February 27, 2011 3 Comments
Answer: pretty fast, as you can see in the following totally awesome youtube video.
This footage, shot from the window of a commercial airliner that happened to be leaving Florida just as the shuttle took off, is some of the most striking video I’ve ever seen of a space shuttle launch (factor in the fact that this will be Discovery’s last trip into orbit, and it makes it all the more special). In it you can clearly see the space shuttle appear as a bright light in the distance, and then climb upwards until, about 30-45 seconds into the clip, it’s already about as high up as the airplane.
Actually, according to my old pal Aerospaceweb.org, it takes the real shuttle about a full minute to reach the cruising altitude of a 747 (about 35,000 feet) so the video footage must have started 15-30 seconds after the actual launch. Still, it’s hard to deny the sheer velocity with which the six people packed into that tiny point of light have caught up to the airplane, particularly if you compare the time it took the shuttle to get up there with the amount of time you spend on an airplane waiting for the flight crew to tell you it’s safe to use your electronic devices again. And get this: the space shuttle is still accelerating at that point. By the end of the clip, which is two minutes in, it will be about five times further from earth than the airplane.
Oh, and as a side note, how cool is it that this guy has a phone in his pocket that lets him take high-quality video at a moment’s notice, just in case he’s minding his own business and accidentally stumbles upon a space shuttle launch? Thanks iPhone. You’ve made my day.