“Video,” as we now say on the internet, “or it didn’t happen,” articulating a principle to which the ever-forward-thinking National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has adhered for about 70 years now, starting with film in the time before the invention of video itself. Even setting aside the wonders of voyaging into outer space, NASA has done a few things right here on Earth that you wouldn’t believe unless you saw them with your own eyes. And now you easily can, thanks to the agency’s commitment to making the fruits of its research available to all on its YouTube Channel. Take for example this recently-uploaded collection of 400 historic flight videos.
Here we have just a sampling of the hundreds of videos available to all: the M2-F1, a prototype wingless aircraft, towed across a lakebed by a modified 1963 Pontiac Catalina convertible; a mid-1960s test of the Lunar Lander Research Vehicle, also known as the “flying bedstead,” that will surely remind long-memoried gamers of their many quarters lost to Atari’s Lunar Lander; a spin taken in the Mojave Desert, forty years later, by the Mars Exploration Rover; and, most explosively of all, a “controlled impact demonstration” of a Boeing 720 airliner full of crash-test dummies meant to test out a new type of “anti-misting kerosene” as well as a variety of other innovations designed to increase crash survivability.
These historic test videos were all shot back when the Armstrong Flight Research Center (re-named in 2014 for Neil Armstrong, whose legacy stands as a testament to the cumulative effectiveness of all these NASA tests) was known as the Hugh L. Dryden Flight Research Center: you can watch the 418 clips just from that era on this playlist.
Rest assured that the experimentation continues and that NASA still pushes the boundaries of aviation right here on Earth, a project continuously documented in the channel’s newest videos. As astonishing as we may find mankind’s forays up into the sky and beyond so far, the aviation engineer’s imagination, it seems, has only just gotten started.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.