more targeted audio; the latter has become my go-to mic when recording video on a DSLR.
This time I also decided to carry an additional kit, albeit one that was much smaller and lighter than the DSLRs: a tiny Panasonic Lumix GF3 with a selection of lenses including the 12.5mm 3D lens, 14 and 20mm pancake primes and the 45-200mm zoom. These were on loan from Panasonic as part of my tests. Panasonic also supplied an HDC-HS900 camcorder with its optional 3D lens.

Finally in terms of computers, I opted for two fairly simple solutions since my old Sony Vaio TZ recently gave up the ghost, and while I’m considering swapping it for a MacBook Air, I can’t bring myself to do so when new models are expected to be launched any day now. So I took a modest but functional Samsung NC10 netbook and an Apple iPad 2. Neither computer has the power, nor in the case of the NC10 the resolution, to handle full-on image processing applications like Photoshop, so as an experiment, I installed a copy on my media PC at home (which is switched on most of the time) to see how successfully I could run them remotely. To do this I used Windows’ own Remote Desktop system on the NC10, and a combination of iTeleport and RDP Lite on the iPad. I’ll report back on how well this worked in practice!


Think Tank Airport Acceleration v2 packed for launch: taken with Canon EOS T3i / 600D
Camera bag for STS-135 mission
Click image to access original version at Flickr

Believe it or not, big tripod aside, I managed to squeeze pretty much all of the above into my Think Tank Airport Acceleration backpack, a bag which I sourced for my previous trip. The Airport Acceleration is one of the smallest backpacks which can accommodate a Canon EF 500mm f4L lens, even when mounted on a body, and can also squeeze a surprising amount of additional kit alongside. It proved to be the perfect bag for my previous trip and I hope it will be equally successful this time around. Find out more in my Think Tank Airport Acceleration backpack review. Meanwhile I carried the Manfrotto 055CXPRO in a Manfrotto bag which is not unlike a quiver and makes you feel a bit like Robin Hood.


So you’re already in Florida, and wondering where to view the launch?

A quick note to anyone heading to (or already in) Florida, hoping to catch the launch, but wondering where to do it. The closest viewing locations accessible by the public without tickets are around the Titusville area. I’d recommend scouting-out a few locations by the side of the road where you have an uninterrupted view of the huge cube structure of the Vehicle Assembly Building, VAB. If you can see the VAB, you’ll almost certainly see the Shuttle on the launch-pad very nearby. Google Earth is also a great way to measure distances, but just remember to get to your proposed spot early on the day because big crowds are expected.

As for equipment, the bigger the lens the better if you want a close-ish view of the Shuttle itself. Indeed if you have anything much smaller than a 500mm focal length, the Shuttle will be tiny, but don’t despair as you should still get great views of the exhaust trail a few seconds into launch.

I’ve not personally witnessed a rocket launch, but having travelled far to see two Total Solar Eclipses in the past, I can tell you it’s better to watch these things with your eyes rather than attempt to capture them. Of course you and I can’t help ourselves from taking photos or video, so for me the best solution is to mount your camera on a tripod, set the focus and exposure prior to launch and trigger it with a cable release while you watch the event with your eyes. Sure you won’t be able to follow the subject or recompose without looking through the viewfinder, but it seems a good compromise for me.

Suffice it to say if you experience a technical hitch, just put the camera down and forget about your photos as it’ll all be over by the time you fix it. Remember this is the last launch and there’ll be no second chances.

For focusing, I’d recommend setting it before launch, ideally using magnified Live View assistance – then switching the lens to manual so that it isn’t tempted to search back and forth at a critical moment afterwards. The only caveat here is if you’re using a zoom lens and subsequently adjust the focal length, as this will almost certainly mean you’ll need to refocus afterwards.

As for exposures, meter for the Shuttle on the pad before launch and lock the exposure – or dial it-in using Manual. Then regardless of how bright the engines are, the Shuttle itself will still be properly exposed. I’d also recommend shooting in RAW to give yourself the maximum flexibility for adjustment after the event, although if you have an entry-level or even mid-range camera, you may prefer to shoot JPEG as RAW may fill your buffer after just a few short frames.

Speaking of which, set your drive to continuous and start shooting as soon as the Shuttle begins to appear above the initial cloud of steam. If you start shooting at countdown zero, you’ll have burnt through a lot – or worse, even all of – your buffer before the craft has even appeared.

Finally, a great tip I heard is to forget about having your photo taken with the Shuttle in the background as you simply won’t see it, but do have someone grab a shot of you with the smoke plume a couple of minutes after launch. A great memento and one I hope to share with you very soon!

July 7th 2011 – the day before launch

The day before launch I visited Kennedy Space Centre for a close(ish) view of a Space Shuttle on a launch pad for the very last time. In-between heavy rain showers I made my way to the public viewing gantry, which is around one mile away. Unfortunately the rotating service structure – the scaffolding which supports repairs and access – blocked a full side-on view of the ‘stack’, but between bars and girders were some lovely glimpses.

I decided to try out the movie crop / digital zoom mode on my Canon EOS T3i / 600D with the 500mm, which takes a 1080p frame from the middle of the sensor, thereby increasing the effective focal length by about 2.5 times with no loss of quality. So I was filming the Shuttle with an effective focal length of 2000mm from around one mile away, which delivered some lovely close-ups as you can see below.

Video: Space Shuttle Atlantis from viewing gantry (1 mile) with T3i / 600D and 500mm using movie crop



July 8th 2011, Launch diary

The launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis on its final mission was an awesome sight. I’ve seen many launches on the TV, most with a tear in my eye, but this was my first in person and it didn’t disappoint; indeed it was quite surprising in a number of unexpected ways. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Launch day for me started early. Very early. With approximately one million people expected to flood the surrounding areas, everyone was warned to get to their viewing locations in plenty of time. I’d managed to bag a ticket for the NASA Causeway – the closest public viewing location from a distance of about six miles – from an operator called Florida Dolphin Tours, and they wanted us to board our buses by 2:30am, and ideally meet about an hour before. That meant leaving my hotel shortly after midnight.

It’s always a tough call deciding what to do about sleep when you have somewhere to be after midnight, but jetlag from my arrival in the US just two days earlier meant I simply wasn’t sufficiently tired in the evening even for a nap. So I decided to stay up and fight through.

The drive to the meeting point in Festival Bay Mall in Orlando itself went very smoothly, but the final few hundred meters to the carpark were gridlocked. I’d actually arrived at one corner of the mall car park at about 1:30am, but didn’t make it out of my car until close to 3am. Luckily I was far from being the last to arrive, so there were still plenty of buses waiting for us. I was assigned bus 37 and we arrived at Kennedy Space Centre (KSC) around 5:30am.

NASA security at KSC is not unlike that of an airport with metal detectors and bag searches, and they do not allow you to leave anything on the bus. Bags with wheels are also not allowed, so that means having to carry everything until you can re-board the bus. That time was set for around 6:30am, giving me about an hour to lug my 30kg camera bag, two tripods and foldup chair around an eerily dark KSC in a zombie-like dream-deprived state, while their constant soundtrack of stirring space music played incessantly from every speaker. Actually 90 minutes isn’t bad, as previous launches could have you wandering KSC for hours, which wouldn’t be such a bad thing if you weren’t so laden-down with equipment.

I know what you’re thinking: just sit down at one of the cafes or even recline in the Imax while you wait, but re-boarding your assigned bus is neither a quick nor trivial exercise. At some point, you and several thousand others have to join and work through the world’s longest queue, which snakes its way around KSC, cruelly double-backing several times as you think you’re approaching the end. The queue moves excruciatingly slowly at times, but never stops for long enough for you to put your bag down. So I lugged all my gear for about another hour and a half before finally getting to sit on the bus at 7am. Mercifully the tropical downpours from the day before kept away, although NASA was still quoting only 30% chance of launch due to bad weather.

Then the bus just sat there, as all the others filled-up and gradually drove off. My hopes of getting pole-position on the Causeway were looked increasingly slim as bus after bus departed while mine remained resolutely in the car park. Dishearteningly mine ended up being the third from last bus to leave, finally crawling out of the parking lot about an hour and a half after I boarded it. All I could think about on the way to the Causeway was how it would be packed by now with no clear views remaining – at least of the Shuttle on the pad anyway.

Half an hour later we arrived at the Causeway and my fears were realised as we drove slowly past crowds of thousands who’d already bagged what looked like the best spots and setup their gear. Indeed, the entire front row was occupied, leaving me with the nightmare scenario of either not having a clear view of the Shuttle, or thinking you’ve got one through the crowds, only to have the view blocked at the critical moment as the person in front of you leaps up and cheers. It was not looking good, but I remembered the start of the Causeway looking a little quieter than the end we parked-up in, so I gradually lugged my bag, tripod and chair in that direction. It was now two and a half hours before launch, and the rain continued to stay away.

Striding along the Causeway I quickly realised there was no way I’d get to squeeze into any gap on the front row, so opted for the opposite strategy by setting-up at the back, just by the parked vehicles. The Causeway itself is on sloping land, which steepens a little towards the back, so somewhat like a cinema, those at the rear have a slightly elevated position which might just clear those in front. I found what looked like a good spot with a clear view of Atlantis on the pad and began working out who if anyone would block my view in front.

My heart sank when what looked like the world’s tallest man stood up three rows in front, but thankfully the slope of the Causeway allowed my cameras to see over him. The only potential problem would be the row immediately in front, but it turned out they belonged to a very nice family who were also setting up equipment alongside me, and they agreed they’d keep the seats directly in front of our cameras unoccupied. They really saved the day for me.

In fact all the people around me were wonderful. It was a bit like being at the first night of a big movie at a major cinema, where everyone in there was really into the show – only there were at least ten times more people on the Causeway and the event was never to be repeated. You can imagine the excitement and anticipation. I had such a great time meeting the folk around me, hearing their stories and comparing equipment; NASA had also sprinkled-in a number of special guests and it was only after a few minutes I realised one of the guys I was chatting to had worked on the team which built the Shuttle’s main engines!

In fact I was having so much fun chatting to the people around me that the first time I checked the time, there was only half an hour to go before launch and I hadn’t even setup my cameras properly, let alone taken any photos. So I mounted the Canon EOS 7D and EF 500mm f4L lens onto the Wimberley Gimbal head and Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod, and the EOS T3i / 600D with EF 70-300mm f4-5.6L lens onto the Gitzo GT2180 head and 1541T legs; again the tripods were mine, but all bodies and lenses were rented from BorrowLenses. I had been a little concerned the compact Gitzo legs and head wouldn’t support its front-heavy load stably, but it was actually remarkably good – that travel tripod continues to impress me.

Greedily, I wanted a third camera for wide-angle video, so mounted the Panasonic HDC-HS900 camcorder onto the EOS 7D’s hotshoe via a small adapter I’d bought in San Francisco, and hoped the 7D’s shutter mechanism wouldn’t shake the footage too much. The 3D lens adapter could have been neat here, but I was seriously running out of time and opted to film in good old two dimensions. The great thing about being at the back of the Causeway was being able to capture both the Shuttle’s launch and the crowd reaction in one view. I’d have loved to deploy my other backup cameras too, but had run out of things to mount them on, not to mention time to set them up.

I shot a few test exposures and video and had great fun trying out the T3i / 600D’s movie crop / digital zoom facility with some big lenses. This mode crops a Full HD 1920x1080 frame from the middle of the sensor, thereby effectively magnifying the image by a further 2.5 times beyond the initial sensor crop itself. The great thing is, it’s still recording Full HD video with no compromise in quality. My plan had been to implement this on the 70-300mm lens for closeup video, but it would have meant losing the Shuttle only seconds after take-off, so I decided to film normally with this setup. But in the moments prior to launch I decided to have some fun.

A nice guy to my right had rented a Canon EF 800mm f5.6L for use with a 5D Mark II, so I asked if he wanted to see how the video would look. We mounted one of my T3i / 600D bodies and started by filming video without the crop mode applied. You can see a still frame of this below, where the combination of an 800mm lens on a cropped-frame body has resulted in an effective focal length of 1280mm. Not bad as you can see below, but we can do even better!

Space Shuttle Atlantis moments before launch with T3i / 600D and EF 800mm f5.6L
Space Shuttle Atlantis on the pad with EOS T3i / 600D and 800mm
Click image to access original version at Flickr


Ok, now here’s a video of Atlantis with the T3i / 600D and 800mm, but with the digital zoom applied. As mentioned above, this doesn’t apply any scaling at its minimum setting, only a clean 1080p crop, applying an extra 2.5x magnification without any loss in quality. So the video you see below was filmed at an effective foal length of 3200mm - so you’ll forgive a little wobbling due to the strong cross-winds!

Video: Space Shuttle Atlantis moments before launch with T3i / 600D and 800mm using movie crop


It would have been fun to film the liftoff at this sort of power, but again the Shuttle would have been completely obscured by smoke and steam. But it was a fun proof of concept, and as you saw earlier, I also exploited it to grab some neat footage from the viewing gantry the day before at a distance of one mile. If you’re into high-power video, this makes the EOS T3i / 600D one of the best options out there (although to be fair, the Panasonic GH2 also offers a similar movie crop mode).

I was having so much fun with this high power video that, with only three minutes to go, I realised my EOS 7D and 500mm were still in a landscape orientation, whereas I wanted portrait for launch. I also noticed my T3i / 600D for all the lens swapping fun now had a huge dust mark right in the middle of its frame. So with less than 200 seconds remaining, I actually changed my entire setup, turning and recomposing the 7D into a portrait orientation, and swapping the dusty T3i / 600D for my backup body. With the 7D’s hotshoe now pointing to the side, the camcorder was also now 90 degrees off, so I also had to quickly re-adjust its mounting. Then with about 30 seconds to go, the Sun came out and I had to readjust all the exposures!

It was a pretty manic time and I was remembering my words of advice to others which was in the event of technical issues, just leave the camera and watch the thing with your eyes. But as the final countdown began I felt ready to go: both videos were rolling and the 7D’s remote cable release was in my hands, leaving me to watch the spectacle.


3-2-1, launch!

The launch was amazing and quite surprising in many ways. First of all, the engines are bright, really bright. If, like me, you’d only seen photos or video of a launch, you’d not realise the true brightness of the engines as they simply saturate the image to white. As such there’s no way of knowing if they were bright, really bright or extraordinarily bright. As it turns out they’re very much the latter and it looks like a tiny part of the Sun is coming out of each SRB. If you’ve ever seen a Total Solar Eclipse, it’s a bit like the Sun just prior to, or following, Totality a moment before you have to turn away or use a filter. Seriously bright.

Secondly that thing moves fast. I wasn’t sure what to expect in this regard as some rockets actually look like they’re rising very slowly, while others seem to go up like fireworks. Well from six miles away, Atlantis quickly accelerated and entered low cloud after only ten or 15 seconds, leaving little or no time to try other photos.

Third was the sound, and this was actually what I was most curious about. I knew it would arrive some time after the launch due to the distance, but understanding that doesn’t detract from the surreal experience of watching the thing take-off in silence, made even odder when the sound arrives after it’s disappeared into the clouds. Many of us had already turned to each other and started talking when it happened: an amazing staccato roar unlike anything I’ve heard before.

I did however blow-it in some technical respects. Immediately after it cleared the frame, I’d intended to remove the T3i / 600D and 70-300mm from the tripod, stop filming video and start grabbing some handheld shots. I was most worried about decouipling it from the head, but that wasn’t a problem. What was though was the last minute switch of bodies to avoid dust: the one I’d been using had previously been set to self-timer for stills, so the first shot I took of the Shuttle in flight had a ten second delay. Suffice it to say it was gone by the time the shutter eventually fired, although I did have the state of mind to recompose and grab the smoke trail. Atlantis them momentarily peeked through a tiny gap in the clouds which would have been a lovely view, and one I actually had framed in the viewfinder, but again the self-timer hadn’t been reset in time. What was really frustrating though was by removing the camera from the tripod for stills, I’d stopped recording video and thereby missed capturing the sound of the launch with a decent microphone.

I should have left that camera rolling and just used the backup T3i / 600D with 15-85mm for casual stills. Sure it wouldn’t have had the reach of the 70-300mm, but at least I’d have got some shots in flight and recorded the audio once it arrived. But in the heat of the moment, especially having been up for 26 hours straight at that point, you don’t always make the right technical decisions.

To be honest though, getting all of that would have been greedy, and looking back at the shots and video from my three cameras, I’d managed to achieve most of my goals. At liftoff, I’d just held the button down on the cable release on the 7D, and was really pleased to find a lovely sequence of the Shuttle taking off. You can see one of the frames below, uncropped and only slightly tweaked for white balance and levels.

Liftoff! Space Shuttle Atlantis with EF 500mm f4L on EOS 7D
Space Shuttle Atlantis Liftoff STS-135
Click image to access original version at Flickr


The T3i / 600D with 300mm had recorded a nice video of the takeoff which had a fair balance between magnification and duration of view. You can see that below.

Video: STS-135 Space Shuttle launch, Canon T3i / 600D with EF 70-300mm f4-5.6L


While checking all the footage, I realised my camcorder had still been running, so had captured the sound of the launch, along with all the crowd reactions. It’s one of my favourite clips and you can see it below. I had the camcorder mounted on the hotshoe of the EOS 7D, so that's the Canon EF 500mm f4L lens you can see in the corner, pointing at the Shuttle. The clip also illustrates the speed at which the Shuttle accelerates. One of my favourite parts is the boy in the middle who dutifully plugs his ears at liftoff, only to wonder where the sound has gone immediately afterwards; speaking of which, it arrives approximately 45 seconds later, so listen out for it (at around 1:10 on the video), but don't mistake the wind noise for the boosters!

Video: STS-135 Space Shuttle launch, Panasonic HDC-HS900

Overall despite a few photographic frustrations, it was a fantastic experience, and now two days later I’m still grinning. I got some good shots, met some wonderful people and shared a historic event – and not only did the rain stay-off until the afternoon, but the Sun even came out at liftoff.

The shared experience was the highlight for me, witnessing this amazing spectacle with so many like-minded folk. I really hope we all get an opportunity to see manned spaceflight again sooner rather than later.

I’ll leave you with one thought: almost all of us would agree human space exploration is an amazing thing, but much fewer of us believe it’s worth the financial investment, which is one of the reasons the NASA program was cancelled. So I’ll ask you this: what percentage of the Federal budget went to NASA to fund these endeavours? 5%? 10%? Maybe 20% or possibly higher? That sure would be expensive, but in reality, the NASA budget over the past few years was just 0.6%.

So just over half a percent got you the Space Shuttle, while a brief and temporary boost to 4% in the Sixties got you the Moon in an accelerated timeframe. It is of course a highly personal thing, but I’d say that’s money well-spent. So the next time you hear anyone complaining about the high cost of NASA, just let them know what great value it actually represented.

And it's gone - for the last time. T3i / 600D with EF 70-300mm
Space Shuttle Atlantis launch STS-135
Click image to access original version at Flickr


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