Ride an SRB video into space

By Phil Plait | March 4, 2011 12:00 pm

NASA has posted video taken from cameras mounted on the solid rocket boosters of STS 133, the Shuttle mission currently underway. It’s pretty amazing to watch:

Most of the video is silent. However, at the 14:46 mark the video cuts to a camera equipped with sound, and although the Orbiter is well out of the part of Earth’s atmosphere where sound can carry, the metal in the booster itself — as you can hear — is more than enough to transmit sound!

After about a minute in you can see the shadow of the plume on the ocean, and at the 2:25 mark… well, it gets pretty exciting. You’ll see. If there’s some moment in particular you like, leave a comment below and let others know!

Credit: NASA. Tip o’ the nose cone to Barbara at Spasms of Accomodation for helping me find this video.


Comments (86)

  1. Sandor

    Well pretty cool vid. Check this page for Discovery and the ISS shot by an amateur astronomer;

  2. Robert S-R

    This would make quite the ride at Disney World. : )

  3. Brian Davis

    Fantastic! I’ve not watched all of this, but while I’ve seen the ET cam footage from many flights, I hadn’t seen these released before (expect for ‘premium’ members at places like SpaceflightNow). Well, I’ll probably end up spending at least 30 min on this one… and then showing the highlights to my children, and then to my class, etc. Magnificent view!

  4. First off – that’s AMAZING!


    Does the booster end up bobbing upright after it hits the water? If so, why?

    I suppose it makes sense (answering my own question) that after the fuel is expended, you wind up with a big, hollow, air-tight tube with all the heavy machinery in the bottom. It just surprised me that it didn’t end up floating on it’s side.

    Do pictures exist (I’m sure they do) of the booster sitting upright in the water?

  5. My favorite spots are easily the shots from near the bottom of the boosters, looking up. Such a cool view of the orbiter as it separates from the boosters and continues on its way. (@ ~10min and ~28min). It’s almost like watching a movie.

    Splashdown is also pretty cool. It’s kind of surprising just how tall the boosters are.

    @brent Here’s a post about the recovery ship with external photos of the splashdown: http://gcaptain.com/interesting-ship-week-nasa-recovery?8185

  6. Genevieve d.

    Amazing video! At 18:41, is that a view of the other booster falling back into atmosphere? (I think that’s from the point of view of SRB left intertank)

  7. Steven Pinker's Awesome Hair

    The booster separation at about 10:20 was quite spiffy. I also remembered that I have a severe, irrational fear (ok, terror) of falling.

  8. I’d say my favorite parts are at 10:13 and 28:07, when the boosters are ejected and you see the shuttle blasting away. Completely awesome.

  9. John O'Meara

    I love the aluminum fragments pinging into the booster for the cams with sound.

  10. Vision Engineer

    I like at 6:46 how you can see the other booster splash in the ocean.

  11. Lila

    I don’t like the spinny rides. Ooof.

  12. MPH

    17:45 – is that the plume from launch visible like a squiggly tail on the earth? So cool.

  13. SteveG

    That is simply the coolest, most amazing, most incredible video I have ever seen.

  14. featheredfrog

    Anyone know what is blown off the bottom of the SRB just before it hits the water?

  15. craicmonkey

    The descent of the first booster is wild. Then, when the third camera picks up, the minimal sound after separation (ca. 15:30), the little chinks, and pings, and the intermittent sound of air flow? is super creepy.

  16. KaneHau

    Very very very nice. I especially like the 17:47, 18:02, and 18:42 mark where you can spot the other SRB’s heading back down.

    BTW Phil… your title needs a tweak. It should be “Ride a SRB video into space”.

    If I remember my grade school english properly, ‘an’ should only precede a word that starts with a vowel (e.g., “an asteroid”) and ‘a’ should proceed words that do not start with a vowel (e.g., “a rocket”).

    Aloha from the Big Island of Hawaii

  17. Russell

    Vision Engineer – at 6:46, I don’t think that’s the other booster, I’m thinking that’s ice falling off the bottom of the booster. There is some disturbance near the bottom of the booster first, then something that seems to have fallen off drops in the water. This is a cool video, for sure.

  18. Stan9fromouterspace

    The footage isn’t as sharp, but a while back, I edited together footage from another shuttle mission & put a soundtrack on it:
    It plays out in almost real time, so it’s only about 7 minutes long.

  19. I really liked @ 19:09 when the parachutes blew open…and does anyone else think this would make an amazing meditation audio? Obviously, you would have to ride the gain on the audio to avoid everting the speakers, but, what awesome audio…

  20. Jeff Price

    Great “E” Ticket ride…

  21. Woodtick

    Got to see this launch live. Bucketlist T minus one. It was awesome even from 13 miles away. (closest you can get without shagging someone from NASA…not a deal-breaker…) Great video Phil!

  22. Lorne Schneider

    19:11 – the parachutes deploy from below, very cool.

  23. Keith Bowden

    Phil’s title is correct! “An” should precede a vowel sound, and it does: “Ride an ess-are-bee video into space.” :)

    (Which oddly reminds me that I hate it when “an” is inexplicably placed before a word beginning with “h”…)

    Back on topic: Wow, these are the coolest shots EVER!

    (Ahem. Decorum returning.)

  24. Another Josh

    I never noticed that just before splashdown, something separates from the SRB and splashes in first. I’m not sure what that is (looks like a ring), but there is a good view at 25:01 – 25:09.

  25. @Russel

    I think that something may fire off the bottom of the booster before it hits the water to break the surface tension and allow for a softer landing. However it seems to have missed the point since it landed meters away from it. That’s just my guess though.

    My dad lives near Merritt Island and snapped a picture of them hauling in the boosters one day. They haul them in horiztontally so I don’t know why they bob up and down vertically in this video, but that would be a sight to see. Giant boosters bobbing in the ocean.

    I wonder how they clear the fairly large swath of ocean to prevent any injuries for these things?

    Also, where does the fuel tank land? I don’t think I’ve ever seen where they end up. I guess it might be later in the video since I haven’t loaded it all yet…

    edit: The sounds when it’s falling through the atmosphere could be used in some scary movie or something. Also, what’s that little guy falling at the 20:20 mark after the booster lands?

  26. SRB-Sep at 10:12 could not have been done better by ILM. That is flat-out amazing because it is both beautiful and REAL!

    Thanks, Phil. That made my week.

  27. Sulligraph

    Amazing! more intense than a double rainbow.

  28. Zack Anderson

    Wow so cool every shot of blast off is cool, 2:30 is pretty incredible, 18:00 is really cool you can see depth through the atmosphere

  29. Brown

    Who would have thought that, after a two-minute ride, you could get to such an altitude that you’d be able to see quite clearly the curvature of the Earth?

  30. Kremer

    @#14. featheredfrog

    That piece that’s severed from the bottom (with accompanying dust and debris) seconds before water impact is the bottom of the exhaust nozzle, It’s done with a line charge that fractures it off above the level of the aft skirt.

    The SRBs impact the water pretty hard (at almost 100 km/hr), and leaving the full nozzle in place to hit the water first could easily damage the top nozzle connection flange as well as the thrust vector control hardware that controls the nozzle position.

  31. Sean H.

    I really like the sound from the intertank cameras, I make kind of noisy ambient music that is fairly similar. The sounds of debris hitting the tank, the sound of the metal compressing and expanding from the heat, and how the sound intensifies as the atmosphere gets thicker. The shots when the boosters separate are really cool. When the tanks have separated and are falling back to Earth there is a shot where you can see the plume from the launch (about 17:14), that is really cool. And, as always, being able to see the curvature of the Earth and the layers of the atmosphere is awesome.

    All of it is very cool.

    And I believe the thing that hits before the main body of the tank is the nose cone. It looks as though it detaches when the parachutes are deployed.

  32. Awesome and awe inspiring. Trying to imagine what it would feel like to ride that incredible power: adrenaline fear/excitement/joy. To see our beautiful Earth from above, looking through the cloud layers…. This video was almost a tldw – glad I did watch. 15:58 a dark straight line on clouds; also wondering if 15:15, and again at 17:44 is the launch plume.

  33. Matt B.

    The separation at 10:12 looks like a sci-fi movie. Until the third part, I didn’t remember that the SRBs had parachutes. The sound makes it like a nightmare, whereas the silent ones seem so peaceful.

    They should have added a 3-D accelerometer readout.

    George Lopez said, “Nobody needs to see a space shuttle launch.” But when you can watch it for free, don’t pass it up.

  34. JJ

    Keith Bowden: “(Which oddly reminds me that I hate it when “an” is inexplicably placed before a word beginning with “h”…)”

    What’s an honest way to phrase this……

  35. Thopter

    Gah, too much bokeh. They need to use one of them Nascar-style cameras that can clear the lens from time to time ^_^.

  36. artbot

    Can someone fill me in on what the thing is that splashes down before the booster is? It looks like something big makes a splash, then some kind of coupling falls from the end of the srb. Is it just a random bit of burned core material, or does something eject from the srb?

  37. ChazInMT

    I Love the Left InterTank at about 16:00min into the video, you can see the other booster on several occasions, particularly cool is about 20,000 feet up, and 25 seconds or so from landing, you can see the con-trail on the other booster “turn-off”. The when it hits the water and is looking up, you see 2 contrails from the re-entry. And the sound is the bees knees, dead quiet, then a gradual crescendo as it gets further into the atmosphere. Too cool. And, as mentioned by someone else, you can see the launch plume in the distance. Oh, and I love how it also shows the progressive 3 stage opening of the parachutes ….Ha. So Much Fun!!!! Thanks a Ton Phil!!!

  38. That was just peachy keen! 😀

  39. Neoquietus

    The fuel tank doesn’t land; it travels with the shuttle all the way up until it too is almost in orbit, and at orbital speeds. Then the shuttle releases it, and it then reenters the atmosphere at orbital speeds without the benefit of a heat shield.

  40. ChazInMT

    @artbot: Link has cool stills of the splashdown, I’m pretty sure your “big splash” is the nose cone, it hides the chutes and is missing off the tops of the boosters in these snaps. It looks like a pretty high drag shape on its own so it would fall at about the same rate as the chuted boosters.


  41. Digital Atheist

    I love the audio from the intertank cam around the 17:00ish mark when you can start hearing airflow over the SRB structures. At times it almost sounds like whale song, or some giant creature breathing in and out.

  42. Meskine

    I love the glimpses of the horizon where you can see just how thin our atmosphere is. It really takes the luster off my smugness when I putter around in my Prius. It also kinda makes me feel guilty every time I fart.

  43. Kevin

    What is the bright object seen in the distance at 2:40 and 23:11? Is it the same object in both views?

  44. RwFlynn

    My favorite part has to be the view of the earth when you can see the sunlight reflecting off the water and the clouds. I think it was at around 18:50. Beautiful. I also liked those moments when you could see the other booster. It felt like a companion on the fall back to earth.

  45. ChazInMT

    Most people have no clue how truly thin our atmosphere is, I like the basketball analogy.
    If the Earth were 9 inches in diameter (Basketball)
    * 99% of the atmosphere (20miles & below) would be 5 sheets of paper thick.
    * Most of our weather is in the bottom 2 sheets.
    * The space station orbits the basketball at about 1/4 inch.

  46. Pepijn

    Wow, that’s incredibly awesome. I’d seen one of these before, but not one this comprehensive.

    What I find most amazing is how much the Space Shuttle is rocked and buffeted. It’s really shaking, it’s a miracle it stays on there!

  47. Messier Tidy Upper

    Spine-tingling, magnificent, I love this. :-)

    Love the Space Shuttles and the spectacle (& science and everything else) they provide us with.

    This video :


    by Michael Interbartolo III has more sound – & I’m not just talking about the background music – and is my all-time favourite for those who haven’t already seen it.

    (Yes, I’ve linked it a few times before here – hope that’s alright with y’all esp. the BA. Well worth seeing and seeing again in my view.)

    PS. A question if I may about the tags here – who chooses them and why do they sometimes seem a bit,well in-complete-ish might be the word, why isn’t this forinstance also tagged under ‘Shuttle” and maybe “Shuttle Discovery” as well?

  48. Amazing.
    No words.

  49. Heather

    @Endyo – the fuel tank doesn’t land, it burns up in the atmosphere. Only the SRBs are reusable. And I never thought about them floating upright, though it completely makes sense.

  50. Christopher Kandrat

    Thats pretty amazing.

  51. John

    At 10:40 I believe that’s the other Booster.

  52. KiltBear

    I like how the parachutes seem to be designed to rip open into larger canopies as they catch more air. All three of them ripping the stitching and popping open at the same time.

  53. Scott Daris

    19:00. Breathtaking. I’ve had dreams like this. Life is mysterious, yet brutal in its pure fact.

  54. Nick L

    I’ve always wondered what did Joseph Kittinger hear during his Excelsior III jump.

  55. There are several interesting spots in the video. A few notables that I liked: Right after SRB separation, 10:13 for example, watching Discovery accelerate away while the boosters begin slowing is just spectacular. It’s impressive how bright those three onboard engines really are. At a few spots, as the boosters fall, you can see the other booster in the distance keeping pace. Not much sense of velocity from the on-board camera, but watching the smoke trail from the sister SRB at about 18:01 illustrates its almost meteoric descent.

  56. Harold

    I have never seen such a close-up view of a shuttle launch. Around 8-9 seconds after launch (around 0:25 YouTube time), the shuttle rolls for several seconds and then stops. The precision of the turn suggests a controlled maneuver to me. Any ideas about the purpose of that maneuver?

    I don’t know why, but I didn’t expect the boosters to separate while still firing. It seems pretty dangerous to fly that way, but maybe you can’t kill the boosters, only let them run out of fuel. Time for some reading!

  57. Neal

    At 00:26, when those tiles are falling off, look at how much faster they fall than you’d expect. That caught me off guard, then I had an “oh, duh” moment.

  58. Pilotlars

    I have seen several of these videos in the past few years and this was the first where I noticed that the SRBs do not rotate symmetrically after separation. Probably just a slight difference in the jettison rockets. There is a video from a previous launch which shows the nose-cone splashing down. And thanks for explaining what the piece is that comes off just before splash-down. I always wondered what that was. That sound is amazing: the first time I heard it I had no idea what it was. I was upstairs and NASA TV was on downstairs and I heard the shshshshshshshshshs of the launch, then the BUNG of the SRB separation, then the oscillating WHOOOOOOOOOSH of the tumbling SRB into thicker atmosphere. Really creepy not knowing what that bizarre sound was!

  59. Pilotlars

    OH, does anyone know if there are any videos or pictures of the ET re-entering the atmosphere?

  60. Kremer

    @ 57. Harold

    The Shuttle always rolls heads-down right after launch to allow clear comm and data signals from its antennas to the ground stations. Then, at about 6 minutes, it rolls back to heads-up to begin using the TDRS relay sats.
    (YouTube has many external tank cam launch videos that show the roll back to heads-up)

    As for the SRBs, by the time they separate they are already out of fuel and dead weight. What you see still burning are the last dregs of propellant sputtering away with zero thrust.

  61. Here’s the timeline rundown:
    SRB detaches at ~2:25, splashes down at ~6:52.

    7:51 marks a change to a forward camera on the SRB, 10:12 the detachment of that SRB (with view of the shuttle above), 14:40 splashdown

    14:46 switches to an intertank camera with sound, 19:13 parachute deployment overhead, 19:48 splashdown

    20:31 another camera (no sound again), 22:57 detachment, 25:16 splashdown

    25:45 another camera, 28:06 detachment

    28:36 another intertank w/sound & splashdown.


  62. Gary Eller

    Another vote for 19:00. Holy Haleakala, indeed.

  63. Tim G

    I wonder if the boosters experienced a couple of sonic booms upon descent.

  64. Matthew

    It’s all about the sound for me. The intertank thingy tinking and clanging and wheening before tearing through the atmosphere. Makes you want to tape yourself to the side of it and experience it directly.

  65. Vex

    Wow!! This video is truly awesome – I can’t stop watching it! Thanks for sharing.

  66. So, why LEFT and RIGHT and not PORT and STARBOARD, I wonder.

    Also, what happened at 6:41. The SRB ejected something that hit the water. What was it?

  67. aztec

    One of the most amazing things i’ve ever seen. I especially loved the one with sound. You can sense how the atmospehric pressure kicks in after some point during the fall and everything starts to rumble :)

  68. CraigM

    I love how real air and spacecraft are so flexible under such forces. This is something computer animators have never been able to re-create, that I’ve seen. Also from the forward-facing cameras it’s insane how quickly the sky goes dark. Does drive home how thin the atmosphere is. Thanks for the post Phil!

  69. CraigM

    And at 25:08 it’s clearly a solid ring that splashes ahead of the SRB, which it looks like came off the bottom when all that debris explodes out. From the timing of the parachute frames I think the sudden deceleration as the final chute stage expands knocks something off or out of the nozzle. I suppose it could be part of the drogue chute seen falling after splashdown.

  70. Apaeter

    Great video! (When I see stuff like this, for some reason I like to imagine blowing Alan Turing’s mind with it – “You know that thing that you came up with, well here’s what we’ve done with it. [Now let’s go piss on the graves of the people who sentenced you to chemical castration for being gay.]”)

    Anyway, can somone give me a rough idea of the velocities and distances? How far up are we at separation? [Edit: okay wikepedia says 46 km] How fast are we going? How far away from the launch pad is splashdown?

    In conlcusion: I love this video!

  71. Cory
  72. icemith

    That was a pleasure to watch. All the different views from different viewpoints. And all the more, the merrier. I progressed through all the views, and then checked out a few of the other offerings on YouTube.

    (Particularly the on-board Cabin view, though in retrospect, I had assumed it was STS133 effort, but I wonder now as other vids were of other launches. But still awesome.)

    Two problems were raised in my mind. Originally, I was led to believe that the Shuttle was somewhere between 60 and 100km from the Commercial aircraft just happening to be transitting the area, and their videos were a chance in a lifetime to share a very fortunate view.

    My first problem concerns the stated distance the aircraft were from the Shuttle/rockets system. They seem to be much closer than the noted distances. Can we really see even at 50km (30 miles), a skyscraper tearing into the sky? Of course, the smoke-stack trailing behind would give it away, but at 50 kms minimum, it would still be a challenge from a plane window.

    The second problem concerns the format of the Comments layout. This particular topic really, really calls for a different form than just a serial list of comments, strictly based on time. It is perfect for straight comments, but in this case, lots of people are asking questions, and they may be answered dodens of comments later, amidst other ideas and questions. I would prefer the use of the blog form, (in this instance), where a commenter can answer the questioner directly, by an indexed reply, directly under the questioner’s comment. This also has the added advantage of an answer that comes in a week later, or whatever, (next year?), and it is far more relevant than being lost in the general comments, far removed from the original comment.

    Sorry if those two ideas are slightly (?) off-topic, but I had to get it of my chest, as it has been bothering me for some time. What do others think.

    Ivan. (Did I say the videos were awesome?)

  73. icemith

    Oooopps, What is a “dodens”, you may ask. Umm, I guess I didn’t proof it as well as I should have. I have had to correct “dozens” of typos and incorrect words by being strict in proofing. But there has to be one that gets away!

    Or two in this case. I think I meant to say “indented”, instead of “indexing”, in the “second problem” paragraph, just after my “dodens”!

    Just trying…………..


  74. Tom

    The SRB’s appear attached to the tentacles of giant jellyfish as they plunge into the ocean.

  75. Robert Gibson

    @ 57. Harold

    The shuttle also rolls to put it into the correct inclination, which in this case is at an angle of about 51 degrees to the equator, in order to catch up to the ISS. This link explains it well:


  76. katwagner

    I loved the audio part, simply loved it, loved it. Thinking about how the sound was all registered through metal – all that groaning and whooshing, and then I thought whoa, those folks on board, would they be scared to hear all that? I would. So then I thought they’re some pretty brave humans to be up there. And the rest without audio was eye candy.

  77. the Tall Ape

    wow wow wow. that section with the sound, was so unbeliavably spine-tinglingly beautiful and awesome. “Should have sent a poet”!

  78. Ben

    I’ve watched this several times now, and each time I can’t stop thinking about Slim Pickens riding the bomb in Dr. Strangelove.

  79. Dave P

    arkonbey and CraigM: According to Wikipedia, the SRB ejects its “RSRM nozzle extension” just before splashdown. It’s jettisoned using pyrotechnic charges, which explains the puff of smoke.

  80. Joseph G

    I love the sounds in the first booster vid (with sound). The changing airflow as the booster tumbles. And that moaning sound! Is that air whistling over the empty SRB nozzle? Like blowing over a giant bottle. Haunting!

  81. Darren

    @#29 Brown

    I’m not sure you can. The cameras on the SRBs are wide-angle (fisheye) and you get curvature at the edges anyway. At several points you can even see reverse curvature (horizon curves up instead of down) due to the orientation in the camera.

    There might be some real curvature component at that altitude, but much of the curvature on the video is just an optical effect.

  82. ajollynerd

    It’s all pretty spectacular, but my favourite bit was from about 15:45 until splashdown. Especially the panoramic views of the entire disc of the Earth, and the audio from the SRB hitting the atmosphere. Mind-blowing. Thanks for posting it.

  83. Central-Scrutinizer AKA Brian D. Bunker

    wow..that’s just absolutely gorgeous!

  84. My favourite section is at 23:00 when the boosters separate from the shuttle. If you watch carefully, as they tumble, you can get a glimpse of the shuttle at 23:12 and it’s already roughly half-a-mile ahead of the discarded boosters.


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