What does a Space Shuttle launch look like when viewed from an airplane? (video)

[Video Link]

"Flying from Orlando, FL I had the rare opportunity to be able to watch Discovery's final launch as it embarks on STS-133," explains software developer Neil Monday, who shot this incredible video. Also spotted on MSNBC's Cosmic Log blog, with links to other great alternative shots.


  1. Amazing, gave me goose bumps just like when I witnessed STS-132 launch from the NASA Tweetup right by the flag and countdown clock.

  2. Its not divine… its science. Human Brilliance. When we say “we can put a man on the moon but we can’t … [X]” it seriously means something huge in a way. This is one of the wonders humanity can create.

    The video gave me goose bumps too… awesome in the true sense of the word

  3. Did I hear the pilot correctly when I heard “If you’re on the left side of the aircraft you can probably see the people on the right side of the aircraft looking at the space shuttle.”?

  4. very cool. but it puts into perspective just how slow even our most up to date methods of edge-of-space travel are…

    …relatively speaking, of course (heh heh)

  5. I would probably have injured people on the right with my enthusiastic lunging if I was sitting on the left.

  6. I saw, but neglected to photograph, the launch of STS-115 on a flight to Jamaica, 9/06. The launch was delayed for a few minutes so we barely saw it as it disappeared behind us. Still, pretty cool!

  7. This may seem cheesy, but whatever.

    Mute the video and press play. Let it go for about 12 seconds, then begin playing the song “Please Don’t Go” by Barcelona. The two fit together rather nicely, I think. I don’t know how to edit video, so I can’t merge the two different audio & video files myself.

    You can queue “Please Don’t Go” from here:

  8. That was very cool. Also, interesting to see that its trajectory was an arc, rather than being straighter. Amazing that the space shuttle’s first “operational flight” was in 1982!

    Although there’s always a little part of me that wonders how much pollution we cause when we launch one of those suckers (not to mention, fly airplanes). My assumption is that we can’t do that without putting crap into the atmosphere.

    1. I beleive thats done for a purpose in order to take advantage of the earths rotation which gives it more “kick”.

    1. Anon #18: Shuttles, satellites, etc. must be launched with an “arch,” as you call it, because they are heading for orbit AROUND the planet. They can’t just go straight up and hang a right-angle turn.

    2. most of the effort of getting into low-earth orbit is not in rising up to orbital altitude, but getting enough horizontal speed to remain in orbit. ascending to an altitude of 180 mi takes about 2.8 MJ of energy per kg of mass. getting to orbital velocity (~8 km/s) takes about 32 MJ of energy per kg — more than 10 times as much.

      so the shuttle arches because it needs to go horizontal much more than vertical. after clearing the launchpad, the slight incline of its trajectory ensures it will slowly get high enough for orbit.

      the reason shuttles launch from florida is that the earth rotates faster (in absolute terms) closer to the equator. so florida’s sub-tropical latitude gives a major boost to the speed component the shuttle needs.

  9. Another cool vid was the launch of a submarine launched trident missile viewed from an orbiting Gemini capsule.

  10. As I watched that launch from Orlando, I saw that plane flying north and got really jealous of those people with that awesome view. I then wondered if someone would film it and put it on youtube. yay technology!

  11. True story: I saw almost the exact same view in January of 1986 when the Challenger Launched. I was a month away from my sixth birthday and on the way to Walt Disney World. I remember a little bit of the launch, but I remember the pilot announcing that something had happened. I could see pieces of something (what I know now was Mylar insulation) floating to the ground and reflecting light for quite some time afterwards.

    I end up calling my parents two or three times a year to confirm the story since everyone thinks I’m making it up. I also remember sitting in the hotel room watching it blow up over and over and over again.

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