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The coolest four seconds I will never see.

26 March 201402:26PMrants

So Chris Hadfield did a TED talk last week. If you haven't watched it, check it out.

The highlight of this talk, for me, is a point about three minutes in where he's talking about the Space Shuttle. About how, as the clock counts down to lift off, the parts of the ship progressively wake up. About how you can feel the ship move into position, until the whole thing is ready to leave the planet.

And then he shows my favourite part.

If you've played Kerbal Space Program, you will know that there's a peculiar quirk of solid boosters of the type used by the Shuttle. Essentially, they're massive fireworks, and once you light them, in the words of the KSP interface, they Cannot Be ShutDown! So if you're launching a machine that uses both these big dumb oversized fireworks and a set of complex and slightly finnicky liquid fueled rocket engines, just in case, you light up the ones you know you can shut down first. Specifically, about four seconds first.

Those four seconds are my favourite part of the shuttle program.

I know that the Shuttle was expensive. I know that, despite an okay actual safety record, the risks involved in the program were massive. I know that it never really achieved its target 50 launches per year and the resulting cheap access to space.

But that four seconds - the flash of ignition, the way the engine bells settle into place, and then the entire magnificent machine just sitting there, on the pad, waiting. It sounds silly, but it is as if the Shuttle is alive, and this is the moment where, if it was, it would be saying, "Alright. I'm ready. Let's go to space."

Usually this is followed immediately by the part where I grin like an idiot, and grab anyone who's nearby*, and say, "Look! Look how cool this stuff is!"

I guess, if you want to take the dorky anthropomorphisation, there's a certain satisfaction in seeing something doing the thing it was designed for. And despite the setbacks of the rest of the program, that's what the shuttle was for. It wasn't a converted ballistic missile. It wasn't a satellite launcher that happened to have humans on board. It was a machine which had been designed, as its sole purpose, to take a handful of humans (and occasionally some of their neat stuff) to space. And above - or perhaps despite - everything else, that's what made it a seriously cool spaceship.

*Usually nobody, because I usually save my watching HD videos of spaceship launches for like two in the morning.

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