When the Russian space agency Roscosmos launched a Soyuz rocket Wednesday (June 6) to ferry a new crew to the International Space Station, it added a special treat: external cameras that beamed live views of Earth from space.
"We're actually getting a new view here," NASA spokesperson Brandi Dean said during live commentary of the launch. The rocket soared into space from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, but Dean was inside NASA's Mission Control Center at Johnson Space Center in Houston during the webcast. [Russia's Space Traditions! 14 Things Every Cosmonaut Does for Launch]
The Soyuz launched NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor, Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev and European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst into space toward the International Space Station, where they will join the Expedition 56 crew.
To be clear, live video from a launching rocket isn't new in and of itself. These views are common in launches by SpaceX, United Launch Alliance and others, and NASA offered many views during space shuttle launches. But Wednesday's launch was the first time we've ever seen live video from a Soyuz rocket.
Dean said the live video feed came from new external cameras on the Soyuz. Previously, cameras would show the spacecraft's interior, including views of the three crewmembers as they were flying to orbit.
In one jaw-dropping sequence from the new footage, the Soyuz rocket's upper stage can be seen dropping away from the Soyuz capsule, followed by a solar array unfolding.
"That was awesome!" NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren exclaimed during the live commentary with Dean.
A moment earlier, Lindgren simply basked in the views of Russia's workhorse Soyuz rocket doing its job to carry people to orbit.
"This is a unique view," he said. "It's neat to actually have this perspective — to see how the engines are performing, and to see the second stage fall away, to see the Earth below."
"Yeah, we usually see the Earth from a little bit higher, from the International Space Station," Dean replied.
Still, Lindgren did reminisce a bit about the older Soyuz launch videos that showed the crew waving to cameras during their short trip to space.
"I like this external view, but I also kind of miss seeing the internal view to see the crew on the inside," he said.
Editor's note: Freelance space reporter Elizabeth Howell has been covering the launch and docking of Expedition 56 for Space.com from Baikonur Cosmodrome and Moscow. Follow her epic Russian rocket launch road trip here.