Camera vaporized, tripod ruined, but Houston Chronicle photographer still captured SpaceX launch

Nick Natario Image
Tuesday, April 25, 2023
Houston photographer captured SpaceX launch despite damaged equipment
A photographer with the Houston Chronicle captured the moment SpaceX's Starship rocket exploded, damaging the launch pad after a historic test.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- His camera was vaporized, the tripod was ruined, and other equipment was dusted, but the end result left a Houston Chronicle photographer with some incredible images.

On Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle released images a photographer wasn't sure anyone would see. Last week, photographer Jon Shapley covered the launch of a SpaceX rocket. It wasn't until days later that Shapley discovered what he had.

"I was like, 'Wow.' You see rocks, debris, rebar," Shapley recalled. "You see all of that stuff as well as the exhaust from the rocket."

After SpaceX lit the most powerful rocket ever, it caused concrete below it to break into pieces and hurl toward equipment stationed nearby.

"One of the GoPros, I suspect, was vaporized," Shapley said. "It was just gone. It wasn't only mine. It was most everybody's who set up on the launch pad."

RELATED: SpaceX's giant Starship rocket fails minutes after launching from Texas

Shapley said a tripod was also damaged, and his equipment was covered in dust. That wasn't the only issue.

Clear skies made it hard to capture the largest rocket ever.

"It seemed to be lost in the sun," Shapley recalled. "I was like, 'Oh, crap. Where is this rocket?'"

Shapley found it and shared the incredible images with Houston Chronicle subscribers.

"I would do it again in a heartbeat," Shapley said. "If my bosses let me."

The question is, when will that be? Starship is a SpaceX rocket that'll take people to deep space.

What happened last week was a test mission. The rocket wasn't supposed to explode, but when it ran into issues, SpaceX and the Federal Aviation Administration destroyed it.

RELATED: SpaceX scrubs test flight of giant Starship rocket due to technical difficulties, CEO Elon Musk says

An investigation is underway. This isn't the only issue.

The rocket caused a crater to form at the pad. Commercial space expert Eric Ingram believes it could take SpaceX a couple of months to launch again.

"There are elements of failure, but overall this is achieving what it needed to in figuring out what could go wrong and fixing the broken stuff before there are people on board," Ingram explained.

The fact the rocket got off the pad, Ingram said, wasn't just good for SpaceX. Commercial aerospace companies could soon benefit, and there are plenty of them here in Houston.

"This was a huge event for the space industry to see the rocket program move forward," Ingram said. "The development of Starship to continue."

It's progress not just for aerospace but local photographers, who are thankful they were able to get anything from the historic launch.

"I mean, it's the photo," Shapley explained. "You're after that."

We still don't know exactly what went wrong last week. Eyewitness News was told SpaceX could do an update at the end of this week. However, the FAA's investigation could last several more weeks.

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