SpaceX: Historic Demo-1 Mission Captured in Extraordinary Slow-Mo Footage

On March 3, roughly 259 miles above the Earth’s surface, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon became the first spacecraft made for human spaceflight built by an American private company to dock on the International Space Station. The historic Demo-1 mission began on Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where professional space photographers and couple Ryan Chylinski and Mary Liz Bender documented every step of the journey.

Chylinski and Bender are the two halves of Cosmic Perspective, a collective that tirelessly documents spaceflight missions to give Earthlings a taste of what it’s like to travel to the Great Unknown. Mesmerizing, slow-motion footage of rocket liftoffs has become their calling card. They tell Inverse that their latest video, published to YouTube on Friday, merged their knack for capturing high-speed into a larger documentary of the days leading up to the Demo-1 mission.

Falcon 9's first stage lifting it off the ground in slow motion,

Cosmic Perspective

“Some of the views we can see are just so inspiring,” says Chylinski. “We can actually see physics processes taking place, like shockwaves causing the steam plumes to disappear during liftoff in the same 30 or 60 frames because of the change in dew points. It’s a unique view and we wanted to weave that all into the sense of wonder of the overall mission.”

The video begins by giving viewers a glimpse of Falcon 9’s nine Merlin engines firing in slow motion, captured by Chylinski and Bender’s Chronos 1.4 high-speed camera. It then cuts to footage of the couple setting up their remote cameras 12 to 24 hours ahead of the launch. They explained that all of their equipment is hooked up to automatic trigger system so they don’t miss a second of the launch.

Scenes on the ground are complemented by audio and video of the three astronauts currently aboard the ISS confirming that Crew Dragon had docked safely. Bender said they made this editing choice to let viewers grasp that the spectacle they’re seeing on Earth is just one part of a larger effort taking place above human’s heads.

Ryan Chylinski and Mary Liz Bender at Cape Canaveral.

Cosmic Perspective
Cosmic Perspective

Crew Dragon perched atop Falcon 9 ready for launch.

Cosmic Perspective

“We’re trying to take people on the entire journey of an astronaut,” she said. “That starts with arresting people with awe and wonder using gorgeous slow-mo shots and making them feel the rumble of the rocket. It makes you feel like you’re on the forefront of human space exploration.”

Chylinski and Bender want each of their videos to give viewers a taste of the rare sensation that astronauts — like Chris Hadfield, Jerry Linenger and Nicole Stott — felt when they left their home planet. The experience is known as the “Overview Effect,” a term coined in 1987 by celebrated space writer Frank White to describe the mental shift space travelers experience when they consider the Earth as part of something larger.

The Crew Dragon lifting up off of Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.

Cosmic Perspective

Full-fledged TV series, countless books, and one-off YouTube videos have tried to capture the feeling. Truly grasping the depths of its magnitude is likely only possible by traveling to space yourself. But as companies try to get a space tourism industry off the ground, Chylinski and Bender will continue to use their love for photography and videography to give starry-eyed space enthusiasts a cosmic perspective from down on Earth.

“I’m fascinated with ways that photography can be used to see things that the human eye and brain can’t see by itself,” said Chylinski. “Through photographic techniques, time lapse, high-speed photography, and slow motion we can begin to see in new ways.”