Thursday, May 26, 2011

T-minus zero

This is amazing: a shuttle launch recorded by a camera mounted to the shuttle's solid-fuel rocket booster. The camera records the entirety of the rocket booster's voyage, from launch to separation to splashdown. If I'm not mistaken, when the ship is far above the clouds but before the separation, you can see the shadow of the launch thrust contrail on the top of the planet's cloud cover, trailing off to the left.

I was never a huge fan of the shuttle; it was the only game in town for far too long, and now we're in the disappointing position of having no game in town because we seem to have collectively decided that space is basically a place for satellites to make communications easier and monitor climate change that most of us annoyingly don't think is happening anyway and...well, that's about it.

But it's still thrilling to see a ship launch for space. I hope this is a momentary interruption in our explorations, and not the start of our abandonment of space.


jason said...

Awww, you beat me to it! I was going to put up this video today myself... it's fascinating for so many reasons. One thing that caught my eye: You can see the launch-pad water jets come on just before engine ignition (these absorb the acoustical shockwave that would otherwise reflect off the pad back onto the shuttle stack, possibly causing damage). I've never actually seen those before, even though I've read much about them.

I'm an unabashed fan of the shuttles for what they are: reusable spaceplanes of limited range that go up like a rocket and land on a runway without all the rigamarole of requiring the navy to pluck them out of the sea. As dumb as it sounds, they feel like actual spaceships to me in a way that single-use capsules do not. And I personally find them beautiful.

That said, I agree that it was damned foolishness to allow our manned space program to contract down to LEO and focus exclusively on these ships, especially once their limitations started to become apparent. The shuttles were a mass of compromises that did a number of things adequately, but nothing really well. And we should've been developing other kinds of manned spacecraft to meet different goals all the way along. Or at the very least, been smart enough to have a shuttle replacement ready to go before we retired the shuttles. Because I too fear we're on the edge of abandoning space... too few people care about it anymore, in part because -- I hate to say it -- of the shuttle. Low earth orbit just isn't that exciting for most people.

Doug said...

I'm sorry to see the shuttle program go, it would be a great disapointment if this is the end of the "Space Age", but I feel it is going to go down with a whimper.