If you’re anything like me, you’ve fantasized about being an astronaut. Maybe this stopped when you saw Gravity, or maybe the thought of running into George Clooney in space only deepened your desire. But if you’re anything like me, you have to content yourself with reading and watching Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson (not that those are small consolations), scouring NASA news, geeking out to incredible Hubble photos, and waiting with a mixture of hope and fear for the Mars One project to produce a spectacular success, a catastrophe, or perhaps nothing at all.
Well, today you can get one step closer to living the dream. The ESA has released a video documenting the return of astronauts from the ISS on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. You don’t just get to watch from the outside—you get to watch from the interior. The video comes from a lesson to the ESA’s 2009 astronaut class, and splices together interviews and reentry footage. At just over 20 minutes long it’s not a quick take, but if you have any interest in space whatsoever, you’ll not only watch the whole thing, you’ll likely watch it more than once.
Here are a few highlights, if you still need convincing.
You get to hear space narration given in a British accent. You also get to hear astronauts describe, in Russian accents, various stages, such as the decoupling of the orbital module and instrument component from the descent module (“it felt like there was somebody outside of the space craft with a sledge hammer…it felt really interesting, actually”). Accents make everything better—even space.
The video reveals how the descent module survives reentry without burning up, what passing through plasma is like for the astronauts, and how the capsule maintains its trajectory and control when landing. The astronauts also describe what gravity feels like after having spent so much time without it, and what the winds sound like as the capsule completes its descent to Earth (“it’s much worse than a roller coaster”). Throughout the video you see the astronauts still in their spacesuits (take note, Sandra Bullock!), but all clutching copies of the operations manual. And should the automatic navigation system fail, the astronauts can manually land the capsule. According to the, “The soft landing is not really soft,” apparently it’s more like a “head-on collision.” I’ve read the fact examinaitons of Gravity and…yeah. Seeing this capsule land—it looks like a bomb exploded, with dirt mushrooming up all around it—makes the ending of that movie even less plausible, but who cares, it’s space. If we can’t get there, we can at least dream about it. Still, I have to wonder whether this video will give would-be space tourists any pause, or whether it will fuel excitement for potential cosmic travels.