NASA has released some truly stunning video of the Shuttle launch on July 4. Webcams were placed on the rockets, and we now have different views of the Orbiter during ascent. There are several different videos on that page, but I need to point out one in particular.
Let me be very, very clear here: This is the coolest footage of anything I have ever seen.
It's a camera on the top of the starboard solid rocket booster, and it points down. You can see the Orbiter and external tank clearly, and just see the bottom of the booster. Launch occurs about one minute into the video, and is really cool. But then at 2:15 the Shuttle makes a maneuver, and you can see the plume from the rockets, now many miles long, twisting, writhing, stretching all the way back to the launch tower. It's not hard to imagine it as an umbilicus attaching the Shuttle to the ground. The sight of the plume is unreal, and amazing. What's also odd is I realized I had been seeing it for quite some time before 2:15, but it was dark and hard to recognize.
Then, at 3:00, the booster separates, another phenomenal sequence. It tumbles, and you can clearly see the Earth spinning below, the black sky above. At 3:13, just past the limb of the Earth, a bright spot is seen in the sky. I thought it might be the Moon, but it was at the wrong part of the sky. I showed the video to the Little Astronomer, and she immediately said "Maybe it's the airplane part of the Shuttle.".
She is so smart. She's exactly right; it's the bright exhaust from the Orbiter with the external tank still attached.
Several minutes pass, and the parachute opens. The fall slows, and at 7:30 it splashes down in the Atlantic. But a few seconds before it hits the water, the shadow of the booster comes into view on the water, parachute and seemingly off-center booster casting a wide shadow.
I am not a huge fan of the Shuttle as a program, as I have made fairly clear. But it's still an amazing ride, and it does something too few machines do: it goes into space.
That's what makes this video -- and all the others on that page -- so very, very cool.