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:
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.
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.