Endeavour's eye view of her last launch

By Phil Plait | May 27, 2011 10:59 am

What’s it like to ride up on the Shuttle to space? If you were, say, strapped to the solid rocket boosters?


Pretty cool. I love seeing these views; I’ve watched a bazillion launches on video (and one from 10 km away in 1997), so the stack rocking as the liquid fuel ignites, the sudden leap when the SRBs go off, the roll maneuver a few seconds later — they’re all familiar. Seeing them from the point of view of the Shuttle itself is nifty.

Note what happens 45 seconds into the video: Endeavour blows through the cloud deck. That moment, from the ground, is a lot more dramatic, especially when photographed by Trey Ratcliff. It’s really amazing to tie together what we see from the ground with what’s seen from the rocket.

This is the last flight of Endeavour; it’s scheduled to land in Florida on June 1 at 2:32 a.m. Eastern US time (06:32 UTC). The last Shuttle launch will be Atlantis, scheduled for July 8 at 11:40 a.m. EDT (15:40 UTC).


Comments (43)

  1. I remember getting up really early to watch the first Shuttle launch on TV. Now, it looks funny with the white external tank.

    I also saw one in person. It was the first post-Challenger flight. (STS-26?) No clouds to fly through, however.

  2. Dennis M

    I love now that NASA is releasing video from the shuttle during the launch. Wish they would have done that from the beginning (though I know why they didn’t…cameras were too expensive back then and the data from the cameras had to be stored somewhere.) My favorite still has to be the intertank camera, where there is sound. It is amazing, hearing the vibrations through the metal in space, then nothing, with the occasional swishing noises as left over propellant buffets the rockets, and then bam…it hits the atmosphere and you see the contrails and hear the rush of air until it becomes so loud that the sound cuts out at times. Wish they would just release the full video with the sound from within the rockets…never thought I would be so in to it, but finally I got to hear what Rocket Scientists have been saying forever…in space, nobody can hear anything (except vibrations through metal.)

  3. Sean

    It would be nice to see a version of Terry Ratcliff’s photo that hasn’t been photoshopped to hell.

  4. Menyambal

    At 7:36 and around there, looking up at the nose, there is something dark and rectangular flapping around on the nose. There are also birds flying around. After launch, one of the birds goes behind the nose. Then several dark flappy things get shed off the nose.

    The bird may have flown away, or it may have landed on the nose–I can’t tell. What fell off may have been birds or sheets of paper–I can’t tell.

    Were birds sitting up there, crouching in fear as it launched? Was there a nest of birds that blew away, parents and all? Had somebody put on some cardboard covers to keep birds out of nozzles? Are the NASA people taping notes to the nose of the shuttle?

    Something was there. Any guesses or info?

  5. “A nest of birds”

    Hey I was drinking while I read that. Not cool *wipes Cola from his screen*

    Seriously, I think it’s pretty obvious what happened there. I’d call it vertical roadkill.

  6. Mchl

    @Sean #3: You mean like the one in this blog post?

  7. Manuel

    Does anybody know why some of the thermal tiles are black?

  8. Brian Lang

    @Sean #3: Trey Ratcliff photoshops all his photos. He typically does HDR photography. Check it all out on his blog at http://stuckincustoms.com

  9. @Manuel #7: The different colors are generally made of different materials. They use several different types of tiles and blankets to protect the shuttle, based on the temperatures experienced during reentry and the structural needs of the location.


  10. Ben

    That photo by Trey Ratcliffe is ridiculously photoshopped. It looked nothing like that.

  11. Michael Sternberg

    The whole sequence is mesmerizing, from separation to splashdown. One of the tank cameras even sees an SRB while still high up.

    Reminds me of an Arthur C Clarke novel about a splashdown on Europa, I think. Very SciFy-y!

  12. Ben

    #4: Menyambal: Those flaps are Tyvec rain covers for the RCS thruster nozzles. They prevent rain from getting in, and they come off when the shuttle reaches about 100mph.

  13. Menyambal

    Ben @ 10. Thank you, that explains everything. (And was close to what I guessed, so you must be right. :) )

  14. Denis Miller

    I have always wondered why the shuttle does that roll just after launch. Anyone?

  15. Joel Aelwyn

    Actually, having been present at this particular launch (anchored offshore), it did look much like that, with two caveats:

    1. It looked like that *for less than a second*. Only until the flame trail was no longer hitting the bottom of the cloud.

    2. Understand that the photo is what the camera saw, and that is not the same as what a human eye sees, due to the fact that neither film nor CCDs are human eyes (your eyes don’t get lens flare effects in the same way a camera does, for example).

    The ‘glow’ that looks most photoshopped actually appears to be borderline overexposure of that part of the shot due to the brightness of the flame column at that point, washing out the area right around it. Given that it was physically uncomfortable to look directly at the flame pillar for more than a second or two, that would hardly surprise me.

    I foresee a poster joining the collection of memorabilia.

  16. Joel Aelwyn

    Regarding the “roll” maneuver:

    It was not in the original flight sequence — it was added so that the shuttle would be flying “upside down” once in orbit, so that the high-bandwidth Ku-band antenna (which is deployed near one corner of the payload bay) could be used. From what I understand the orbiter basically always starts out that way so that they have the bandwidth for telemetry while doing their on-orbit testing, even if it may later “turn over” to be able to launch satellites to certain orientations.

  17. Max

    In the very last clip, around 36:00, it’s interesting that one of the three parachutes apparently failed and split apart.

  18. Marcelo

    I wonder if, as the shuttle program is ending, will they destroy the blueprints of the vehicles as allegedly was done with the Apollo program?

  19. Joel Aelwyn

    A clarification: I’m not saying he didn’t photoshop it. Just that ‘ridiculously’ would not be the word I’d pick to describe it, if he did. I’m also not saying he didn’t use photographic techniques that aim to get certain effects. Just saying that the bulk of what I see in that photo was either roughly as it appears, or was fairly straightforwardly highlighted for effect — as opposed to being shopped “whole cloth”. Things like the lighting effects on the under-layer of the cloud cover, right around the flight path, were definitely there.

  20. Danz

    OT –
    Can someone explain to me what’s going on with night time-lapse photos where the starts swirl around a single point. What is this point?

    Is this always present because of distance or would it be dependent on your world location relative to earth rotation?

  21. David Vanderschel

    On the two “intertank” sequences (e.g., the very last sequence), there often appeared to be a lot of curvature to the horizon – more than I would expect from that altitude based on the curvature of the earth. But sometimes that curvature was bending the wrong way, so something funny must have been going on with the optics. Does anyone have insight into what was causing these distortions?

  22. Michael Sternberg

    David: the distortions are from a fisheye lens and are either by choice or an optical artifact due to tradeoffs (quality, price, size). It gives a large scale for the center field of view, and a smaller scale of the surroundings for context.

  23. kroosing

    Beautiful how in the last fragment you can see the other tank gyrate in unison for more than a minute (from ca. 32’30”). And then the almost human howling at 17’20”!
    Brilliant, awesome! Thank you!

  24. Benjamin

    If you look carefully at the tiles covering the landing gear at 28:14 (right after they say “Go for throttle up”), you can see a piece of foam hitting a tile and leaving a mark.

  25. We were there and shooting fulldome and HD video. The moment that the shuttle entered the clouds was really cool. (click on my name to see the video we created)

    I, too, find these “from the shuttle” views to be fascinating. it’s about the closest I’ll ever get to “being there” safely.

  26. We were there and shooting fulldome and HD video. The moment that the shuttle entered the clouds was really cool. (click on my name to see the video we created)

    I, too, find these “from the shuttle” views to be fascinating. it’s about the closest I’ll ever get to “being there” safely.

    (this may get double-posted; I was getting an odd error message about server database issues when trying to post).

  27. @David Vanderschel: That looks like a wide-angle fisheye lens. Look at the very beginning of the sequence, when the camera is looking right at the intertank, and when the SRB falls away: there’s a lot of barrel distortion in the image caused by the lens.

  28. Messier Tidy Upper
  29. Sean

    Video doesn’t seem to work on Macs :(

    Tried in Safari, Firefox, and Chrome.

  30. Menyambal

    # 20. Danz says: what’s going on with night time-lapse photos where the stars swirl around a single point. What is this point?

    That is the celestial Pole, the point in the sky at which the axis of the earth points–above the north pole and the south pole of earth (Polaris is near the north one that most of us see). As the earth turns, it looks like the sky is turning around that point, but you only notice it in time-lapse.

    And yes, it is dependent on your world location relative to earth rotation, as the appropriate celestial pole would appear straight overhead if you were standing at one of earth’s poles, and you’d see both on the opposite horizons if you were at the equator. Your latitude and the angle of the celestial pole above the horizon will always be the same.

  31. Benjamin:
    You’re right, something really smacked the landing gear cover and left a white mark!
    They should put some if that patch goop on it to see how well that works.
    What have they got to loose?

  32. Menyambal

    ccpetersen, I loved the vid! Good work. Much thanks!

  33. RdeG

    What’s with the big blast of crap from the business end of the SRBs a few seconds before splashdown?

  34. Ben

    #16 Joel, the shuttle does not roll so it is upside down when it reaches orbit. The shuttle can turn in orbit anytime. The primary reason the shuttle rolls onto its back during launch is so that the antennas, located in the upper portion of the forward section, are face down and in better line of sight with the ground.

  35. Ben

    #33 RdeG: The blast you see are explosives firing to blow the SRBs vectoring nozzle away. This helps prevent damage to the actuators in the base of the reusable motor.

  36. Steve

    Amazing! I was impressed when the SRBs separated and began to tumble, and after one rotation the shuttle is already seen as a small flicker in the black background! I wonder, how much speed is gained immediately upon separation, with the loss of weight and drag?

  37. Sion

    9 1/2 minutes in. Just beautiful.

  38. ASFalcon13

    @#16 Joel Aelwyn and @#36 Ben

    I went to a presentation by the guy who designed the roll maneuver (Dave Bauer, if I recall correctly) at Yuri’s Night in Denver a couple of months ago. As Joel pointed out, the original conops for the Shuttle had it launching heads-up (that is, ET and SRBs on the Earth-facing side of the stack). However, antenna coverage isn’t the primary reason for the roll maneuver.

    The SRBs are off-center, so if you fire them straight ahead they generate a pitch-up moment on the stack. Since the vehicle would need to pitch down during a heads-up launch, some of the vehicle’s thrust would have to be spent counteracting this natural pitch-up tendency, which would ultimately reduce how much payload it could lift.

    What Bauer figured out is that if the Shuttle launches heads-down instead, the vehicle’s now working with the natural pitch-up tendency instead of against it, which means it can devote more thrust to gaining velocity instead of counteracting torque. This ultimately led to a significant improvement in weight to orbit. Unfortunately, the pads were already configured for heads-up launch at this time, so the roll maneuver was put in to roll from heads-up to heads-down shortly after clearing the pad.

  39. Someone needs to combine all the video views into a single, multi-frame video.

  40. Ben

    #40 There is truth to that, too, but the roll maneuver is not even unique to the shuttle. All rockets roll after launch; the Saturn V rolled as well, to place the astronauts heads-down for g-loads and to place antennas in the right orientation. The same applies to todays ELV launches. This notion also that the pads “would have” been built facing the other way if they had realized this sooner, is silly.


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