Thanks to their collective efforts, public interest in the space program continues to flourish. NASA even encourages a select group of space enthusiasts to celebrate important missions and milestones via its NASA Social program.
According to a WIRED report, at least one participant was so pumped after attending his first launch, he eventually quit his IT job to follow his true passion—and he’s not alone.
An entire group of “rocket chasers” are documenting space developments for pleasure and sometimes, pay.
Social Space Endeavor Turned Full-time Rocket Pursuit
NASA Social allows approved applicants to learn and share information about NASA’s missions, people, and programs. In the endeavor, the aerospace organization holds special in-person events and grants social media credentials to people who share the news “in a significant way.”
The governmental space agency gears these experiences toward social media users who follow NASA on multiple social media platforms. At these meetings, NASA followers can go behind-the-scenes at NASA facilities and events. They can also speak with scientists, engineers, astronauts, and managers.
For some people, these experiences are life-changing. Ryan Chylinski told WIRED that photographing his first launch was “addictive.” Two years later, he quit his job, sold his belongings, and hit the road with his dog to start photographing rockets full time.
Earning a Paycheck and Sniffing Out SpaceX Secrets
Chylinski and his fellow space devotees often camp out for days to document space program milestones, without guaranteed payment.
For instance, Chylinski rented a condo to house himself and all his equipment to shoot SpaceX Falcon Heavy’s first commercial launch. He landed a paid gig for this job. However, he does most of his launch photography pro bono.
Some rocket chasers earn money contracting for publications like Teslarati and NASASpaceFlight. Others attend launches while working around day jobs. Juggling schedules is often challenging because launches frequently occur at odd early morning hours.
Still more space enthusiasts, such as Gavin Cornwell, also track behind-the-scenes happenings at SpaceX. Cornwell monitors the Elon Musk-helmed company’s drone ships and other nautical vehicles through his SpaceXFleet project. He launched the website in 2019 “to chronicle and archive information about SpaceX’s extensive offshore operations.”
Cornwall reportedly gathers data from services like MarineTraffic and maritime radio to learn when rocket boosters will return to port. This “intel” helps photographers capture rarely seen rocket activities, such as Falcon 9 stowing its landing legs.
Space Interest is Good PR
Overall, companies like NASA, SpaceX, and Space Tango appreciate the ongoing interest in the space program.
On the one hand, public enthusiasm from rocket chasers and beyond is good PR. Furthermore, space supporters help motivate NASA officials and International Space Station (ISS) crew members who conduct microgravity experiments to make discoveries that can improve life for us on Earth.
On the other hand, because safety is always a top priority, some planned launches may get postponed – including potentially historic ones, like the all-female spacewalk which was scrapped due to a lack of properly-fitting spacesuits.
Some rocket chasers might find these delays frustrating, especially after spending money and sacrificing time to document them.
Still, any technology that helps humans reach the stars is inherently fascinating. Whether it’s a hobby or a paid pursuit, we can’t deny rocket chasing is a pretty cool pastime.