By Sarwat Nasir
I will never forget the night when the ground beneath me literally shook, blinding rays of light lit up the dark skies and an ear-splitting sound nearly threw me off my feet. No, it was not an earthquake, nor a UFO; it was a powerful Russian rocket taking astronauts to the International Space Station.
I was standing 1.5km away from the Soyuz spacecraft with my camera ready to shoot as soon as liftoff happens. We, the media, were given plenty of space near the launch site in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, to capture this historic moment, taking place on July 20. Two astronauts and a cosmonaut were going to space on the same day Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon 50 years ago. It was an amazing coincidence.
I kept my index finger on my DSLR’s record button and held my iPhone with my other hand. I was confident in my filming abilities even though I had no proper equipment to capture the blast-off in the manner it deserves.
Little did I know that the force of the rocket would be so strong and the sight so overwhelmingly beautiful, it would temporarily freeze my brain.
There was no countdown, though the sound and sight of the first stage — four boosters burning up to deliver a thrust that allows a kick-off speed of 8,300km an hour — was so loud and visually captivating, I immediately hit ‘record’ on both cameras.
What did my camera lens and I see? A 150-foot-tall and a 308kg rocket soaring towards the skies after the boosters fired up. The power of the ignition released so much fire and smoke I could feel the heat on my face and hands. After all, 1.5km isn’t a great distance, especially when the liftoff impact is of that force.
Within just two minutes, the rocket was flying 41km high and 39km over land. The media, family members of the astronauts and tourists cheered as the boosters separated successfully, which is visible to the naked eye if you are near the launch site.
It was my first time seeing a rocket launch, so my camera and I were competing on who’d get the better visual. I wanted to see it with my own eyes, not through my lens.
And, after three minutes, the astronauts were out of gravity’s reach.
I don’t think words can describe the visual that was in front of me that day. It’s an experience I suggest every human should see at least once in their life.
It was an honour and privilege for me to witness astronauts taking off in such a powerful rocket — currently the only one that can take humans to the ISS.
Though, there were a few thoughts that buzzed in my mind as I watched the remarkable scene: I now have more respect for professionals in the space industry; it was an awesome way to spend my birthday weekend; I can’t believe they put humans in there; and where do I sign up to be a space tourist?
While we were waiting for liftoff, the ISS also flew over us, which made for another incredible coincidence.
Two days later, on July 22, India also successfully launched its Chandrayaan-2 to the moon.
It was spectacular week overall for space-related stories worldwide.
Sarwat is currently accepting funds for her commercial space flight ticket