Last night (it was evening in Moscow anyway) I watched the Space Shuttle launch online on NASA’s website.

Not being old enough to remember the first shuttle launch, and somehow managing to miss the subsequent ones I was excited and on the edge of my seat as the Atlantis shuttle fired up her engines and prepared for the launch.

And I couldn’t believe it when the word “failure” was said with just 31 seconds to go! Thankfully this was nothing serious and after a couple of minutes the countdown began again – the sense of relief from those watching near the launch site was palpable.

The blast of fire and smoke from the shuttle was like every movie I’ve ever seen as the shuttle slowly rose into the air and accelerated in a blaze of fire. Then the stats came in…. The below is taken from http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/reference/basics/ascent.html and is just incredible!

  • at liftoff, the shuttle weighs more than 2.04 million kilograms (4.5 million pounds) and it takes eight seconds for the engines and boosters to accelerate the ship to 161 kilometers per hour (100 mph.)
  •  But by the time the first minute has passed, the shuttle is traveling more than 1,609 kilometers per hour (1,000 mph) and it has already consumed more than one and a half million pounds of fuel 
  • After about two minutes, when the shuttle is about 45 kilometers (28 miles) high and traveling more than 4,828 kilometers per hour (3,000 mph), the propellant in the two boosters is exhausted and the booster casings are jettisoned. They parachute into the Atlantic Ocean, splashing down about 225 kilometers (140 miles) off the Florida coast. 
  • Eight and a half minutes after launch, with the shuttle traveling 8 kilometers (5 miles) a second, the engines shut down as they use the last of their fuel. A few seconds after the engines stop, the external fuel tank is jettisoned from the shuttle. The only part of the shuttle that is not reused, the tank re-enters the atmosphere and burns up over the Pacific Ocean. The shuttle orbiter, the only space shuttle component that will circle the Earth, weighs only about 117,934 kilograms (260,000 pounds). The shuttle has consumed more than 1.59 million kilograms (3.5 million pounds) of fuel during its first 8 ½ minutes of flight. 
  • After the main engines shut down, the shuttle is in an egg-shaped orbit that, if nothing changed, would cause it to re-enter the atmosphere above the Pacific Ocean But, about 35 minutes after the main engines have shut down, usually when the shuttle has reached the highest point of the egg-shaped orbit, the two orbital maneuvering system engines, located on the left and right side of the shuttle’s tail, are fired for about three minutes.
  • The orbital maneuvering system engines use two propellants that automatically burn whenever they contact one another, and the three-minute firing circularizes the shuttle’s orbit at a safe altitude, one that will keep it above the atmosphere.
  • the shuttle is in orbit at somewhere around 200 miles (321.9 km) altitude and travelling at 27724 km (17227 mph)!

Then the pictures from the outside of the external tank, showing the underside of the shuttle and the view of the earth behind it was shown… Amazing and gorgeous!

As the tank fell away the shuttle disappeared off the screen, and the commentator began talking about what the crew would be doing over the next 12 hours or so to get ready for docking with ISS. Loads of info here… http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/rss_feed_above_snip_collection_archive_1.html

It was incredibly exciting to see the shuttle launch and such a shame they’ve decommissioned it. But space exploration is moving into a new era of collaboration between all the countries which is exciting indeed!