On December 1, 2014, NASA retired a historic piece of equipment at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It wasn't a rocket, or even a deep space nine-iron—it was the original countdown clock, an analog display the size of a titan's wristwatch that stood across the river from the rocket launch site and stoically ticked off the seconds until blastoff.Countdown clocks allow technicians and astronauts to synchronize their moves throughout a rocket launch sequence, from T-minus 43 hours all the way until the final ignition. But their appeal goes way beyond practicality. The clock also serves as the visual version of a whistling teakettle, allowing spectators to ramp up their excitement as launch time draws nearer. When those last few seconds tick away before a launch, it’s dramatic, emotional—even cinematic. Which makes sense considering the rocket-launch countdown clock wasn't invented by meticulous engineers, but dreamed up by a filmmaker: science fiction pioneer Fritz Lang.