Awesome Shuttle launch videos!

By Phil Plait | July 10, 2006 10:25 pm

NASA has released some truly stunning video of the Shuttle launch on July 4. Webcams were placed on the rockets, and we now have different views of the Orbiter during ascent. There are several different videos on that page, but I need to point out one in particular.

Let me be very, very clear here: This is the coolest footage of anything I have ever seen.

It’s a camera on the top of the starboard solid rocket booster, and it points down. You can see the Orbiter and external tank clearly, and just see the bottom of the booster. Launch occurs about one minute into the video, and is really cool. But then at 2:15 the Shuttle makes a maneuver, and you can see the plume from the rockets, now many miles long, twisting, writhing, stretching all the way back to the launch tower. It’s not hard to imagine it as an umbilicus attaching the Shuttle to the ground. The sight of the plume is unreal, and amazing. What’s also odd is I realized I had been seeing it for quite some time before 2:15, but it was dark and hard to recognize.

Then, at 3:00, the booster separates, another phenomenal sequence. It tumbles, and you can clearly see the Earth spinning below, the black sky above. At 3:13, just past the limb of the Earth, a bright spot is seen in the sky. I thought it might be the Moon, but it was at the wrong part of the sky. I showed the video to the Little Astronomer, and she immediately said "Maybe it’s the airplane part of the Shuttle.".

She is so smart. She’s exactly right; it’s the bright exhaust from the Orbiter with the external tank still attached.

Several minutes pass, and the parachute opens. The fall slows, and at 7:30 it splashes down in the Atlantic. But a few seconds before it hits the water, the shadow of the booster comes into view on the water, parachute and seemingly off-center booster casting a wide shadow.

I am not a huge fan of the Shuttle as a program, as I have made fairly clear. But it’s still an amazing ride, and it does something too few machines do: it goes into space.

That’s what makes this video — and all the others on that page — so very, very cool.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Science, Time Sink

Comments (36)

  1. Here’s a video from the right aft SRB. This video seems to buffer and play faster, too.

    And thanks to Slashdot user Goldenhawk for the information below regarding this video:

    1:30-1:40 Mach transition (breaking the sound barrier – watch the nose)
    2:39 a rather visible bit of debris flies right past the camera
    2:58 separation from the orbiter/tank stack
    3:59 as the booster tumbles, you can briefly spot the shuttle as a bright dot
    5:18 you can see the smoke plume thru the upper atmosphere
    7:13 some debris goes past the booster camera
    7:17 you can see a shroud (parachute) line falling
    7:25 you can very briefly see a chute
    7:30 water entry
    7:40 the chute falls into the water
    8:00 as the booster floats, the chutes and shroud lines are clearly
    visible around the booster

  2. Wayne

    In the original video, there are some puffs of smoke from the bottom of the SRB after the parachutes deploy. My first thought was that it was some last gasps of the fuel burning as it encountered the denser air, but I’m not sure if that would make any difference since the booster already has it’s own oxidizer mixed in. Any other theories? At the very end there’s a bigger puff which may be some floatation devices inflating or something, but I admit I’ve never paid that much attention to SRB recovery. Very cool video, I need to go find someone to show it to…

  3. Joe A

    There is also a good video on NasaCast video podcast feed of ice floating away with the external tank.

  4. Joe A

    Feed Address is
    http://www.nasa.gov/rss/NASAcast_video.rss
    Episode name is Analysis of STS-121’s External Fuel Tank.

  5. Yes, really really cool, though the last five minutes was a bit boring.

    I use a Q-tip in my ears every morning, I know it’s not a machine, but it do go into (empty) space. :-)

  6. Mark Martin

    The view from the booster aft-camera also had some good moments. The view of the orbiter receding at separation was awesome, and the churning ocean water from beneath the surface was oddly creepy.

  7. Majy

    The most awesome site of the aft video for me: the plume of smoke from take off showing on the edge of the earth rising through the upper atmosphere Reminded me of the volcano plume on Io or seeing a spicule on the limb of the sun. Just amazing.

  8. Grimmtooth

    I realize this is pedantic of me, but a webcam is a cam actually, in fact, hooked up to the internet. In this case the fuel tank cam was a live streamer, but no internet connection. The SRB cams were film cams, were they not? Should I start a “Bad Technology” blog as a companion to yours? =)

    But seriously. Truly awesome, fantastic, utterly wonderful filmage.

    Why haven’t they done this from day one, at least for the SRBs? It’s so frustrating that it took not one but TWO dead crews for them to get serious about monitoring the spacecraft like this.

  9. OH. MY. GOD.

    That footage is just too, too cool. From launch to SPLASHDOWN? How awesome is THAT???

    THANKS, Phil, for watching out for us.

  10. dre

    from the rear-looking camera, watch for the ignition of the orbiter engines: you can see the whole shuttle/tank/booster system flex under the power of the mains.

    also, i was surprised to see that the boosters keep sputtering right up until splashdown (noted by Wayne above). are they finally extinguished by seawater as it fills the combustion chamber?

    don’t dismiss the long underwater shot on the forward-looking camera. that was the most affecting video of all for me. a brief ride into space, then waiting, waiting, waiting for somebody to come pick you up… i was really hoping to see some fish, or maybe some dolphins stealing our technology, but alas, only paint flecks tumbling into the deep…

  11. KingNor
  12. ioresult

    For me, the most amazing video ever is seeing the shuttle receeding with the external tank and the bright hydrogen engine nozzles. That’s so sci-fi like, it’s so much like the star destroyer engines in starwars, it’s… it’s… simply amazing.

  13. Max Fagin

    This is incredible! The view of the shuttle separating was breathtaking!

  14. Irishman

    But then at 2:15 the Shuttle makes a maneuver, and you can see the plume from the rockets, now many miles long, twisting, writhing, stretching all the way back to the launch tower. It’s not hard to imagine it as an umbilicus attaching the Shuttle to the ground. The sight of the plume is unreal, and amazing. What’s also odd is I realized I had been seeing it for quite some time before 2:15, but it was dark and hard to recognize.

    I saw the same thing when trying to get oriented on the image background. The long dark stripe up the top of the screen is the shadow of the plume, which becomes visible at about 2:15.

    Then, at 3:00, the booster separates, another phenomenal sequence. It tumbles, and you can clearly see the Earth spinning below, the black sky above.

    I was also trying to figure out what the bright spot was. I noticed the image brightening and darkening – is that the aperature adjusting for brightness? Where is the Sun in the sky?

    Did you see the stuff coming off the SRB just before splashdown? Actual metal things.

    dre said:

    from the rear-looking camera, watch for the ignition of the orbiter engines: you can see the whole shuttle/tank/booster system flex under the power of the mains.

    If you watch from the traditional external view, you can see when the mains kick in, the whole stack rotates away from the pulse, then swings back. They time the tie down bolts to release right as it reaches upright on the backswing. That’s when the SRBs kick in.

  15. Geoff

    WOW!

    The next time I hear someone say crop circles couldn’t have been made by humans, I think I’ll show them this video.

    Not that it will convince them or anything but still…

    Cool. Thanks Phil for the links.

  16. I’m not sure which image I like better, the aft-facing camera showing the shuttle going off into the sunset in repeated rotations, or the forward-facing camera that shows the actual separation in all its glory. Awesome imagery either way.

  17. Solid rocket boosters are filled with aluminum oxide powder, which are sub-micron spheres ejected at high velocity. The tiny particles become charged in the ionospere and magnetosphere and become one population of man-made debris in Earth orbit.

    The larger particles in the movie could be solid rocket motor (SRM) slag. This is the gooey sticky stuff that is cm in size that sticks to the nozzles and is sloughed off at much lower velocity.

    You can see a picture of slag here:
    http://www.orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov/photogallery/photogallery.html

    Slag particles are another population of man-made debris in Earth orbit, especially when satellites are boosted from low earth orbit to geostationary orbit.

  18. I don’t know if anyone else thought of this, but the whole time that you’re riding the booster back to Earth, all I could think of was Slim Pickens going “YEEEEEE-HAW!!!!!!”.

  19. George

    Put me down for a WOW, too! Thanks BA.

    I wonder what that bright white object was that appeared to be in space (about 1 a.u.) as the booster rotated? :)

  20. cbane

    Here’s a similiar video from the STS-114 launch. It shows video from cameras on both of the SRBs, but these are looking inward toward the external tank, so you can’t see much until the boosters seperated. However, once they do, you can see them tumbling back into the atmosphere, and there’s sound as well.

  21. Space Cadet

    Thank you, Irishman, for helping me get this into perspective. I looked at those few seconds over and over, with my hands twisted in all sorts of contortuious manners, and could not figure out how we were seeing the plume seem to disappear over the ocean. Hey, wasn’t the plume white, anyway?

  22. John

    Holy crap! That was awesome! Just as the video started, Black Sabbath’s “Children of the Sea” came on iTunes. Not sure if you’re familiar with the song (being astronomy geeks and all), but just as they sing, “Reaching for the stars, we blind the skyyyyy,” and the guitar starts rocking, the rockets went off. Serendipity!

  23. I know that .asx and broadband connection with the Windows Player is “cool” — & so forth. Nevertheless, some smaller stand-alone downloadable vid files like .mpeg, .avi (real old school) are much easier to download and view. NASA does have some 10Meg Quicktime .mov files though. Hey, if the motto of NASA is “For the benefit of all Mankind” should not there be more download options to view and save the Solid Rocket Aft Right Video—-or what???

  24. Jean-Denis Muys

    I was completely unable to view the .asx videos on my Mac. Could somebody help and let me know how? Fortunately other videos were in Quicktime format. But judging from your comments here, it seems the .asx footage is better.

    Frustrated.

    Jean-Denis

  25. Adam Stanhope

    Jean-Denis:

    Download the program VLC for the mac:

    videolan.org/vlc/

    It is an amazing program for playing videos of nearly every format available. I am sure that you will be able to play these videos using it.

  26. Tom

    (sound of Tom falling off his chair when he first saw those videos)

    Ok, I’ve picked myself up now. Watch, them again, show them to space geek girlfriend (yeah, I’m a lucky guy to have a space geek girlfriend!). Look at them again, post a link to my Astronomy club website….look at them again…now figure out a way to look at them one more time on my Linux computer at work.

    Stunning, amazing, cooler than cool, awesome…..

    Tom

  27. Rocky

    Very cool! Please keep vids like this coming.

  28. Nigel Depledge

    I thought the vid was very cool, but the streaming was not very smooth. I lost the tumbling effect after separation.

    I would prefer something downloadable, even if it is in the 30 MB range.

  29. In the right-side booster video, around 11:09 there is even a fish…

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