In April of this year I went with my friend Chris to Red Glare, a rocketry event on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. My idea was that I’d spend some time riding on the flat, low-traffic roads of the area and observe Chris’ hobby. I’ve written about the ride, and now I should give some photos from Red Glare itself. 

My background is in a hobby, chess, filled with odd people, and I had expectations I’d find rocketry to be the same. Or, in other words, I expected to find my friend Chris the norm rather than the exception. I was wrong. While the geek levels soared as I approached the launching area, everyone remained pleasant and talkative, and they had a good sense of humor about their obsession. (A high school rocketry club wore tee shirts saying “Yes, I AM a rocket scientist.”)

Another surprise was how large some of these rockets were. I should have remembered the Apollo missions and the massive Saturn V rocket used to launch the capsule into orbit. Even these smaller payloads sometimes required a large rocket to boost them into the air. Note this man resting the nose of the rocket on his boot. I saw several people doing that, and it struck me as odd until I realized they probably wanted to keep dirt from getting onto the nose. NAR isn’t NASA, but rocketeers take launching as seriously, and they don’t want extra weight to cause a problem at launch. 

I wrote of oddity before, and Chris lived up to his reputation this trip. However, for all his eccentricity of dress and manner, on the whole he’s a remarkably helpful and polite man. Witness the lesson on rocketry photography he gave to a man and his son on the launch field. And Chris’ good nature remained unimpaired during the seven hours he spent standing on the launch field photographing rockets. My good nature, if any, would not have fared so well in such circumstances.

Speaking of not doing well, the gentleman in the previous photo did not have a successful recovery of his rocket. While the rockets have parachutes that should open when their fuel is spent, not all do, and not all get off the pad successfully. Nor do they always follow their flight path. This rocket had a hard landing in the corn field behind the spectators. Its owner had built the rocket for his Level 1 certification flight – the hobby’s managing group has certification levels for flying motors of different sizes – and he was now reduced to taking apart the wreckage of his 200 dollar investment looking for parts to salvage. He remained in good spirits, partly disappointed but also pleased that he’d had a launch and that he was on the right path to success. He would find what went wrong and not have it happen next time. I was reminded of the old quip about Edison learning ten thousand ways to not create a light bulb.

Thanks to Chris’ instruction, my rocketry photography improved throughout the day. But whereas Chris and the other rocket photographers focused on the mechanics, I focused on the interactions of rockets and people. Machines like bikes and rockets and what not are interesting products of man, but Man himself is more fearfully and wonderfully made than any contrivance. So while Chris’ photos show launch after launch, my photos are different. Chris was pleased I photographed the launch of this “drag race” (rocketry slang for multiple rockets launching at once) but what makes the photo for me is the crowd. Its not a perspective Chris could get shooting where he did, but its the perspective I like best.

While I had a good time in my two days at Red Glare, I doubt I’d go again unless it was to ride the Eastern Shore. A little rocketry goes a long way for me. That’s not a knock on rocketry. I just fly on different motors than the rocketry folks do… and I like my flight path.