Spaceflight Now: STS-92 Mission Report

Camera shows what it's like to launch aboard shuttle

Posted: October 11, 2000

Commander Duffy climbs into his seat.

Main engines and boosters ignite for liftoff.

Solid rocket boosters separate.

Flashes of light during launch.

The Discovery astronauts late this evening downlinked dramatic video from inside the cockpit of the space shuttle, showing the jerking and shaking of launch and a surprising light show produced by the ship's main engine exhaust plume as the spacecraft left the atmosphere.

The camera was positioned at the back of Discovery's upper flight deck, looking forward over the shoulders of flight engineer William McArthur and, to his right, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata. in front of them were commander Brian Duffy in the forward left seat and rookie pilot Pamela Melroy in the front right seat.

Discovery's three main engines began firing up 6.6 seconds before liftoff, shaking the crew about as they throttled up. At 7:17 p.m., the shuttle's two solid-fuel boosters ignited, pushing Discovery skyward and jerking the astronauts about with obvious force.

"In the scene there, you can see the boosters light and right before that, you can see engine start with sort of a high-frequency, low-amplitude vibration," Duffy narrated. "We were all impressed with the ride uphill."

Two minutes and five seconds after liftoff, Discovery's two solid-fuel boosters were jettisoned, pushed away by small rocket motors that produced a brilliant flash in the shuttle's cockpit windows.

"And pretty clearly there you can see the boosters come off," Duffy commented.

Three minutes and 42 seconds after liftoff, Duffy could be seen reaching across a central instrument console with his right hand to shake Melroy's left.

"Of course, Mario, you can see there Pam at that moment was the greatest pilot anybody had ever seen as she became our newest astronaut," McArthur radioed astronaut Mario Runco in mission control.

"Roger that, Bill, concur completely," Runco replied.

As Discovery climbed out of Earth's atmosphere, the plume from the shuttle's three main engines began expanding, no longer constrained by atmospheric pressure, resulting in a dramatic litght show in the cockpit. The light flickered and flared sporadically as if a spotlight with a bad connection was sparking on and off.

The view was unusual and caught veteran space observers - and some NASA officials - by surprise. But mission control commentator Eileen Hawley said it was all quite normal.

"As the crew climbed to orbit, the plume or the cloud that results from the launch, from the engines, begins to move forward and around the orbiter itself, resulting in the kind of flashes of bright light we're seeing in that video," she said.

The astronauts signed off for the night shortly before 12:30 a.m. Crew wakeup is scheduled for 8:17 a.m.

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