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Yuk.

It was my first reaction when I saw our photographer Tim Shortt’s photo of the crowds descend from the A. Max Brewer Bridge in Titusville after the historic SpaceX Demo-2 flight scrubbed Wednesday.

It seemed to many people, too close to each other and too soon, as we are still navigating the coronavirus pandemic.

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Large crowds of SpaceX spectators gathered at the A. Max Brewer Bridge in Titusville, Florida, hoping to see the first US crew mission in nearly a decade, begin to wander back to their vehicles after the launch scrubbed. (Photo: TIM SHORTT / FLORIDA TODAY)

What never happened to me was that Tim, who has shot crowds in rocket launches for FLORIDA TODAY since 1986, would have to spend his evening fighting off social media charges for falsifying the photo.

“The idea that I would ever do that makes me sick,” Tim said Thursday as he drove out to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center to take photographs of their resume.

When Tim and I talked, we both agreed that we understood where some of the doubts were coming from – even though we were frustrated by them.

A few weeks earlier, in a story about possible crowds and NASA’s (obviously) request for people to stay home, we used a file photo to show what the crowds could be. That photo of Max Brewer Bridge was taken on July 8, 2011, from a similar vantage point, by crowds gathered for the final shuttle flight.

Some people probably did not look enough and thought they would see the same picture again. The reality is that the 2011 photo had a lot more people.

So Tim and I both understood how someone can get confused. In fact, one of our colleagues texted me even Wednesday night and asked why would we use an old photo.

As journalists, we are big believers in asking questions and trying to verify information.

But it is one thing to ask and a whole other to explain “Fake News” and ignore all evidence to the contrary. Evidence of people wearing masks in the photo, sharing other mobile phone photos that showed a similar scene and, finally, common sense.

Many people in the community know about Tim. Up in Titusville, he was a local (he calls Viera home now). They know his integrity and our integrity so the screams from “Fake News” were quickly suppressed when it was understood the photo was originated. Also, if you’re on the Space Coast, you know that launches, especially large, important launches, attract people.

But one thing I strongly believe in, as we all do in FLORIDA TODAY, is to be transparent about our journalism. The more transparent we can be, the better.

More photos: Scenes from Kennedy Space Center prior to the historic SpaceX launch

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For the record: Tim took the photo with his Nikon D500 camera and 80-200 lens. In Tim’s words, it is a medium telephoto lens that does not know the kind of compression of an image that can occur with large telephoto lenses.

Here’s how it went down: Tim was on the Max Brewer bridge and “the crowd grew larger and I thought, ‘I don’t want to be up here,'” Tim said.

Besides, it wasn’t even a good place for him to fulfill his mission. Yes, he wanted crowd shots, but we like crowd shots that catch people’s faces, not the backs of their heads. Because he was behind the crowd, it was difficult.

Tim started moving from the bridge – and then scrubbed the launch. And the crowds, which had been divided on the east and west sides of the bridge, were suddenly mixed into a giant group.

“I was honestly surprised at how many people were there to see them all coming from the bridge,” Tim said.

He tried to lie before the crowd and hustled back to his car in Space View Park. His attempt to send some pictures faltered because of a lousy signal. He eventually found a decent signal outside Wayback Burgers and from there he sent the photo from the bridge.

Here’s a full-screen capture that shows more of the design obstacles:

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Large crowds of SpaceX spectators who left the A. Max Brewer Bridge after the announcement that the launch was scrubbing. (Photo: TIM SHORTT / FLORIDA TODAY)

One thing that struck me as I read through some of the social media’s reactions to Tim’s photo was that the people who declared “Fake News” obviously wanted to discredit the image for some reason.

My question is: Why?

Previous coverage: Space loving crowds arrive early despite declines – and cheer despite disappointment

And: Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex opens again, sold out for SpaceX launch

Given the COVID-19 crisis, were they disturbed by the sheer enormity and closeness of the people even though they were among supporters of inviting everyone here to watch? (For the record: FLORIDA TODAY it was not and in an editorial urged people to follow NASA’s advice and put safety first.)

Maybe they would rather convince themselves that a fraud was done with the photo instead of accepting that the crowds had swelled so much?

I don’t know what motivated them to question the authenticity of the photos.

I know we have been waiting nine years to see human launches return to the space coast. And when Falcon 9 was declared to go for refueling, I had to stop what I was doing (at home, working remotely) because my eyes were filled with tears.

It was exciting and nerve-wracking and I was overwhelmed by all kinds of emotions, including a huge jealousy that I was not at our blockhouse at Kennedy Space Center, where I watched the last shuttle flight.

This launch is something we have all been waiting for. It’s something we all want to celebrate.

And we must not do it the way we hoped.

But there are safe ways to mark this moment, including keeping social distances for miles of beaches, distances in riverside parks, or standing in our backyards or on city streets. There are ways to safely gather at open restaurants and businesses and does not violate the recommended social distance guidelines.

If nothing else, I hope Tim’s photo gives us a chance to pause and think before heading to our viewing locations on Saturday.

The goal should be to celebrate without putting ourselves or anyone else in our community at risk.

Mara Bellaby is the managing editor of FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Bellaby at [email protected] and support local journalism by subscribing to FLORIDA TODAY at. https://cm.floridatoday.com/specialoffer/

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