BLAST! – Sweden Launch

Posted by Paul Devlin:

The launch of BLAST in Arctic Sweden was one of the most arduous shoots of my career. 

We had already been waiting weeks for the launch day because of weather delays.  I wanted to hire camera help from the nearby city of Kiruna. But it was impossible to give a definitive shoot date. When the day finally arrived, the actual launch time of 9AM was delayed for about 18 hours, and did not happen until around 3AM the next morning (still well-lit because of the midnight sun).  I wouldn’t have been able to keep a crew on anyway, so I gave extra cameras to the grad students instead.

I had a wireless mic on the launch leader, Victor Davison, that allowed me to keep track of progress. The two main areas of activity, the telescope and balloon, were separated by about 300 meters of flight train. As I heard Vic directing, I would run back and forth along that 300 meters – camera gear in hand – to catch the action as it was happening. A serious workout in the early hours of the morning.

There was one other professional camera man shooting the launch. He was hired by NASA and hoped to make a special for Discovery Channel. We had both spent weeks waiting, the crew knew us, and we were able to get close to the inflating of the balloon.  I knew his camera would eventually be high on a hill catching the launch from front and side.  So I decided to stay behind and catch a close-up of the balloon rising.  Both spectacular shots.

Later I offered to trade footage with the other cameraman, so we would both have better coverage. He declined. Luckily for me, he was working for NASA at the time, which put his shot in the public domain. I was able to use his anyway.

By the way, his show Space Balloons, was very well-produced and did play on Discovery.  But the segment on BLAST stops as the telescope rises into the sky – no mention of the disasters that follow. Too many shows like this become science propaganda, glossing over what’s really going on behind the scenes. We wanted to buck that trend with BLAST!. Celebrate the failures! Failure is an essential component of learning and progress (not too mention great for a dramatic arc!) Space Balloons also did not give proper credit to my brother Mark’s role as Principle Investigator of BLAST – another unfortunate choice.

At the last moment, Victor invited Mark to ride on the launch vehicle during launch.  A rare privilege!  If only I had given Mark a camera too.  What a spectacular shot that would have been!  We tried again to get that shot in Antarctica, but the cameraman was removed from the launch vehicle when the winds kicked up just before launch. Someday I hope someone can get that elusive shot!

BLAST! Trailer

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