SpaceX is lighting a fire under the world of space exploration with breakthroughs in reusability and a promise of interplanetary travel. Millions around the world tuned in to watch the company fire off its hotly-anticipated Falcon Heavy rocket. But at Kennedy Space Center, photographers and journalists from around the world came to witness history in the making and tell that story to the masses.
Each with their own reason for being there.
Star Letters was in attendance as well and we some extraordinary story tellers and artists who themselves are greatly inspired by what they are witnessing. One of those people, Pauline Acalin, has been chasing SpaceX rockets on the west coast for a couple of years now and is now a rockstar rocket chaser publishing both her reporting and photography. Recently, Pauline’s photos got the coveted Elon Musk retweet when she stalked SpaceX’s new nosecone-catching ship.
Star Letters had a conversation with Pauline to learn about why she chases SpaceX rockets.
How did you get into rocket photography? And where can we find your awesome work?
A mixture of my love for photo-journalism, and my obsession with following SpaceX innovation is what sparked my path into rocket photography. Being fairly local to Vandenberg AFB, I am able to attend the launches and practice the craft. I can’t get enough of it. Instagram: @Pacalin Twitter: @w00ki33 Teslarati.com
What about SpaceX inspires you?
If I must consolidate the source of my inspiration to one, general topic, it would have to be the way SpaceX presents itself as a leader in the space industry…the transparency of their attempts, failures and eventual successes in innovation. To be undaunted by failure is among the greatest of virtues, and SpaceX displays that epically.
We noticed you were at Kennedy Space Center for Falcon Heavy? What made you decide to go?
Each SpaceX launch is attached to one milestone or another, but there were a couple launches I needed to see with my own eyes. One of those, for me, was the first re-launch and landing of a flight-proven booster (SES-10). The other was Falcon Heavy. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Can you describe the experience of witnessing the FH launch?
Profanity. Lots of profanity. That rocket tore up the sky. And when the side boosters landed simultaneously, I literally could not believe what my eyes were seeing. It was almost too futuristic to behold, and the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I tried to imagine how the team must have felt, seeing that beast clear the tower. Took well over a week for me to come down from that high. Lots of tears that day. Joyful tears.
What was your favorite photo that you took from the mission?
Every single part of a launch is magnificent and worth capturing. For Falcon Heavy, I had set up a remote camera for the first time using a MIOPS trigger, and the series of images captured blew me away. I’d never taken a launch photo quite like it before, and I am now forever hooked to remote cams.
What’s the next big thing from SpaceX you are waiting for?
The pace of SpaceX innovation yields a constant stream of milestones, which I am always eagerly anticipating. Currently, I’d love to see the company catch a payload fairing using the giant net strung across the arms of their fairing recovery ship, Mr Steven. Also incredibly excited to see the maiden launch of the final “Block 5” version of Falcon 9!
Can you tell us a little about your every day, non-space life?
I don’t really have a non-space life. My biggest job and responsibility comes with being a mom…I have 2 daughters (11 and 9). We’ve been to a few launches together, and various other night-sky events, so they are certainly well-seasoned when it comes to mom’s space-life. I’m also a freelance writer and t-shirt designer. Huge foodie. Retro gaming buff. I love pixel art. 🙂
Do you ever encourage others around you to check out space exploration or what SpaceX is up to?
Are you a fan of Elon Musk’s other companies?
Well, I wore my Boring Company hat to the Falcon Heavy launch, and am eagerly anticipating my overpriced fire extinguisher to arrive this spring. Not exactly sure when my Model 3 will finally ship, but it’ll be worth the wait. SO EXCITED.
Have you ever visited SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne? If so, what was it like?
Living about 30 miles south of Hawthorne has its benefits, so I do partake in routine drive-bys to admire the giant lawn ornament displayed out front, which I call the “pillar of innovation.” It’s also thrilling to show up when boosters and fairings happen to be shipping out on a flatbed, which is more often than not. I have been fortunate enough to have had my share of factory tours, which are a humbling and eye-opening experience to say the least. The innovative culture within is booming, and the company’s mission is palpable from the moment you walk in. It is a visual feast.
What would you say to someone who is thinking about becoming a writer or photographer in the space exploration field?
Attend the events you want to photograph or write about. Experience them, and document that experience whether it be through words, photos or video. Accumulate a body of work. Follow the work of those you admire. Meet the engineers, technicians, scientists, artisans and ask them questions. Understand the big picture as well as the importance of the cumulative milestones. If you love it enough to stick with it, doors will open.
Cassie Thonen is a Space Reporter and Photojournalist for Star Letters. She studied Studio Art and Design at Northern Illinois University, with a degree emphasis in Photography. When she is not chasing rockets or staring at the stars, Cassie can be found perfecting her photography or with her dogs, Frankie and Chewie. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.