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“It’s definitely the most media coverage I’ve seen for a landing.” said Allard Buetel, a NASA public affairs official.
While Atlantis’ landing was certainly less covered than its launch, Buetel estimated more than 1,000 reporters showed up to capture the event. For STS-135, the final mission for the 30 year old shuttle program, NASA issued more than 2,700 media passes to news agencies from all over the world. While some missions have drawn similar amounts of media attention, including Shuttle Discovery’s launch following the Colombia disaster, and John Glenn’s 1998 return to space, Buetel said none drew the same amount of interest for a landing.
A day earlier, hundreds of photojournalists lined up to wait for busses that would take them to the Shuttle Landing Facility, so they could place remote cameras to capture close up shots of the vehicle touching down.
“I’ve never seen this many photographers try to shoot the landing,” said Joe Marino, a photographer who shoots for UPI. “But this is a tough shot to take.”
Marino should know. He’s one of the veterans of the NASA press site, having attended every launch and landing since the second launch of Space Shuttle Columbia in 1981. Other photographers know this too, and he was frequently asked for advice from other photographers while setting up his owncamera system. A pre-dawn landing means careful settings are needed to capture the fast moving shuttle, while still having enough light for a proper exposure.