A FEW HOURS before dawn in January 2015, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket departed from a launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a mission to the International Space Station. It was the company’s fifth cargo resupply mission and the first time it attempted to land a booster on an autonomous drone ship. Rocket launches always inspire awe, but for Ryan Chylinski, this one was life changing.
A part-time photographer, Chylinski had signed up for NASA Social, a program that grants media credentials to unaffiliated writers and photographers. It was his first time photographing a launch up close. “It was addictive,” Chylinski says. “I just kept thinking about it.” He returned to his IT job and spent the next two years dreaming about rockets.
In late 2017 Chylinski gave in to his obsession. He sold his belongings, left his job, and hit the road in a Capri truck camper with his dog, Tuck, to photograph rockets full-time. Most people in their mid-thirties would balk at that kind of career move, and Chylinski, now 35, admits he had reservations too. But he told himself it would just be for six months. If it didn’t work out, he’d return to corporate IT.