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Space Shuttle STS-129 Ascent Video
November 29, 2009 10:38 AM   Subscribe

The best space shuttle launch video you will see today. As compiled and edited by NASA's SE&I imagery team at Johnson Space Center.
posted by pashdown (65 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
Don't miss the booster rocket splashdown that starts at about 9:20
posted by Decimask at 10:45 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pretty awesome. I love the helvetica on the space shuttle and I really hope the astronauts are blasting the same music during takeoff.
posted by pwally at 11:00 AM on November 29, 2009


Question: Why do the shuttle engines rotate after igniting?

As to the video, lots of fantastic images, but man was it badly edited with disjointed soundtrack.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:01 AM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


I feel like I'm doing it wrong by listening to it on some $9 earbuds and on a tiny laptop screen. This belongs on IMAX, as in real, Xenon-bulb, dome theater, 70mm film IMAX.

If NASA does not splice these clips into the next space documentary to hit the science center IMAX circuit, I have no sympathy for them. And as a 20 year old who fondly remembers science centers and yet feels too adult to go, I need something cool like this to draw me over to play with all the nifty science exhibits.
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:07 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Very nice stuff.
posted by jquinby at 11:07 AM on November 29, 2009


I loves me some NASA porn, and that just about hit the spot. (Although I'd recommend skipping the first two and a half minutes. Longest and most boring opening ever!)

There's something so amazing about seeing these shots from the rocket-cams. Every time I see the Apollo 6 footage of the interstage falling away, I get chills. One of my favorite memories is getting to see the Saturn V displayed at JSC, just laid out on the ground (before they moved it inside). It's hard to get a grasp of how big these rockets are - which is why I loved the early footage of that massive mover crawling over the gravel, carrying the shuttle and rocket to the launch platform. I'd love to get a chance to see the shuttle rocket boosters up close. (And I just learned from Wikipedia that the SRBs are rescued from the ocean and reused for future launches. The more you know!)

The music choices were...interesting. Soft-core porn for the opening credits, then into a quasi-Celtic theme, then later into a BSG ripoff that made me wonder if the the Cylons were about to show up.
posted by Salieri at 11:08 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


That was way over-edited. Like a video version of those early desktop publishing documents people would do with 9 million fonts.
posted by delmoi at 11:08 AM on November 29, 2009


I never really registered until watching that video that basically the way they get a shuttle into space is by strapping a giant gas tank onto it.
posted by louigi at 11:09 AM on November 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


Some nice video. If you ever get a chance to see the IMAX 'Space Station 3d', it's a truely mind-blowing set of launch, zero-gravity, and space porn.

so awesome, I've watched it 5 times on two continents.
posted by davemee at 11:14 AM on November 29, 2009


There is a super-high-res HDTV clip of just the booster-cams from just before separation to just after splashdown. No editing, no music just raw footage (AFAICT). It's some of the most achingly beautiful footage I've ever seen, I'm going to see if I can dig up a link.

I'd love to see similar raw clips rather than have it all mashed up together but I recognize that not everyone wants to sit and watch rockets go woosh for an hour. This was a great video in any case, just for the super-close-up shots of the bottom of the SRBs just at ignition and the initial rotation (so smooth!).
posted by Skorgu at 11:16 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


The film The Dish convinced me that the only proper music to play pre-launch is Classical Gas. I'd be glad to put together playlists for NASA.

Admittedly, it was a period piece featuring period music, but how do you top that?
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:18 AM on November 29, 2009


Great imagery, but NASA needs an art director STAT.
posted by letitrain at 11:29 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Question: Why do the shuttle engines rotate after igniting?

That is one of the final checks before liftoff, to make sure all three engine nozzles are responding to the controls properly. It is entirely possible to scrub the launch at literally the last second if that check fails. The engines have to be actually producing thrust for the test to be valid.
posted by Lokheed at 11:30 AM on November 29, 2009 [8 favorites]


I think John Williams spastic brother did the soundtrack. That was pretty cool video.
posted by docpops at 11:35 AM on November 29, 2009


Yeah, I was able to watch about 15 seconds before being too vividly reminded of the Challenger.


I suspect that for a whole chunk of Gen X, the awe of space travel is permanently colored by that tragedy.
posted by oddman at 11:38 AM on November 29, 2009


The film The Dish convinced me that the only proper music to play pre-launch is Classical Gas.

I can't hear that anymore without thinking:

"And now on CSPAN II, live coverage of the vote on House Resolution 795, naming the second week in October 'National Broccoli Recognition Week.'"

And who the hell is that one Republican who's got a thing against recognising broccoli?
posted by Pollomacho at 11:39 AM on November 29, 2009


The footage is great but the editing/production is high school A/V club.
posted by thecjm at 11:40 AM on November 29, 2009


That was great.

The footage is great but the editing/production is high school A/V club.

The guys who put this together were probably IN their high school A/V clubs before they got their engineering degrees.
posted by killdevil at 11:52 AM on November 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


I feel like I'm doing it wrong by listening to it on some $9 earbuds and on a tiny laptop screen. This belongs on IMAX, as in real, Xenon-bulb, dome theater, 70mm film IMAX.

If NASA does not splice these clips into the next space documentary to hit the science center IMAX circuit, I have no sympathy for them. And as a 20 year old who fondly remembers science centers and yet feels too adult to go, I need something cool like this to draw me over to play with all the nifty science exhibits.


Back in the early-to-mid 80s, there was the Omnimax film "The Dream Is Alive", which was about the then-young shuttle program. I've been a space-o-phile for most of my life, and was utterly captivated. Even though the nearest large-format theater was over an hour's drive from my house, I must have seen it a good 20 times during my high school years, often dragging semi-reluctant friends with me for the experience.

There is a shuttle launch moment in that movie which is one of the most amazing things I've ever seen, heard, or felt. Damn. Gives me a thrill just thinking about it while I type this.

*sigh* I do wish NASA hadn't been gutted. I love our little robots and what they are doing for us, but in the late 70s / early 80s, the promise of space travel was tangible. Now it just feels like an afterthought in many ways.

Yeah, I was able to watch about 15 seconds before being too vividly reminded of the Challenger.

I suspect that for a whole chunk of Gen X, the awe of space travel is permanently colored by that tragedy.


As tragic as that moment was (and I was watching that launch live on TV when it happened), I have not been soured on the dream.
posted by hippybear at 11:57 AM on November 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


I suspect that for a whole chunk of Gen X, the awe of space travel is permanently colored by that tragedy.

I sincerely hope not. It saddens me greatly to consider that there are many people who have never felt or, worse, no longer feel the risks of manned space exploration are worth the rewards. The idealist in me has its imagination fired with hope and wonder in everything we've accomplished thus far, and how infinitely much more there is to explore, learn, and discover. The spiritualist in me looks at the sky and sees Something inviting us out There. The humorist in me wonders if that Something isn't looking at Its Watch and tapping Its Foot. The fatalist in me worries that if we don't find some way to get out of our cradle, well, sooner or later we'll be fucked. The capitalist pig in me says DUDES ... UNLIMITED EXPLOITABLE RESOURCES OUT THERE!!! LET'S GET 'EM AND PARTY AMIRITEWTFHOUSTON, OVER?!

But there's nothing in me that takes that sense of awe away.
posted by WolfDaddy at 12:17 PM on November 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


I was amused by the obviously public domain (or whatever) music -- it definitely reminded me of Armageddon's trailer music, which was lifted from The Rock's soundtrack. Although I once got shouted off of sci.space.shuttle for defending it as entertainment, it seems that film is fondly remembered by some.

I was able to watch about 15 seconds before being too vividly reminded of the Challenger.

Well, the scary part is "Go at throttle up", at 57s. But honestly, there have been 127 successful shuttle flights. You can keep thinking about the accident that happened at that intersection, or you can accept it's the only way to get to work.

Most of this imagery is only available because of the increased safety monitoring protocols instituted following Challenger and then Columbia. The view between the orbiter and external tank, for instance, is explicitly to watch for foam strikes.

And who the hell is that one Republican who's got a thing against recognising broccoli?

It's possibly a reference to George H.W. Bush, who once expressed such a dispreference and came to regret it.
posted by dhartung at 12:45 PM on November 29, 2009


I kept thinking "$174 billion dollars and all I got was this youtube quality video"
posted by milnak at 12:49 PM on November 29, 2009


The opening was a bit slow, but the video as a whole was awesome. I gasped at the shot from the SRB as it fell away, watching the Shuttle climb rapidly upwards - felt like it was leaving me behind, to drift out here, just below the edge of space. Also never seen an SRB splashdown, that was awesome.

Challenger blew up when I was too young to remember it, but I remember the shock of Columbia's loss. In a way, that was almost worse - they were so nearly home. I'm frankly amazed at the bravery of the men and women who go up in the Shuttles. A 2% death rate per astronaut flight would be a bit too high for me.
posted by ZsigE at 1:28 PM on November 29, 2009


Watching space craft going through staging is one of the most awe-inspiring sights that never gets old for me. When the SRBs separate and suddenly the orbiter mated to the ET appears on screen with the ME firing as it continues its ascent, I feel a sense of wonder at the technology and the people behind it. It is truly a scene from a sci-fi movie, except that there is no CGI and we're really in space.

Here is an even better STS-128 SRB staging video in HD with simultaneous quad-cam views of multiple SRB and ET cameras. I just can't get over how amazing the orbiter looks flying away from the now ballistic SRBs.

Somedays when I get tired of crashing helicopters I like to watch Saturn V and STS launch videos to see folks working under real pressure that makes my little challenges insignificant.
posted by autopilot at 1:43 PM on November 29, 2009


I wanted to elaborate a bit more on the swivel you see from the main engines at ignition. The gimbal you see upon ignition is more of a post-ignition positioning. At the start command the SSMEs are 'locked' to minimize damage caused by the jolt of starting what is essentially a 12,000,000 horsepower motor. That's right - 12 MILLION horsepower. After ignition the motors swivel into position to offset the thrust of the solid rocket ignition and to stabilize the vehicle on liftoff.

The SSMEs ignite in a staggered fashion about 3/10ths of a second apart starting at around T-6 seconds and then build up to liftoff thrust in about 2.5 seconds. As the SSMEs are incredibly delicate (you try going from -243 degrees F to +6,000 F in a matter of 5/10ths of a second and tell me how that works out for ya), you need a few seconds to determine if anything went wrong during ignition - this essentially buys you a few moments in which to abort the launch before the solid rockets ignite. At that point, you're leaving in the pad whether you want to or not.

There is actually a full gimbal check of the SSMEs a few minutes before launch, which is essentially one final hydraulic check.
posted by tgrundke at 1:52 PM on November 29, 2009 [7 favorites]


I grew up near the Kennedy Space Center and got to personally watch most of the Apollo launches and the first shuttle launch as a youngster/teen. The phenomenal, literally earth-shaking rumble is impossible to describe; even miles away from the launch site, it made a vibration you could feel in your gut and lungs, and semi-blotted out sounds to the point that you had to shout to talk to anyone else. While I agree about the overall editing of that video, it sure gave me vivid memories of those live launches. I can't imagine what it would feel like to be strapped in to the shuttle itself and having it happen around you...but I'd surely love to find out.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:55 PM on November 29, 2009


Video is........ not on the NASA multimedia pages. Was hoping to burn this to DVD so my son could check it out, but I guess that won't be happening.
posted by crapmatic at 1:59 PM on November 29, 2009


Oh, and I have the utmost of respect for the team who developed the SSMEs. I imagine that anyone would have a heluva time developing that motor today, nevertheless in the mid-1970s. IIRC, NASA wasn't able to get repeatable full test burns from the motor until well into 1980 without some catastrophic failure occurring. To put that in perspective, Columbia launched in April 1981, so there was less than a year between "phew, I think we got it working" and "let's put people in this thing."

At the time of Challenger's loss in 1986 most people initially thought the failure was caused by a catastrophic failure in one of the SSMEs. The biggest engineering concern were the high pressure turbopumps which run at something like 69,000 horsepower and are incredibly delicate. One piece of debris (think metal shard/shaving) and the whole pump would detonate.

Amazingly, the SSMEs have been one of the most fault-tolerant, reliable components of the shuttle program. Horribly complicated and temperamental, they've been greatly improved upon over the years and from what I understand, the level of confidence with these engines is now very high due to 20 years worth of data.

Go back and read some of the post-flight engineering reports from the first few shuttle flights and you'll have ten times the respect for the astronauts who strapped themselves in. It wasn't just risky, it was a damned near miracle each time those birds came home in one piece.

One final note - keep in mind that both times we lost an orbiter and crew was not necessarily due to a flaw in the vehicle, it was due to a flaw in decision making. In both instances, the vehicle and subsystems performed exactly as engineering studies proved they would/warned they would. Management failed to take the steps to mitigate these problems (failed o-rings due to temperatures for Challenger and foam liberation from the external tank that was a well documented problem from day one). Those who engineering and who service this vehicle are quite simply fantastic at what they do.
posted by tgrundke at 2:02 PM on November 29, 2009


It's all fake! Great CGI.

I keed, I keed.

Goosebumps, as always.

Great video and soundtrack.
posted by ericb at 2:05 PM on November 29, 2009


Hear the jets!
Hear them snarl at your back
When you're stretched on the rack;
Feel your ribs clamp your chest,
Feel your neck grind its rest.
Feel the pain in your ship,
Feel her strain in their grip.
Feel her rise! Feel her drive!
Straining steel, come alive,
On her jets!
posted by The Tensor at 2:05 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here's another full version with a download option (haven't tried it, though).
posted by casarkos at 2:13 PM on November 29, 2009


In one of Penn & Teller's books (I've forgotten which), Penn describes going to a shuttle launch, and talks about comic timing and the speed of sound. Apparently the public observation deck is a significant distance away, so initially you're just watching fire shoot out of the thrusters and the rocket's going up and it looks simply amazing, and then just as you start to think "You know, it's a lot quieter than I expBOOOMMMMM!!
posted by rifflesby at 2:21 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


So I'm curious: what's the latest on the Obama administration's re-evaluation of Constellation? They've had a gold-ribbon panel looking at the entire planned launch system, and last I heard it seemed pretty likely that they were going to recommend killing it entirely, or at least cutting out the Ares V heavy-lift booster (i.e. eliminating the single aspect of the system that made it more flexible and forward-looking than our current LEO truck, the Shuttle), in favor of still-nebulous "commercial alternatives" to orbit.

Obama is a deeply pragmatic man and he's obviously got some major social welfare initiatives he's trying to pass down here on Earth. I can't help but think that he doesn't give much of a shit about flying big machines up to orbit, comparatively speaking, and that his administration is willing to toss away a 40-year tradition of federally-funded manned spaceflight in favor of some short-term, politically-expedient cost savings.

I bet McCain would have been kinder to NASA. Not only did he fly fighter jets and buy into the "Right Stuff" sort of we're-going-to-ride-this-flaming-tank-of-liquid-hydrogen-up-to-orbit-like-it-was-a-pony-just-to-expore-shit-up-there machismo, he also would have been more receptive to national security arguments for the preservation of a "national space launch capability." Not that I think funding NASA decently would have been worth the creeping horror of a McCain/Palin administration. But when I voted for Obama I didn't foresee the end of NASA as a possible outcome of his election, and I sincerely hope it doesn't happen. Not just because there are compelling reasons for continuing to chuck people up to LEO and beyond (and there are many), but because spaceflight is beautiful. Leaving Earth on a pillar of fire, it's physics and it's poetry. It's simultaneously one of the most impressive feats and one of the most expressive acts ever managed by human beings, and every time I see one of our machines arrowing up into the sky I feel a little less pessimistic about the human condition. The idea that we'd abandon the half a century of expertise and momentum we started building when the military spirited Wernher von Braun and his cronies out of Germany, well, it makes me sad.
posted by killdevil at 3:22 PM on November 29, 2009 [7 favorites]


I like the bathtub sounds you hear as the booster rockets (in an awesome sequence) splash down in the ocean. I wouldn't change a thing. The klugey production is one with NASA's overall, arm-patch style graphic design look.
posted by Faze at 3:25 PM on November 29, 2009


I do wish NASA hadn't been gutted. I love our little robots and what they are doing for us, but in the late 70s / early 80s, the promise of space travel was tangible.

This video makes abundantly clear the complete design disaster that is the space shuttle. If only we'd stuck with the capsule-on-top-of-rocket design that took us to the moon, we'd have a manned space program that was far more efficient and less costly and probably safer than the one we have now.
posted by incessant at 3:26 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


I watch all this footage raw as it is released (and it IS released, you just have to care enough to be waiting for it) but it's nice to see it in this more digestible format.

Just came back from Florida where I saw Atlantis land. I'm in a rush, but here's a few random factoids for you all:

The Obama administration decision on the future of the space program is expected by February. Possibly sooner, but definitely by then, because that's when the next budget plan is announced (led by the annual state of the union speech).

If you liked tgrundke's posts above describing the 6-second main engine start sequence, the you must read this 5 page PDF. It will blow your mind.

The space station IMAX movie is quite outdated at this point, having been shot in the 2002 timeframe. However, a camera went up on the Hubble servicing mission last May, and that movie is expected to be out in March 2010 (mark your calendar, I did mine :) ). Also I expect they'll be shooting some new footage of ISS real soon, since the last component is going up on the next flight (the Tranquility node on STS-130) and it'll be essentially complete, so there will probably be a new ISS movie in a year or two.
posted by intermod at 3:56 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you have more of an appetite for destruction, here are two videos of explosive launch failures, one at Cape Canaveral and one in Kazakhstan.
posted by Alison at 4:03 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


I love the calm announcer in the Cape Canaveral video. Lumps of intensely hot metal are raining down from the sky, rocket fuel is being liberally sprinkled everywhere, the entire place looks like a bad TV-movie about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and what does she say?

"We, err...just had an anomaly of the Delta-2 launch vehicle..."

Personally I'd have gone with "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!"
posted by ZsigE at 4:37 PM on November 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


I love the Cape Canaveral video's background music. It's playing wacky disaster music (like what you'd play for a cake factory gone out of control and 3 times too fast), as if it's encouraging the viewer to feel schadenfreude for the engineers who just accidentally burned up an expensive satellite and literally rained fire on Earth, or the people who just lost their cars in the parking lot.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:52 PM on November 29, 2009


man, peaceful rocket launches make me all misty-eyed.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:07 PM on November 29, 2009


I snagged the video and put it in my Dropbox here, for anyone who wants to download it.
posted by hippybear at 5:15 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I suspect that for a whole chunk of Gen X, the awe of space travel is permanently colored by that tragedy.

Well, it was my study hall teacher that died on that mission, and I still watch every launch. And the lump in my throat is joy and excitement. It was a terrible thing, but it serves to remind us that we are exploring a frontier and it is dangerous.

Our astronauts are some of the bravest, most competent people alive, and I wish they got more respect.

Great video. Watch if full screen.
posted by lumpenprole at 5:21 PM on November 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


rifflesby: "In one of Penn & Teller's books (I've forgotten which), Penn describes going to a shuttle launch, and talks about comic timing and the speed of sound. "

It was in How To Play In Traffic, and the story is titled "NASA's Successful Quantifying of Comedy Timing". Spoiler: It's 17.505 seconds. Yes, I had to dig up my copy to find it.
posted by Plutor at 6:13 PM on November 29, 2009


*looks at shuttle tiles around 3:00*

*cringes*
posted by rubah at 6:26 PM on November 29, 2009


There's some wonderful prose here- I don't think I'm the only one to be moved by the sheer epic scale of this footage...

that said, I think oddman got it right: I can't watch any shuttle footage without thinking of disaster.

I was a total NASA space-kid; I turned out to be one of those adults who thinks we may be better off investing in our educational infrastructure. Projects like the Space Shuttle make at least some sort of sense in a cold war/superpower context. In a near-depression, I dunno. I'd like to see my local government figure out their 2B shortfall.

Here's NASA talking about their budget . I agree with their administrator, that looking for post-government funding is probably wise.
posted by mrdaneri at 7:34 PM on November 29, 2009


ZsigE: "I love the calm announcer in the Cape Canaveral video. Lumps of intensely hot metal are raining down from the sky, rocket fuel is being liberally sprinkled everywhere, the entire place looks like a bad TV-movie about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and what does she say?

"We, err...just had an anomaly of the Delta-2 launch vehicle..."

Personally I'd have gone with "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!"
"

How much of the audio there is fake? The explosion sounded off to me, and certainly it was at the least time-shifted (if it was real, you wouldn't hear it for several seconds). Is the announcer real?
posted by alexei at 8:12 PM on November 29, 2009


incessant - the shuttle was not a design disaster, the disaster was in the governmental bureaucracy that went into gutting the original design. If anything, the shuttle has succeeded *despite* its inherent flaws.

See, by the late 1960s it was abundantly clear that NASA had achieved its goal of beating the Russians, so it was on to new things. Bureaucracies do what they do best: perpetuate, and so NASA needed to find a reason to continue on. So, sensing that NASA was a great jobs and engineering factory for various centers around the country (they learned early that by spreading development centers in important Congressional districts they were more likely to get what they asked for), NASA was weighed down with multiple goals: research, exploration, aeronautics, robotic and manned space applications, telecommunications, computer science, you name it.

Without a clear unifying goal the agency stumbled about, but with a lack of national consensus and an economic crisis (huh, this sounds familiar...), the agency had no clear forward direction. A lifting body reusable concept had been proposed in the mid-60s and studied and the Air Force had been working on similar designs as well. A consensus within NASA developed that saw a reusable 'space tug' that could perform civilian, military, commercial and government duties as a platform from which to garner support.

The problem was that NASA wanted something relatively simple and small and couldn't get the funding to move forward with it. The result was an effort to bring the Air Force, NSA/CIA onboard to gain access to their cash and political influence. That part worked brilliantly - the part that somewhat backfired for NASA was that they now had to build in capabilities the original didn't call for: polar orbits, significantly increased payload/weight requirements, downrange glide capabilities far greater to avoid Soviet airspace and the ability to (theoretically) land at any major airport. Greater mass = greater necessary thrust = bigger rockets.

The worst part for NASA during all is this that their budget, both in real terms and inflation adjusted (God bless the stagflated 70s) was continually gutted in the period and incredible compromises were made.

In hindsight, as an engineering study the STS program was brilliant. It was in many ways NASA at its very best: taking an incredible task with incredibly talented engineers and making it all work. It was also NASA at its very worst - a bureaucracy perpetuating itself, compromising safety for the sake of Congressional approval and making promises that no budget could possibly meet. They were starting with a completely unknown theory, unknown materials, unknown engineering requirements and made it work.

Looking forward, the Constellation program brings to mind much of the bad NASA of the 70s. Personally, throwing out almost 40 years worth of good engineering and starting from scratch (Ares I and V) is moronic to the extreme. The recently suggested Shuttle-C and Direct projects seem to me to be far better bets as they reuse a massive amount of current infrastructure, engeineering/data/analysis.
posted by tgrundke at 8:13 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


intermod -

Great link to that SSME document. I first came across that a few months ago and spent a good hour reading through it, nerd that I am.

Just to drive home the point on how complex these motors are, I'd like to highlight that the document references tolerances of less that 1/10th of a second and 1% out of range that can lead to what NASA would call "crit-1" events. These "criticality 1" events are essentially catastrophic and are expected would lead to loss of vehicle (LOV) and/or crew (LOC).
posted by tgrundke at 8:18 PM on November 29, 2009


This video makes abundantly clear the complete design disaster that is the space shuttle.

I believe this is far too harsh. It's a hugely compromised design in many ways, forged in the desire to fulfill NASA's research goals and simultaneously USAF's space warfare goals. Ultimately its high cost led them to add yet another goal, commercial satellite delivery, for which it was very unsuited. And after Challenger, the military and commercial missions were eliminated, leaving it a very expensive launcher for Spacelab/Spacehab. The ISS was in many ways born out of this "mission gap", as the ideal thing for this white elephant to do, and yet there are many ways in which it could have been done (perhaps less expensively) with different vehicles or configurations.

It was definitely a costly learning experience, in more ways than one, but that's part of the process. We didn't know in the beginning that it was really impractical to actually build stuff in space -- that connecting nearly self-contained modules was the only way to go and that difficult itself. We also had no idea during the design phase that Apollo would stop short and Moon exploration with it.

A lot of what we learned from Shuttle has made its way into other technologies such as the EELV family (the Delta IV uses modified SSMEs, which are an incredibly advanced engine of unrivaled reliability).

If only we'd stuck with the capsule-on-top-of-rocket design that took us to the moon, we'd have a manned space program that was far more efficient and less costly and probably safer than the one we have now.

...Possibly. Much of the reliability built into Shuttle is there as a result of the other safety compromises forced on it. One of the harder lessons we had to learn was that launch systems are probably a long way from the once-vaunted reliability of Shuttle (e.g. 1 in 1000 accident rates vs. 1 in 100). That has severely impacted the conception of the role of manned spaceflight in the overall space program.
posted by dhartung at 8:27 PM on November 29, 2009


*looks at shuttle tiles around 3:00*

*cringes*


I think you mean at 4:08, if we're talking about the FPP video. What you see is a repaired thermal protection system. Every tile is inspected and replaced if necessary. The materials used have sometimes changed and this, I think, results in the different color/refractivity that you see. Compare Discovery on-orbit here: you can blow it up and see that the off-color tiles have visible serial numbers. There are other scratches and wear that are probably considered cosmetic. More on what is acceptable here as well as another view of Disco's underside.
posted by dhartung at 9:23 PM on November 29, 2009


Here's a complete SRB separation video, with splashdown, minus music
posted by hypersloth at 9:46 PM on November 29, 2009


the part that somewhat backfired for NASA was that they now had to build in capabilities the original didn't call for: polar orbits, significantly increased payload/weight requirements, downrange glide capabilities far greater to avoid Soviet airspace and the ability to (theoretically) land at any major airport. Greater mass = greater necessary thrust = bigger rockets.

What frustrates me the most about these design trade-offs is that, as far as the public knows, not one of them was ever used. The STS has never placed anything into polar orbit from a Vandenberg launch, despite $4 billion in mods to the launch complex and the enormous knock-on effects on the Orbiter design. The major problems with this mission are as you describe: it required a southern launch to a polar orbit with a payload of 18 tons, equivalent to 29 tons to an equitorial orbit, as well having the capability of a "single orbit return", increasing the cross-range glide from 400 km to 1600 km. due to the latitude of the Vandenberg launch location.

I'm hoping that DIRECT finally gets some traction inside of NASA and that we can avoid the design problems of the ARES launchers by re-using what does work from the STS program: the massive power of the SRB, ET and ME designs.
posted by autopilot at 11:06 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Projects like the Space Shuttle make at least some sort of sense in a cold war/superpower context. In a near-depression, I dunno. I'd like to see my local government figure out their 2B shortfall.

So we've got 10% unemployment, and you'd rather people sit on their asses doing nothing then work on the space shuttle? It's called stimulus: Keep unemployment low so people don't hoard their money and make the depression worse. The depression/liquidity trap isn't caused by natural disasters or sunspot cycles. It's caused by human behavior: In particular, people not spending their money because they're worried about their jobs, which causes more people to lose their jobs and so on in a negative feedback cycle. The way to fix it is to spend money and employ people.

Now is the perfect time to be blowing money on space programs and other potentially useless stuff until the recession goes away. I do think we ought to move away from the shuttle design, though.
posted by delmoi at 12:49 AM on November 30, 2009


delmoi -

Not to derail the thread too much, but the solution you are proposing to the current financial crisis (spending more) is not effective for the type of crunch we're in at the moment. We have a solvency issue to deal with, not a liquidity issue. If this were an issue of liquidity, opening the floodgates of cheap money and providing stimulus would work wonders. However, since this is a problem of overbearing debt, until that is paid down substantially we're going to continue to muddle through.
posted by tgrundke at 5:12 AM on November 30, 2009


As tragic as that moment was (and I was watching that launch live on TV when it happened), I have not been soured on the dream.

Same here. All the lemons in the world couldn't sour the dream for me.

I didn't just "grow up on this", I am growing up on this.

To the moon mars infinity and beyond!
posted by humannaire at 6:27 AM on November 30, 2009


delmoi-

Nope, I'd not prefer people do nothing vs. continued work on the Space Shuttle. Like anything else, it's about societal priorities.

E.g. Should we continue to invest ~20 B in NASA- which will generate outstanding movies like this one- or should we move that money to other areas?

Again, I like the idea that NASA's hawking- where commercial investment can pick up some of the budgetary slack. I haven't researched any Space gee-whiz stuff since I was a kid (although I'm still proud of my 6th grade report on Project Icarus), and it looks like there's some much better informed opinion here.

My overall thrust was that this film probably cost, gosh, I dunno (totally made up number) $15,000 a frame. Maybe those dollars could return more to us elsewhere, right now.
posted by mrdaneri at 7:35 AM on November 30, 2009


As tragic as that moment was (and I was watching that launch live on TV when it happened), I have not been soured on the dream.

Likewise, I can't make it through When We Left Earth's chapter on the Challenger and Columbia accidents without crying my eyes out. The interviews with the coworkers and families of the crews of STS-51 and STS-107 missions repeat what I had hoped to hear: that the astronauts on those missions were well aware of the risks and willingly, eagerly even, took their seats on the flights to better all of humanity.

Despite the risks, I'm absolutely in favor of expanding the manned space program. The astronauts I have met have a certain graveyard humor about their jobs: that they're expendable test pilots, that their spacecraft are built by the lowest bidders, and so on. Some of this is just Right Stuff macho posturing, but behind it is the realization that their job really is dangerous. And they are ok with that.

On the Saturn V rockets there was a Launch Escape System that was considered useless by the crews. The prevailing opinion is that the 4200kg would have been better spent on payload; one of the Apollo astronauts commented that his happiest time during liftoff was when the call was made to jettison the LES.

My overall thrust was that this film probably cost, gosh, I dunno (totally made up number) $15,000 a frame. Maybe those dollars could return more to us elsewhere, right now.

That sounds really cheap! My guess would be a few orders of magnitude higher. To put it in perspective, however, a modern blockbuster motion picture would be about $3000/frame. Does anyone think that making Transformers 2 is a waste of money? Don't answer that...

As another random data point, the Apollo program cost about $145 billion in modern dollars (cheap compared to our current engagements abroad) and returned around 400 kg of moon rocks, or about $350 thousand / gram. The mythical 1L bottle of Fiji Lunar Water will cost nearly $400 million to produce and better be really, really tasty. Hopefully it won't turn the drinkers into monsters.
posted by autopilot at 8:34 AM on November 30, 2009


E.g. Should we continue to invest ~20 B in NASA- which will generate outstanding movies like this one- or should we move that money to other areas?

Literally the only thing NASA does is make movies of launches for people to look at in their free time.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:58 AM on November 30, 2009


My overall thrust was that this film probably cost, gosh, I dunno (totally made up number) $15,000 a frame. Maybe those dollars could return more to us elsewhere, right now.

They already have.

It's not as if money spent on NASA vanishes down a black whole, never to be seen again. A lot of that technology has applications here on Earth.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:02 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


autopilot: "I'm hoping that DIRECT finally gets some traction inside of NASA and that we can avoid the design problems of the ARES launchers by re-using what does work from the STS program: the massive power of the SRB, ET and ME designs."

Shit, DIRECT is awesome. I've never liked anything about the Constellation program. I like this.
posted by Plutor at 11:25 AM on November 30, 2009


E.g. Should we continue to invest ~20 B in NASA- which will generate outstanding movies like this one- or should we move that money to other areas?

Literally the only thing NASA does is make movies of launches for people to look at in their free time.


Seeing as how the porn industry alone nets around $12 Billion a year, I'd say we're getting a good deal then.

Would you say that the films produced by NASA are 10 times better than Titanic? The special effects certainly are, plus we don't have to listen to Celine Dion!
posted by Pollomacho at 11:30 AM on November 30, 2009


Huh! A friend of mine worked on this. He has the coolest job in the universe: he gets to film goddamn rocketships all day. And then they pay him!

I suspect that for a whole chunk of Gen X, the awe of space travel is permanently colored by that tragedy.

I watched Challenger explode live on TV at 5 or 6 years old. If anything, it made me think "space must be pretty important to get to, because it's pretty dangerous to get there."
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:37 PM on November 30, 2009


I watched Challenger explode live on TV at 5 or 6 years old. If anything, it made me think "space must be pretty important to get to, because it's pretty dangerous to get there."

I was a bit older, but still in school. We had a live satellite feed to our classroom and local tv cameras in our faces. By then space travel was so seemingly routine we really took it for granted that this was actually an extremely dangerous activity. The explosion instantly changed that perspective and remined us that these people are really brave to do what they do.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:09 PM on November 30, 2009


What frustrates me the most about these design trade-offs is that, as far as the public knows, not one of them was ever used.

Well, had Challenger not intervened, that might not be the case. Don't get me wrong -- I share the frsutration that the STS was saddled with all this unused capability, which made it more expensive and difficult and in some aspects less safe -- but military capability goes unused all the time, and some of that we're pretty thankful that's the case.

In retrospect, the USAF was off its rocker to imagine this future where Cold War superpowers made midnight hops to orbit to snatch each others' satellites, and we had to watch out for Gary Powers pilot incidents, but I for one am quite happy that future never came to pass. (For one thing, it's so potentially destabilizing that I can't imagine it being anything other than the prelude to a DEFCON ONE situation.)

Not to derail the thread too much, but the solution you are proposing to the current financial crisis (spending more) is not effective for the type of crunch we're in at the moment.

Hmm, Krugman agrees with delmoi. No offense, but only one of you has a Nobel.

My overall thrust was that this film probably cost, gosh, I dunno (totally made up number) $15,000 a frame.

That's silly. This movie is not the only product of the space program.

For myself, the ROI of the space program is highest in the science end of things. There's a lot they do that doesn't even leave earth. Then there's planetary exploration. Still damned expensive, but nothing like sending people would be, and the discoveries come fast and furious with every mission. We're like babies touching the sky (2001 reference deliberate). The ISS, though, as impressive as it is, frustrates me. It became the only thing left that Shuttle could do, and it almost qualifies as a solipsism. I thought we were going to keep going, and eventually have that Moon base and Mars mission. I guess we could still get there, but increasingly unlikely during my lifetime. And then I wonder about the point of it all, especially if it costs more lives as it surely will. I prefer to think of the endpoint on the one hand, man as a spacefaring species as we once worked to cross the seas. And on the other hand of the constant challenges and learning experiences of the attempt. As Zubrin has said of Mars, man needs a frontier.
posted by dhartung at 1:56 PM on November 30, 2009


Nice.
I gotta go with Steppenwolf if we're talking music though.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:08 PM on November 30, 2009


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