NASA’s 30-year Space Shuttle Program came to an end today as, for the very last time, the shuttle Atlantis touched down at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
As a fitting tribute, closing the door on America’s most influential era of space exploration, Nature Video has documented the shuttle program’s extraordinary feats with a fascinating film compilation.
NASA’s Space Transportation System (STS) was designed to be re-usable. As well as Atlantis, four other shuttles made up the fleet and in total they flew more than 3 years and 230 days, orbited the earth more than 21,000 times, and transported tools to explore the universe.
The Space Shuttle fleet delivered the Hubble Space Telescope, the International Space Station, and dozens of satellites, space probes and supplies. 355 men and women flew on these space shuttles and two Shuttles were lost: Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003. This video assembles every single mission in chronological order, documenting the launches, life on board, as well as the spectacular touch downs.
A few words from Charlotte Stoddart of the Nature Video team who helped to put together the compilation:
• Why did you make the video?
Many of us grew up watching the shuttle launches. They inspired a whole generation of scientists. We wanted to mark the end of the STS program, but also to celebrate it – and to remember the men and women who lost their lives. It was very important to us to include not only stunning shots of the shuttles, but also images of the astronauts to show the human side of the missions. So we’ve got a clip of astronauts shaving, washing their hair, eating, exercising…
• How did you make this video?
We got in touch with NASA about a year ago and they agreed to give us full access to their archive. The first shuttle launched in 1981 (the year I was born!) and many of the early missions are only available on VHS tape. We had to digitise all the VHS tapes and convert them into a format that would work in Final Cut Pro, our editing software. Then we trawled through hours and hours of footage, picking our favourite clips and adding them to the timeline. It was a challenge to fit in every single mission, in order, but we were determined not to miss one. The final mission, STS-135, touched down this morning. We recorded the landing live, slotted the footage into the end of the timeline and then released the film.
• Finally who was involved in making this video?
It was Adam Rutherford’s brilliant idea to make a film about the Space Shuttle Program including every single mission. I then spent hours on our video editing Mac trying to turn his vision into a film. Somebody on Twitter suggested 65daysofstatic for the soundtrack and Paul from the band very kindly remixed the music for us. The two tracks are ‘PX3’ and ‘Retreat Retreat!’ Paul’s friend Dave Holloway, a professional music video editor, spent a couple of days polishing the film. Thanks also to our New York-based colleague Eric Olson who digitised dozens of VHS tapes and even flew to Houston to get them all done in time. And thank you of course to NASA for letting us into their archive and for 30 years of the Space Shuttle Programme.
If you are keen to find out more, in a Nature special earmarking the end of NASA’s 30-year shuttle programme, we take a look back at the shuttle’s sometimes rocky past, and look ahead to the uncertain future for human space flight.