Known Johnson

July 18, 2006

Discovery comes home

Filed under: General — Tom @ 11:38 pm
Discovery comes home

Another picture-perfect landing.

Just like last year’s Discovery flight, this year’s was another amazing period of activity for space-flight lovers because it was another heavily documented event. There are multiple camera angles to view of just about every major part of the flight, especially launch, where we were able to see footage via NASA TV from just about every camera that NASA has trained on the shuttle – and it’s a lot of video cameras.

And then there are really special things that happened only on this flight that no one has ever seen before, and the footage is available for anyone to see, such as this 12 minute video of a camera mounted on the right solid rocket booster (SRB), which is meant to watch for debris falling from the tank and (hopefully not) striking the shuttle, but really just provides people like me a thrillingly geeky view of a shuttle launch that has never been witnessed before – nor ever before in such complete form.

The video begins about one minute prior to launch. The first thing you’ll see, after orienting yourself (you’re looking down the SRB toward the launch pad, and Discovery‘s right wing is in view,) is the water-suppression system begin to spray beneath the shuttle’s main engines shortly before they ignite. This happens about 45 seconds into the video. Water is sprayed to help dampen sound a bit – I’m really not sure how much this could possibly help (the SRBs also have their own water-suppression system of sprayers and also balloons behind them, but you can’t see them in this video.) (And nevermind the “smoke” you see billowing lightly beneath the orbiter- that’s just liquid oxygen venting from the main engines. It never stops while the external tank is fueled.)

Launch (at 1:00) is shockingly quick – with no audio cues, it’s actually surprising how fast it happens. The tension of the countdown seems to slow time, but here, with no visual or audio to give away what’s going on, you only get a moment to see the orbiter lurch forward as the main engines ignite, then the SRBs ignite and the stack jumps off the pad.

Enjoy the view for the next two minutes as Discovery climbs higher and higher. At 3:00 in the video, the SRBs jettison as they have exhausted their fuel. If you look real close at 3:12, you can see Discovery and the external tank already far off in the distance. (And that big bright white light is obviously the sun.)

Four the next few minutes, the camera watches as the SRB tumbles end over end until it finally splashes down at 7:34. (And, no, nothing goes wrong just before splashdown – the SRB nozzle is ejected from the rocket body. What you see are parts being blown away from the pyrotechnic charge that helps loosen the two sections.) If you’re really bored, or mesmerized, you can watch the SRB bob in the ocean for the next 5 minutes of the video – but for most of us, the good stuff is over.

Not quite as exciting, but still pretty damn cool, is watching the forward-facing right SRB camera footage, which has been edited to strictly the two minutes from launch to separation. This is where we get to see one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in the entire shuttle program – a clear picture of the shuttle, in space, attached to the external tank, zooming away from the SRBs. We’ve never gotten to see anything like this before:

Forgive me if I sound like a complete dork, but this is the kind of thing that thrills me – you have to understand that I’ve been following this for 25 years of my 33 years. In one year’s time, I’ve seen things that have never been available to anyone outside of NASA. But at least I’m not the only one that feels this way, because there’s even a book put together specifically about last year’s mission to document all those amazing photos that were taken. If you’re as geeky about this stuff as I am, you owe it to yourself to order a copy – it’s dirt-cheap at $11. This is heaven for people like me.

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