Being only 16 years of age when he joined AmericaSpace‘s launch photography team, John Kraus is “one of the youngest spaceflight photojournalists ever.” When the NROL-37 spy satellite launched into orbit last week, atop the most powerful rocket currently in operation, the Florida’s Satellite Beach based prodigy managed to take some of its most spectacular pictures.

To capture the departure of the Delta IV Heavy, John set up a remote sound triggered camera about 200 feet away from the rocket. Originally, it stood at about 1,000 feet, but after the initial launch scrubbed, John brought it closer for the second try, very aware of the fact that everything could potentially get destroyed. “But because this particular rocket isn’t launching again until 2018, I figured it was worth the risk,” he explained in a talk with Resource Magazine.

John used his Nikon D3300 and a simple 18-55mm lens. He protected his gear with layers of grocery bags, and the legs of the heavy metal tripod were staked down. And despite the (lack of) distance and accompanying exposure to overwhelming flames, his camera survived. On John’s Instagram-page, you can see every image he eventually came home with.

“I set up a remote sound triggered camera about 200 feet away from the Delta IV Heavy.”
© John Kraus

“It was worth the risk.”
© John Kraus

“The Delta IV Heavy pushes off the pad, lifting the NROL-37 spy satellite to orbit.”
© John Kraus

But where does a 16-year-old get his interest in photography from, eventually ending up becoming a member of the photography team at AmericaSpace? Rather coincidentally, he confesses.

“In January of 2015, I bought my Nikon D3300 on a whim. I wanted to take photography more seriously again, after I had lost interest in the GoPro I had experimented with in the past.”

His passion for rocket photography specifically, is due to John’s mere proximity to the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Growing up in the area, he had always watched rocket launches, which made them his favorite subject when he engaged in photography.

The first launch John captured, was the Falcon 9 launch in February of 2015, and in the year that followed, John built up a portfolio of launch pictures. Until December 2015, John had no other option other than to stay 6 to 10 miles away from the launches, which was “as close as I could [be] without credentials.” Then, he became the youngest ever member of the photography team at AmericaSpace, which was something happened “sort of by accident,” John explains.

“I was following Mike Killian on Instagram, and admired his photography. When a friend of his commented on one of his photos about attending a launch, Mike told him to “say the magic word.” When I replied if I could say the magic word, he told me to email him… And it developed from there.”

Ever since he’s been a credentialed photographer, John is allowed to access the launchpads some time before launch, “usually 8-24 hours or even longer,” to setup his remote camera at the pad. During the launch, he and his colleagues are usually allowed to watch from 2.5 miles away.

“The launch of the Atlas V, carryin GPS IIF-12, on February 5, 2016, was my first launch as credentialed photographer with AmericaSpace.”
© John Kraus

“Falcon 9 carried Eutelsat and ABS to Geostationary Transfer Orbit. This photo was taken with a 55-200mm lens at 135mm at the launchpad on June 15, 2016”
© John Kraus

“Atlas V, carrying MMS, viewed from Satellite Beach, March 12, 2015”
© John Kraus

“Falcon 9 launches JSCAT-14 at 1:21AM, viewed from Satellite Beach. May 6, 2016”
© John Kraus

“Falcon 9 launches Thaicom-8, viewed from the ITL causeway, 2.5 miles away. May 27, 2016”
© John Kraus

Other than rocket- and space imagery, John is very much into basketball photography, being a huge NBA-fan, “particularly of the Orlando Magic.” Whenever he attends games, John takes along his camera. When he got the opportunity to sit next to the San Antonio Spurs’ bench in Orlando, earlier this year, John managed to capture Kawhi Leonard’s game winning shot with less than a second remaining.

“Kawhi wins the game in Orlando, 98-96 – February 10, 2016.”
© John Kraus

“I do plan to go to college after high school, but I don’t plan on studying photography. But if I could be a photographer for an NBA team, that would be pretty awesome. I’ve seen the work those guys put out, and it’s fantastic.”

“Milky Way at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park.”
© John Kraus

“Lightning at the beach.”
© John Kraus

“Birds at sunset.”
© John Kraus

If you like John’s work, we highly recommend following his 2016 “photo a day challenge,” which can be viewed here. You can also follow his photographical journey on his Instagram.