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NASA Just Released Hundreds of Historic Space and Aviation Videos

Watch the first space shuttle take off and an experimental aircraft set a speed record.

STS-1, the Space Shuttle <em>Columbia</em>, launching on April 12, 1981, from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
STS-1, the Space Shuttle Columbia, launching on April 12, 1981, from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA/Public Domain

Experimental aircraft aren’t an unusual sight over the Mojave Desert in Southern California. NASA, and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics before it, have been pushing the aeronautical envelope at the Edwards Air Force Base since 1946. Now, thanks to a bunch of archival footage just posted to YouTube, you can see some important moments in space and aviation history for yourself.

NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center will post about 500 video clips in all, The Verge reports, but so far there are only about 300 available. The videos were previously only available through the Dryden Aircraft Movie Collection (Armstrong was called Dryden before 2014), but now you can take in high-speed experimental aircraft from the 1950s, watch vortices created by an L-1011 airliner after it flies through smoke plumes, or see a SR-71 Blackbird refuel in flight.

Some important technologies have been developed and tested at the Armstrong Flight Research Center. Winglets, the upturned wingtips seen on commercial aircraft today, were first tested on a KC-135 Stratotanker at Armstrong in 1979. NASA also developed planes that broke the sound barrier, including the X-15, X-24, and X-43. Check out a few choice and historic selections from the archive below.

The X-43A set the record for fastest aircraft back in 2004 when it reached Mach 9.6, close to 7,000 miles per hour. The plane ran on rocket fuel, was unmanned, and launched from a B-52.

If you’re terrified of flying, this might be a good video to skip. In 1984, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration teamed up to see if they could find a fuel formula that wouldn’t catch a whole jetliner on fire in case of a crash. They crashed a Boeing 720 full of fuel and test dummies to see what would happen. The fireball took over an hour to put out (fair to call the experimental fuel a failure), but they also got data that helped them develop planes that are a lot safer for passengers.

The first orbital space shuttle flight launched on April 12, 1981, and landed at Edwards Air Force Base two days later. Known as Columbia, the STS-1 launch was purely an experimental run of the new craft, and carried just two crew members.