VIDEO: Aboard the Space Shuttle During Launch

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If you've ever wondered what it was like to be inside a Space Shuttle at launch, here's your chance to see it, thanks to a hand-held video camera aboard STS-65 when Columbia launched into space at 12:43 p.m. ET on July 8, 1994: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXEkYhYZ40c

This video is incredible. My palms get sweaty just watching it.

It was taken from one of the backseats on the flight deck during launch, so it's a really good representation of what it's actually like on board during a liftoff. The crew up front was Robert D. Cabana in the Commander's seat (a Marine on his third of four Shuttle flights) and James D. Halsell, Jr. (an Air Force guy on his first of five flights) in the Pilot's seat.

A few notable moments:

  • Things really start happening at 3:45 with ignition. You can hear Cabana saying something inaudible, followed by "Here we go!" I would be freaking out.
  • Launching a space shuttle is a violent act. Bear in mind that TV makes things look less shaky and violent then they actually are.
  • Aside from the comm loop, that's ambient noise during the launch. It sounds like that inside.
  • At 4:25, you can hear things speeding up and getting noisy as the shuttle goes supersonic leading up to Max-Q.
  • At 5:15, you hear the call for throttle-up, and as the atmosphere outside gets thinner, the atmosphere inside suddenly starts getting a lot less noisy and violent.
  • At 5:55, things get a lot smoother as the SRBs jettison with a flash and a "CLUNK."
  • 6:30 - "Columbia, performance nominal." "Awesome."
  • Not long after, the commander tells the crew they may open their visors if they want. I don't know about you, but I'd be keeping that thing shut and locked until we were all the way up.
  • At 7:15, they reach 50 miles altitude, meaning they're essentially in space. Two of the crew in front of the camera perform an awkward spacesuit high-five.
  • The rest of this is smooth and boring, ironically, until 12:20, when the shuttle throttles back to idle, and the astronauts are tossed lightly forward in their seats at main engine cut-off. "Welcome to space, guys!"
  • 13:45 - "I can't believe I'm here! This is unbelievable!"

Thirty-five years ago this week, John Young and Bob Crippen took Columbia to space for the maiden voyage of the Space Shuttle program. Since then, the Shuttle was as routine as space travel has ever gotten (if the word "routine" could ever be used to describe space flight), and that is certainly reflected here by the calm and professionalism with which the crew handled these moments. Like I said above, I'd be losing my marbles in the back if I were there, but for these guys, it's a job - a set of pre-planned events that they monitor and make sure happen on time.

For another fun view of a different flight, check out Discovery DashCam:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhuGwQq7qZk

America's Next Manned Space Flight

For all those naysayers bemoaning the end of the Shuttle program, it should be noted that on April 12, 2016, the 35th anniversary of Columbia's first flight, it will have been 1,721 days since the last American manned space flight.

To put that into context, it was 2,089 days between the landing of Apollo-Soyuz on July 24, 1975 and Columbia's maiden liftoff on April 12, 1981.

For the moment, NASA's next manned space flight is scheduled for 2021, to an asteroid aboard the new Orion capsule. An unmanned circumlunar flight is projected for 2018 aboard the SLS launch vehicle.

But SpaceX is planning a manned launch of its Crew Dragon spacecraft for March of 2017. SpaceX has already received its order from NASA for six crewed ISS resupply flights.

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner is expected to make an unmanned flight to the space station in April of 2017, with a crewed flight scheduled for three months later.

Of course, we all know the tragic fate of Columbia some nine years after the video above, but for that moment, she gave us all a glimpse inside at what it was like to go for a ride in the World's Most Remarkable Flying Machine.

"Warbird Pilot" is As Beautiful As It Is Brilliant

Stop everything you're doing right now and give yourself ten minutes to watch "Warbird Pilot: Behind the Visor," a short documentary film about John-Curtiss Paul's journey to piloting some of America's oldest flying aircraft: https://vimeo.com/103092939

It's been a rough time of late for aviation documentaries. Aside from the quality work from National Geographic (like their recent two-hour piece on the 747, which I felt delved too long into averted disasters), since the death of the Discovery Wings channel, we've been subjected to a lot of dreck in the aviation documentary space over the last decade or so.

But since the advent of digital filmmaking, we're seeing a resurgence in the quality of video storytelling. This film is an example of that.

I'd like to see more of this going forward, especially combined with a bent on explaining engineering a-la the Moon Machines series from Science Channel. The technology is there to do what great programs of the past, like "Wings" and "Reaching for the Skies" could not: Combine history and narrative with modern technology to help people like me visualize and understand the stories behind

One last thing on the film: It was shot, edited and directed by Rob W. Scribner, who I had the good fortune of meeting face-to-face at my regular job at Full Sail University (Rob is a Full Sail graduate).

Rob is an Air Force guy who worked on avionics for the F-16 and later the F-35 before leaving the service and going into film. After graduating from Full Sail, Rob went into business with John-Curtiss Paul (the subject of the film) to form Sky Tower Productions. "Warbird Pilot" is the labor of love that put it on the map, as it was named a Vimeo Staff Pick. These guys know what they're doing.

I'm looking forward to more like this from this particular crew. In the meantime, enjoy the film!

Pratt & Whitney J58: The SR-71's Secret Weapon (VIDEO)

This is one of the coolest videos I have ever seen on the web yet. It's from Tech Adams Laboratories on YouTube, and it's a fantastic animation of the SR-71's massive Pratt & Whitney J58 engine, and how it works. If you've ever really wondered how the thing worked, watch this and it will all be so much clearer.

The J58 was less an engine than a system of aerodynamic components - of which the engine was a part - that enabled the Blackbird to cruise at Mach 3.2 efficiently. And that's the key. When you're cranking full afterburner, you're burning a lot of fuel. But for long-range reconnaissance missions, you have to fly really fast for a long time, and that means re-thinking your propulsion system. P&W and Lockheed collaborated on creating the only engine of its type in the world at the time - what the video called a turbo-ramjet, or what we might call today a combined-cycle engine. Lockheed's experience with ramjets in the X-7 project no doubt enabled them to work closely with Pratt & Whitney on the incredibly complex aerodynamics taking place in and around the J58's massive inlet spike, enabling the engine to do what it was intended to do: push the airplane to incredible speed, and more importantly, stay there.

Though the J58 was proposed for use on a number of other high-performance aircraft in the 1960s, only the Blackbirds carried it in flight. Perhaps one day, when higher performance is again the goal for an aircraft, we'll see a propulsion system that is a direct descendant of the J58. But for now, we can admire it in silence, in museums, usually parked next to one of the retired Blackbirds.

Tech Adams has a bunch of other neat videos on the Blackbird and aviation history in general on his YouTube channel, so it's definitely worth checking out. Personally, I'm jealous that he has been to the National Museum of the USAF and I have not - yet.