Watching a Rocket Launch

Atlas V launch viewed from the Apollo Saturn V Center viewing area
Atlas V launch viewed from the Apollo Saturn V Center viewing area

Watching a space shuttle launch in Florida was a truly memorable occasion. Words cannot describe the anticipation and then the sights and sounds of a space shuttle blasting off from the NASA Kennedy Space Center. At the point of engine ignition and lift off there is no sound (sound travels a lot slower than light) and then the ground literally shakes.

Whereas arrangements could made to watch a space shuttle launch in Florida, there were no equivalent arrangements to watch it land. Originally space shuttles used to land at Edwards Air Force Base but they then routinely landed back at the NASA Kennedy Space Center. With the ending of the shuttle programme, the opportunity to see a shuttle launch has now gone but you can still watch the many NASA and commercial rocket launches from the Cape.

If you had happened to be around when a space shuttle was coming back to earth, then you may well have heard a double sonic boom as it returned earthwards.

Having watched the launch of the Columbia/STS–83 mission in 1997, it was then cut short because of fuel problems and we heard the double sonic boom whilst waiting to watch the afternoon parade in Magic Kingdom a few days later when it was forced to make an early return.

Watching a launch from inside the Kennedy Space Center

NASA used to offer free passes to watch a space shuttle launch in Florida from the NASA causeway but like Spaceport USA itself, NASA now charges for tickets though if you have contacts within NASA you may still be able to get a pass.

You also used to be able to watch the launch from the Astronauts Hall of Fame by buying an Astronaut Hall of Fame Launch Viewing ticket (though the view is not that good). For an extra fee you could watch from the roof but this option is no longer available as the Hall of Fame has now closed.

Today you can watch from the Space Shuttle Plaza at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex though the initial launch is obscured by trees or from the Apollo Saturn V Center by buying a normal Launch Viewing ticket.

For a few extra dollars, you can purchase a Premium Launch Viewing and Admission Package which lets you watch a launch from either the LC–39 Observation Gantry area or the NASA causeway.

Watching a launch from outside the Kennedy Space Center

Even if you cannot obtain a pass or buy a ticket, you can still watch a space shuttle launch or rocket launch from a number of locations nearby, outside of the NASA complex, in particular along US Highway 1 between Route 406 and US 50 around Titusville or on the coast:

  • Space View Park on Broad Street and Indian River Avenue by the Indian River in Titusville offers an uninterrupted view of the shuttle launch pads and is about 11 miles away. You can also hear a live audio feed direct from the NASA control room and view the Astronaut Walk of Fame whilst you are waiting.
  • Sand Point Park on A Max Brewer Memorial Parkway is also on the Indian River in Titusville and offers similar views though not quite as good.
  • a number of home owners with river frontage will also open their gardens for a $10 to $30 camping/parking fee.
  • in Cocoa Beach along State Road A1A. You will not see the shuttle at the point of lift off but it will be visible shortly afterwards and because of your location it will take on a more curved trajectory as it launches out of the Atlantic. You also have the benefit and amenities of the beach.
  • on the Beeline Expressway (State Road 528) where it crosses the Indian River and Banana River.
  • and at the 1200 foot launch viewing pier at Jetty Park just south of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This location is the best location for watching a rocket launch (Atlas or Delta) from the more southerly launch pads 17A and 17B which are only 2.9 miles away.

See also:- Kennedy Space Center main page | KSC tickets | Current Launch schedule

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