Moonfest Model Rockets

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NASA Ames in Mountain View, CA put on a Moonfest event to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, as well as celebrate all things lunar. Of special interest to me was the model rocket launches that was being demonstrated at the Moffett airfield. Not knowing much of anything about model rocketry, all I can say is that they are very challenging to photograph! There's nothing else I know of which requires a rapid vertical upward pan... Good thing there were lots and lots of launches going on for me to keep trying! :-)

Nikon D300 w/ 70-300mm VR lens, Nikon D200 w/ 18-105mm VR lens (just a couple at the end). - Bernard Zee


I believe once a month, the model rocket enthusiasts get together at Moffett airfield, and launch rockets!


Big ones, small ones, seems like all are welcomed. Only stipulation is that the max altitude cannot exceed 1000ft.


Some of the larger rockets will easily go much, much higher than that. In which case, they have to tone it down and use a less powerful motor.


The whole rocket range was very well organized, with 24 launch pads organized into groups of 4.


When one group is hot, the others are open for the rocketeers to prep their missiles for launch. Note the starship Enterprise on the right.


The countdowns were important, but the timing very inconsistent. That's because they often let the rocket owners do the honors of pressing the launch button. Sometimes, very young rocketeers (maybe 6 yrs old) peformed the count and launch. This made taking pictures kind of tough!


Other times, technical difficulties kept the rocket grounded.


This poor Saturn V kept teasing the crowd by stubbornly refusing to ignite. I think it finally went up on the 3rd go around - after some detailed troubleshooting resolved the ignition problem.


There are all kinds of different rocket motors used. Some accelerated the rocket so fast, it was almost impossible to track it. Others went more slow and steady. The amount and color of smoke and type of sound it produces also varied widely.


For photography, I much prefer the slower accelerating rockets.


I think this may be a Gemini rocket. Pretty cool!


V2 rocket on takeoff.


Little kids were going crazy when these things came back to earth. They wanted to run out there and grab them... which was a no, no. The owners of the rocket would much prefer to pick it up themselves. The announcer kept reminding people of that - but you know how brain dead some parents are. Sigh.


Sometimes, the recovery chute would not deploy properly, and you have a fast falling missile. Those are always a lot of fun! They would blast the klaxon several times as a warning when that happens. I remember this 5ft rocket falling sideways seemingly right for my head, but drifted to the side about 20ft to narrowly miss some woman who had no idea about the falling projectile!


You can see the ignition spark on this shot.


Once in a while, they would do a drag race, where they launch multiple rockets at the same time.


In order to reduce motion blur, I ended up setting the shuttle to 1/3200 sec. Earlier shots were at a slower speed, but that didn't work as well.


It was quite a challenging day, but at least I got some shots I was happy with.


At about this time, the crowd started getting really large. Due to the Moonfest, there were more people there than the range safety officers had ever had to deal with. It was like herding cats trying to keep them a safe distance back.


It was really cool though, to see so many youngsters involved with the hobby. Many of them certainly knew what they were doing, and set up the rockets for launch themselves.


People though, have to be told the most basic things. Not only, don't try to catch the rockets on the way back down (could be quite hot), don't pick it up (let the owners do it), but also don't take it! Yes, the rocket parts are NOT disposable, and the owners spent a lot of time and effort, and wouldn't want to lose them!


The rockets go up, but oftentimes, not straight up. That, plus the wind means that the owner of the rocket might have to walk far and wide to retrieve it.


The crowd, having the collective IQ of a 2 year old, sees people walking about the airfield (retrieving rocket parts), and thinks it's ok for them to wander about too. Sigh, it was not!


A few launches were planned by the organizers, but the bulk were people who showed up with their own to launch. I think it was like a 25cents or something ridiculously affortable per launch.


If I didn't have a camera, I think I would have more fun just watching. Whooooooosh! hehehe


There were several different Saturn V rockets there.


This one had a lot of chutes.


That's the launch control.


I believe this one had a camera on board.


Between the dud launches, and wondering whether the recovery chute would deploy properly, there's never a dull moment!


The black and red rocket had 2 stages.


Here, the bottom (red) part has seperated, and the top part lit.


They were not flying the bigger hobby rockets, some of which can reach 25,000 ft! Remember, max ceiling here was only 1,000 ft.


Still, these small ones were a blast to watch (and photograph).


Another Gemini rocket I think.


Most rockets survive the fall back to earth ok. But once in a while, the missile falls down like a lawn dart when the chute fails to deploy - and the crushed nose cone and body looked quite sad.


The green rocket did not suffer such a cruel fate.


Wheee! A multiple launch.


Here's the sign up table for launch.


They used electronic ignition, pushing 15amps to generate the spark to light the motor.


A very nicely detailed Saturn V.


This unusual rocket flew very nicely.


Steady and not too fast! :-)


A suggestion to the crowd was to point to the falling pieces so others know where the danger is.


A gaggle of Saturn V rockets ready for launch.


Ah, the glory days of space exploration!


Yes, it flew - but the pencil flame didn't look too impressive.


Now this one was more like it! I like the thick black smoke.


Checking out the rockets at the sign up table.








Yep, another Saturn V.


A young enthusiast preparing the launch platform.





Preparing for one of the keynote launches.


Special guest was astronaut Donald R. Pettit, who stayed on board the space station for 5-1/2 months, and flew on the space shuttle STS-126 as a mission specialist. Donald was to launch the big Saturn V model.


Which had to be delayed because a C-130 was landing on an adjacent runway. This little bit of excitment was almost too much for the crowd to bear (since they were asked to move back away from the runway), and it took many minutes to restore some sort of order, as people then began crowding in all around the launch pads afterwards!


After a while, things finally settled back down, and the launch was on! 2nd try was a charm due to operator error...


Would have been sweet to experience the real thing in person!


Lot of fun!


Lot of crowds!


Well of course Moonfest was not all about model rockets, as there were plenty of booths and exhibits, and presentations. But, we were hungry and it was time to go.


Yours truly!


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