This image was taken of the Soyuz TMA-9 launch in 2007 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The image has gotten a good deal of attention and is a featured image on Wikimedia Commons. One thing that makes this image especially unique is the man in the foreground watching the launch of the Soyuz rocket.
I’ve alwasy been curious as to how far the individual watching the launch is from the pad. It can be very difficult to acurately judge distances in photographs which have been taken with a zoom or telephoto lens, especially when there is not a continuous ground surface to provide for perspective between items of varying differences. The lack of scale can create a forced perspective illusion which makes the man appear closer to the pad than he really is.
Still, the observer is clearly not all that far from the pad. It appears that the light from the launch is reflected from the ground around him, and the Bainkonour Cosmodrome is on very flat ground, with only a few small rises, making it unlikely that he is much higher in elevation than the launch.
So just how far is this guy?
I managed to track down and contact the photographer of the image, Bill Ingalls. Mr. Ingalls was kind enough to get back to me and told me that the image was taken from just under one statute mile from the launch pad and that the man in the foreground is roughly two thirds of a mile from the pad. (For the rest of the world, that’s just about one kilometer.)
This is extremely close by NASA standards. When the Space Shuttle launches, the vicinity around the launch pad is completely evacuated. The closest members of general public can get to a launch is about six and a half miles, viewing the launch from the NASA causeway. Tickets are required and sell out quickly. The absolute closest any unprotected observers are allowed to get is the Press Site Clock and Flag Pole, which is located near the Vehicle Assembly Building, about three miles from the launch pad area. However, only a very limited number of observers and reporters are ever allowed this close.
Even launches of much smaller ELV rockets have similar restrictions on how close anyone can get to the actual vehicle launch pad. On occasion, USAF launches may include personnel located much closer to the pad, but they are located in highly protected blockhouses or control bunkers.
This entry was posted on Friday, January 30th, 2009 at 1:09 pm and is filed under Good Science, Misc, Space. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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