Video from Shuttle booster falling back to Earth

NASA attached a camera to one of the solid fuel boosters on the STS-124 Space Shuttle Discovery launch. The action starts at 1:50, when the boosters are ejected. Stick around to the end to see the parachutes deploy giant space jellyfish attack, and splashdown.


  1. Okay, I’ll be the pedant and point out that since the SRBs never reach orbit, the title is inaccurate.

  2. wow this is amazing photography! from Space to Ocean surface in minutes, with Sun, Moon and curvatured Earth….wow. thanks, NASA!!

    1. Ah, good, so then I’m not the only one who will be ripping the audio and listening to it daily (hourly?).

  3. Wow! Amazing to think they went from Florida to the ending in the Indian Ocean with a surprisingly peacful splash at the end in 7 minutes.

  4. That is one of the coolest videos I’ve ever seen. It’s amazing that something so simple captures something I’ve never been able to experience about the glory of those launches.

    I can’t believe that we can continue to see the other booster during the course of the video. So sweet…

    …and was anyone else surprised at how gentle the oscillations were on reentry? I expected the booster to just hit an optimum aerodynamic position, then shake and rattle on the way in.

    Thanks for this BB!

  5. Two things: the discolouration of the top of the main tank as it nears the ejection point of the solid fuel boosters looks very strange – any nerds on hand to explain that (or is it just a trick of the light?). And the really poignant way the camera keeps glimpsing this booster’s twin as it gradually gets further away. Awwww.

    1. At 4:29, the upward trajectory of the exhaust trail can be seen as well as the downward arc of the other SRB’s path. Gorgeous sights and sounds.

      As for the discoloration on the skin of the external fuel tank, my thoughts turned to the rapid changes in temperature and pressure of the atmosphere and the effect on any water vapor at those altitudes.

    2. That’s the insulation blackening from heating. If you look at the tank after separation, generally you see four areas of blackened insulation. One at the bottom from engine/SRB heat, one at the nose from the air the tank’s running into (kind of) and down at the sides of the top third of the tank, caused by adiabatic heating (air getting squeezed from shock waves) off of the SRB shockwaves. You’re seeing blackening from that last cause, there. The insulation chars relatively easily – similar foam’s used on the Delta 4, and sometimes you can see much of the side of the rocket darken or blacken on startup, since the engine on that rocket tends to put out a big hydrogen fireball when it starts.

  6. Also, those parachutes deploy in three stages, by the looks. Again, that might be something well-known, but I’ve never seen it before and I think it’s pretty cool!

  7. I love these videos, but can it really be called an Orbital Re-Entry video when the boosters never achieve orbit, and are still pretty much in the atmosphere (although obviously very high up) when they separate…?

    Juss’ sayin’….

  8. Dizzy!!!

    As I was watching, when it hit the point where they detached, the theme song to House started playing (there’s a marathon on USA today), and it was AWESOME!

    1. I can go better than that. Forget trying to line up ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ with ‘Wizard of Oz’. Start Pink Floyd’s “Cluster One” (for instance, from here) at 1 minute into the Nasa video. Could have been made for each other.

  9. Oh man that made me seasick to watch. Had to fast forward chucks on the video, the tumbling was a bit hard on me.

  10. The coolest thing ever would be faking this video. Most of it is just a wobbly view of a high-res photo of the Atlantic, that could be managed easily enough. The parachute sequence would require actual filming.

    And of course the sound would be easy to fake.

    1. ‘And of course the sound would be easy to fake’

      only if you knew what it sounded like already – and even then something would most likely give it away. i think it would be extremely difficult to do…the sound of a dying fuel payload burning out, the way the rushing of air changes according to the relative orientation of the rocket, the increase in noise as the atmosphere gets denser, the creaking of the metal as it cools, the farty sound of the parachute straps in the wind during descent, more metal creaking as it hits the sea. something wouldn’t be quite right.

      this is quite simply one of the most beautiful things i’ve ever seen.

  11. love the attack of the jellyfish monsters at the end

    and can someone please tell nasa it’s okay to edit the boring stuff out, you know, like the first 1:45?

    1. Yes, that was what I was thinking, JELLYFISH! I was surprised at how much the parachutes looked like jellyfish with training tentacles.

      Also, I thought there was no sound in space but there was plenty of sound in that video.

      Is there some way they can strap someone to the side of the booster, in spacesuit/scuba gear, go up to the edge of space then parachute down like a ride? It would make a great ride.

      1. alllie @13

        “Also, I thought there was no sound in space but there was plenty of sound in that video. ”

        THere’s no air in space, so there’s nothing to transmit vibrations beyond the object that’s vibrating. In this case, though, the camera is mounted rather solidly on the booster, so (my guess is that) even beyond the atmosphere, the camera microphone is picking up the vibrations of the booster itself — that’s why the clangs and bangs during booster separation and splashdown are so loud and resonant.

      2. > Also, I thought there was no sound in space but there was plenty of sound in that video.

        1) 35 nautical miles is still within the atmosphere, not “space” (
        Sound propagation would be greatly reduced, not eliminated, but more importantly…

        2) the camera and the microphone are attached to the SRB, so there’s no need for sound transfer through the air – the whole damn thing is vibrating. As a matter of fact, acoustically isolating the camera would be a bit of an engineering feat in itself.

  12. I love this video. Watching the paint on the external tank get distorted by the windblast is cool– how fast do you have to be going to make *dry paint* run?

  13. Brilliant! I never get tired of watching these, since it takes about 4-5 days after each launch to recover the boosters and for NASA to post the videos.

    At 4:29 you can see the arc of the exhaust trail leading all the way back to launch pad 39A at KSC!

  14. Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the booster as it fell was “Oh no, not again”. Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the booster had thought that we would know a lot more about the Universe than we do now.

  15. Pardon the nitpickery, but it’s not like “NASA attached a camera to one of the solid fuel boosters on STS-124” really (as in, this isn’t a single-camera issue only on that mission). As a response to the STS-107 disaster, they significantly upgraded their sets of tracking and in-flight cameras to survey the launch phase and possible impacts of tank debris on the Shuttle. Ever since then, *all* solid rocket boosters (SRBs) on *every* Shuttle launch have had at least three such cameras on them (one near the top looking aft at the Shuttle, one near the bottom looking forward at the Shuttle, and one at about the middle looking sideways at the tank). You can find plenty of such videos on NASA websites, Youtube, you name it.

  16. That was really cool. Do yourself a favor and watch the whole thing (minus the first 1:45) on full-screen. It’s really relaxing, except for the nagging feeling that your about to vomit into your spacesuit.

  17. Oh yeah, and a little explanation on the noise early in the video maybe, for those interested: the overall rumble is obviously mostly the hellacious airstream. But if you listen very closely, you’ll notice a very high-pitched whining noise throughout, sounding a bit like a jet engine. This noise is coming from the turbopumps in the Shuttle’s three main engines (the three big bell thingies at the rear of a Shuttle). At roughly about 70 seconds after lift-off (indicated by the counter at the top left in the video), you might notice that this high-pitched noise slowly gets higher and higher. This is because the turbopumps rev further up for more acceleration after the vehicle has gone through the area of maximum dynamic pressure – this is when Houston says something like “you’re Go at throttle-up” and the commander replies “roger, Go at thottle-up”. You are effectively hearing exactly this throttling-up of the engines. (Isn’t that cool?)

  18. No, seriously, that was the best usage of my tax dollars all month.

    We should put wee cameras on every separable piece of the next Mars mission, too.

  19. 5 and a half minutes to fall to earth…. that’s a Loooong time to think about what you’ve done.

    1. I was amazed they got back to the ground so quickly, especially considering that they needed to apogee first. Does anyone know what speed those things hit on the way down?

  20. Apogee? The boosters don’t get into orbit or anywhere close. They separate at 30 miles up and continue to a height of 40 miles just by momentum. Meanwhile the liquid fuel rocket takes the shuttle up to about 200 miles.

    No sound in space? There is still an atmosphere at 35 miles even though it is thin. If you are moving fast then you are still going to get wind noise as well as all the creaks through the camera mount.

  21. The audio was the best! It’s nice to know super high tech rockets sound just like big metal pipes when you bang on them!

  22. BTW, re no sound in space,

    at the beginning, the rocket was burning = vibration+microphone = sound

    quiet when free falling in sparse atmosphere

    noise again = air+vibration+microphone

  23. Little late to the party, but I thought the video (with just the slightest editing of start and the dead space) went well with Inception’s “Time.

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