Incredible Shuttle launch video

By Phil Plait | November 26, 2009 8:00 am

Looking for something to watch on Thanksgiving you’re sick of football? Check out this fantastically well-made video of the STS-129 Atlantis Shuttle launch [Update: that video has been removed from YouTube, but is now on Facebook]. Do yourself three favors: I’ve embedded the video below, but go to the original YouTube page, click the "HD" link, and turn your volume up.

The whole thing is pretty freaking cool, but the launch starts at about the 2:20 mark. I also love the sideways view starting at 3:40; you can really see the Shuttle rock to the side when the liquid-fuel engines ignite (the solid rocket boosters ignite just as the Shuttle swings back to vertical).

The music is very cool. Anyone recognize it? [Edited to add: Christine in the comments has a list of composers.]

Also: the Shuttle is due to land in Florida on Friday morning; the two potential landing times (pending weather) are 9:44 a.m. and 11:19 a.m. EST (14:44 and 16:19 GMT). If I’m up, I’ll live tweet it!

Tip o’ the reentry tile to my friend Dan Durda, who has seen more Shuttle launches than practically anyone.

MORE ABOUT: Atlantis, Shuttle

Comments (56)

  1. Joseph

    That is one of the most awe inspiring and beautiful pieces of NASA related video footage I have ever seen.

    I was aware that they had video cameras on all the parts of the shuttle but not aware how awesome that footage could be.

    Thank you Phil for posting this, I will show it to my friends and family today and give thanks that we humans are clever enough to achieve such great things.


  2. Christy

    Just watched it with my three-year-old son. Way cool! Thanks for posting the footage.

  3. Steve

    For all that we have made such an almighty mess of things repeatedly throughout human history, that video restored my faith that we are, as a species, capable of incredible, amazing achievements too. The stack rocking forwards and settling back must be pretty hair-raising for the astronauts.

  4. Two thumbs up. Five stars. Oscars. Golden Globes.

    2. Steve – that’s exactly what I was thinking as I watched it.

  5. Alec

    Wow, that’s awesome. The song sounds like it’s from Firefly, no? (In the beginning.)

    The best part was watching the boosters separate from the main shuttle and seeing the shuttle head out into space while the edge of the atmosphere and the curvature of the blue and white earth are visible. It seemed unreal, like watching a shuttlecraft leave a planet’s surface in Star Trek. (5:52)

    Thank you for sharing this.

  6. Kurt_eh

    Watched ISS and STS129 pass overhead last night. They were literally this close ] [ to transiting Jupiter. (<1/2 a pinky width at full arm's length)

    Wish I had a decent camera to have captured that.

  7. David Nowak

    I’ve done a little bit of amateur video editing, but whoever cut that together is truly an artist.


  8. Jim

    Wow. Wow. Wow.

    Why doesn’t NASA do more of these? Just incredible footage. I really loved the in cockpit view and when the boosters fell off, and the footage from the launch pad…. Just incredible!!!!

    I have had the pleasure of seeing a Shuttle launch in person and I would encourage anyone who has not to do so before the program ends. It is truly an experience.

  9. Christine

    YouTube blurb gives music credits as:

    Music composed by: Nigel Bates, Lisa Bloom Cohen, Richard Lacy, Pierre Langer, Michael McGolfrick and Lisle Moore.
    Additional music composed by Albert Cofrin performed by Clandestine used with permission.

  10. Nice to see that NASA is getting some of its PR moxie back.

  11. chaboyax

    just 1 min ago watch iss and shuttle go over a good two hand widths apart first time id seen both. really cool

  12. LouisS

    The best video I’ve ever seen and may ever see! Thanks, Phil.

  13. Calamity Janeway

    Beautiful, thanks. Watched it with my four year old, who always gets more excited about the rocket booster separation phase than the intital launch. The drums at about 7 min sound very Bear McCreary Battlestar Galactica–ish, but he’s not listed in the credits.

  14. ND

    Awesome. I don’t think they overdid it with the repeated scenes of the launch. there were so many cool camera angles to capture the launch from.

  15. Tom

    Very VERY nice!!
    Keep doing stuff like this NASA and you’ll be loved again – more than just a few of us hard-core geeks! :-)

  16. Dan Harlow

    This video is a wonderful tribute to the Space Shuttle.

    Though NASA will soon be moving on with a new, more capable launch vehicle, nothing will ever really replace the Shuttle in terms of cool. The Shuttle, though old, has always felt like a real space ship – something a capsule atop a rocket can never replicate. Shuttle launches have a drama and an elegance which really captures the beauty, joy, danger and hard work that goes into manned space flight. The Shuttle is, for lack of a better word, epic and this video captures that sentiment perfectly.

    Thank you Phil for the link.

  17. The finest in space geek pr0n!

  18. Papa Surf

    I recognize the music from a Planetary Society advertisement. Is it from Star Trek Voyager?

  19. Zyggy

    The thing that stuck in my head is the footage from right after launch. The view from the cockpit shows them approaching the cloud cover at “ludicrous speed”. The sense of speed is astounding.

    Happy (American) Thanksgiving everyone!

  20. Simon

    That was awesome. Thankyou (and NASA)!

    Also interesting to see the real close-ups of the Shuttle. At first I thought it looked a little shabby, but then I thought about what *I* would look like if I was slammed into the atmosphere 30 times at Mach 27. All things considered it looks in great shape.

  21. Michael

    Two questions:

    1) How do they execute that roll right after they clear the tower, is it going fast enough already to use control surfaces for that? Or is there some non-obvious directed thrust that does it?

    2) Why even execute the roll, why not just take off facing that way already?

    (BTW, one of the best shuttle launch videos I have ever seen)

  22. Just me

    Hey, what happened? It says “This video has been removed by the user. ”



  23. Espen

    The video seems to have been removed from Youtube by the user. According to the user’s profile, however, the video can still be found here:

    Can anyone confirm it’s the same video?

  24. Beasjt

    Awesome video. Too bad is it is removed now.

  25. To all of you who are disappointed that this video has been removed, here’s a video I made from NASA TV footage as STS-129 was approaching the ISS.

    Isn’t space gorgeous?

  26. Saudbert

    Oh dear:
    “This video has been removed by the user. ” :-(

    As an avid NASA fan who tries to watch all launches (and landings, dockings etc) live from NASA-TV, I really would have wanted to see this video. Even more after reading all the previous comments :-)

    Michael: Can’t remember the answer for 1), but for the 2):

    The shuttle needs to launch into a number of different directions depending on the required inclination. Even with a “constant” target like ISS, the shuttle’s takeoff direction changes a lot if the ISS is passing form north to south or from south to north.

    Because the launchpad is static and shuttle can only be erected into one orientation, it needs to make the roll manuever in order to reach the correct headding for each launch.

  27. Damn. Why didn’t I save it first… :(

  28. T.E.L.

    Michael Said:

    “1) How do they execute that roll right after they clear the tower, is it going fast enough already to use control surfaces for that? Or is there some non-obvious directed thrust that does it?

    2) Why even execute the roll, why not just take off facing that way already?”

    The roll is done by vectoring the thrust. The engine’s can be tilted, and by tilting them in just the right direction some of the thrust becomes torque, which turns the stack.

    But it’s not as simple as just launching with the stack already with a certain orientation. The roll isn’t always exactly the same, but the launch pad and gantry are fixed in one spot. The stack must always launch with the same orientation and then roll however much is called-for in the flight plan.

  29. mike interbartolo

    for folks wanting to download the original HQ file you can find it here. might also want to update the embedded above from youtube to exposure room. I had to remove the youtube version because to get under the 10 mins upload limit. Some folks didn’t like that I made edits so I took it down at their request.

  30. DrFlimmer

    Awesome video! Just beautiful. :)

    It can be found again on youtube:

    (Thanks to Marc Tiedemann on UniverseToday)

  31. Claire

    Boo! It’s gone off of YouTube. “This video has been removed by user.” I was hoping to show my husband.

  32. justcorbly

    Nuts. You have to join Facebook to see it.

  33. Pablo

    I don’t know if it’s the same video but this:

    Is frakking amazing.

    Thanks Espen

  34. DigitalAxis

    As mentioned above, has the ‘official’ high quality video (this version, and the one on Facebook, are 12 minutes long and have the credits at the beginning, compared to the 10 minute Youtube version Phil posted originally).

  35. mike interbartolo

    @Pablo yeah that is the full video (see it is 12:34, I had to trim the opening credits to get under the youtube 10 min ceiling) and they didn’t like that so I was told to pull it from youtube. I am hoping PAO steps up and puts that full version up on Youtube as they can get around the 10 min limit. if folks know a better site besides facebook and exposure room to upload the full high quality video I will.

  36. reidar

    As a fan of astronomy and good old american engines both:
    Who needs porn when you see that!?

  37. RL

    “…sick of football…” Whaaaat?

  38. Nicholas Knight

    It’d be really nice to have another source for the video. I refuse to submit my soul for use by Facebook’s cynical profiteering operation.

  39. JB of Brisbane

    All I got was “This video has been removed by the user”, so I watched Nat at Communitychannel instead.

  40. SubtleC

    To the best of my knowledge you can upload full HD of any length to Vimeo.

  41. mike I

    Okay word came down from above the edits were fine and to reload it into youtube. I still wish PAO would put the full version so folks can see the video as the team who worked so hard on it intended, but until then it should be back up in a little while.

    If you want the full version you can go to Facebook or the exposure room link to see it.

  42. sophia8

    That was a terrific piece. I’ve sent the link to a friend who works on CGI/amimation for Hollywoood movies – he’s always on the lookout for reference images. So maybe watch out for the next Transformers movie?

  43. Just me


    Thanks for the update and the link!

  44. Just me

    Something I wonder about is, do they have to replace the cameras on the launch pad after each launch? It seems that the heat and trauma of the launch would vapourize them.

  45. Wow. There sure were a lot of tiny UFOs following the orbiter right when it separated from the external tank. ūüėõ

  46. D. Melendrez

    Wow – we’re very happy to see all these positive comments about our video. :-)
    Thank you all for the kind words.
    It’s unfortunate that an abbreviated version had to be posted to YouTube because it cuts off some hard work and recognition of many people who helped me put the movie together.
    Hopefully it will be posted, in its entirety, to the official NASA YouTube channel very soon.
    Oh, and as for the percussion piece that sounds so Bear McCreary-ish. Good ears. I am a HUGE BSG and Bear Mc. fan so I wanted to use some music that sounded similar (without worrying about the copyright issue).

  47. gypkap

    For 12: About a year ago while living in Carlsbad NM, I watched one of the Shuttles approach and dock with the Space Station. I was impressed that the entire docking process was visible to the naked eye.

    I believe I got the information about when the docking would happen at this website:

    but there are other sites out there with similar information.

  48. gypkap

    For 12: About a year ago while living in Carlsbad NM, I watched one of the Shuttles approach and dock with the Space Station. I was impressed.

    I believe I got the information about when the docking would happen at this website:

    or at

    but there are other sites out there with similar information.

  49. mike I

    Full version is up on Vimeo now:

    I can’t believe the exposure room site has almots 13,000 views. You folks really like the video which is a testament to Dave and his teams efforts.

  50. StevoR

    Superluminous ie. beyond mere brilliance! Love it – thanks BA. ūüėÄ

    I’ve posted the link on my facebook page & on an Adelaide planetarium group’s facebookpage too.

  51. StevoR

    @ 26. Erik R. Says:

    To all of you who are disappointed that this video has been removed, here’s a video I made from NASA TV footage as STS-129 was approaching the ISS. [Link snipped to avoid awaiting moderation.] Isn’t space gorgeous?

    Blazes yes! ūüėČ

    Thanks for your ‘Shuttle Waltz’ video Eric R – great job , very 2001. :-)

  52. Peter

    Deleted. Missed #50.

  53. Messier Tidy Upper

    Another beautiful if poignant shuttle image also via BA blog is here :

    Space Shuttle’s Twilight.

    I wish the space shuttles could fly forever.

    I know they can’t – but I wish they could. For all the shuttle’s flaws, such an awesome piece of machinery & technology.

  54. Plutonium being from Pluto

    One other amazing launch video worth checking out (if y’haven’t already) that blows you (well me anyhow) away is this one :

    of the Solar Dynamics Observatory’s rocket blowing away a parhelia or sundog. :-)

  55. Click my name for the latest spine-chillingly astounding footage – riding one of the Shuttle Discovery‘s Solid Rocket Boosters on the launch of the STS-133 mission via this blog. :-)

    Just in case the link doesn’t work, it’s titled ‘Ride an SRB video into space’ & was originally posted by the BA – on the 4th of March, 2011 at midday. Half an hour long and much of it is silent but still well worth viewing – IMHON. :-)


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