HOSCHTON — Though she wasn’t alive to witness the beginning of NASA’s space shuttle program, Katie Darby, 21, will watch the beginning of the program’s final countdown this Sunday.
The Hoschton resident scored the opportunity to travel to Florida and photograph one of the final five shuttles to ever blast off from the Kennedy Space Center.
NASA has announced it will be retiring its space shuttle program this year, almost 30 years after the program’s inception in 1981.
The final five shuttles will be launched over an eight-month period. The first launch will be this month, the final one in September. All five shuttle missions are aimed at helping stock the International Space Station.
Darby will photograph the STS-130 Endeavour shuttle launch — the last night launch — scheduled for 4:39 a.m. Sunday. The six-person Endeavour crew will spend 13 days in space delivering supplies to the station.
A recent graduate of Gwinnett Technical College in Lawrenceville, Darby received her associate degree in commercial photography. She will soon begin classes at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, where she plans to work toward a degree in criminal justice.
An internship with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation last year inspired Darby to seek the degree and also indirectly gave her the chance to attend the upcoming launch.
Darby worked for three months at the GBI’s headquarters in DeKalb County, helping photograph crime scenes and autopsies, among other duties. "It was definitely interesting," she said of the experience. "It was kind of cool because you got to see them solving crimes and help out a little bit."
During the internship, Darby worked alongside James Brown, a forensic photographer and shuttle launch enthusiast, whose photos can be see at www.jnbrown.webs.com.
"He (Brown) goes to every launch," she said. "He kind of got me interested in the shuttle. He was like, ‘There are only five launches left,’ (and) I was like, ‘I kind of need to go and take pictures if it’s never going to happen again.’"
Darby and Brown were in Florida earlier this month for the Endeavour’s rollout, which Darby said helped prepare her for the upcoming launch.
When she returns to Florida this week, Darby said she will set up two or three remote cameras near the launch pad.
"The closest the press can get is three miles away from the shuttle launch because it’s so loud," she explained. "We set up our cameras ... and we put timers on them so they’ll start going off as soon as the loud blast hits the sound trigger and it’ll start taking pictures until the sound stops."
Darby said she will also shoot the launch from the observation site three miles away using a wide-angle lens.
More information on the upcoming shuttle launches can be found on NASA’s Web site, www.nasa.gov/shuttle.