That's the engine of an SR-71 Blackbird being tested, but you can be forgiven if you panicked just now and slapped at the button that calls James Bond into your office. (Also, hey, thanks for reading, Q! Big fan.) The shapes in that Death Ray up there aren't tricks of the camera, either -- they're called Thrust Diamonds, and to NASA, that shit ain't even a thing.
Brother can't take a dump up in NASA without firing off some Thrust Diamonds.
If you're the kind of person that skips right to the moneyshot when watching porn, you've probably only seen the actual take-off portion of a shuttle launch. And hey, if a missile being fired into the throat of the unknown armed with a warhead of "dudes who just don't give a fuck" doesn't impress you, surely nothing else about the launch process will.
How about the world's largest tank?
The machine that brings the shuttle to the launchpad is called a crawler-transporter, and it's the largest self-powered land vehicle in the world. They're twin mobile platforms weighing 3,000-tons a piece, 131-feet-long by 114-feet-wide, driven by a crew of 30, and powered by four 1,400 (not a typo) horsepower engines, one on each corner. That big, fuck-all structure holding the shuttle up there? Here it is cruising down the highway.
For scale, here it is next to a human being:
It's like taking an oil rig out for a spin.
It costs the USA $1 billion more than NASA's entire budget to provide air conditioning for the Armed Forces in the Middle East. Clearly, our national priorities are skewed towards conflict. That's kind of messed up, but OK, fine: Objectively, we know the crawler-transporter isn't armed or armored, but next time we start a war, let's do it by driving Hans and Franz up there (their actual names, by the way) right into the other guys' capital. I promise you, that war would be won in an afternoon.
I mean, would you shoot at it?
Here's the Space Shuttle doing its best impression of a Dio album cover.
This isn't some lucky fluke shot, either. Lightning loves itself some Shuttle. Here's another:
Jesus Christ. That's clearly the tower of some evil techno-wizard.
Holy shit. That's the picture you'd see on the real estate brochure for God's house. Here's another angle:
Somewhere, there's a big-haired anime character with a disproportionately large sword who's trying to shut down the shield reactors so he can get in there.
All I've really done here is (hopefully) prove that the Space Shuttle was badass, but I'm an adult now, and I understand that we can't keep funding something just because it's bitchin'. That's not how budgets work; there's no spreadsheet column for "badical." We didn't fund these programs to start with because they were cool; it was because we had to get to space before the Russians, and because we had to establish a sense of national identity in a conflicted period in our nation's history. In a nutshell, we went into space because nothing brings people together like shoving something in somebody else's face.
So in the interest of that: I heard Europe talking the other day, America, and I mean -- I don't want to start anything here, so you didn't hear it from me -- but they were saying you don't go into space anymore because you're scared. Then they said that Italy was a much bigger landwang than Florida, and Africa made some crack about how the Gulf of Mexico must be cold this time of the year, and then all the other continents laughed.
Are you really gonna take that?
You can buy Robert's book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Or you can just join him for a moment of reflection on the loss of the Space Shuttle, by stretching out your arms, running in circles and making explosive engine noises with your mouth.
Check out more from Brockway in 5 Disturbing Ways the Human Body Will Evolve in the Future and The Hoverboard Lie: How Back to the Future Ruined Childhood.