The Kennedy Space Center is always a favorite destination for travelers to Florida’s Space Coast. Because of the limited number of Space Shuttle launches, not all visitors can schedule their vacation to coincide with a launch. But if you can, it will be an event you and your family will remember forever. Then, when you return home, you can cross off one more item on the list of things to see before you die.
I’ve been privileged to have lived on the Space Coast for the last forty-seven years and grew up watching launches that spanned from the Mercury program to the present. Each launch is still as thrilling as the first one.
I’m spoiled somewhat, living only thirteen miles from the launch pads, but the view from my house is not unobstructed. From when the countdown reaches zero to when I can actually see the rocket, takes about ten seconds. It’s another twenty seconds or so before the thunderous noise of the engines rattle the house windows.
However, if you do visit during a launch, there are several places to watch the Space Shuttle as it blasts off from Pad 39A. Before I mention those places, a little explanation of the geography of the launch areas.
I’m sure you’ve heard of Cape Canaveral and its association with the space program but rocket launches actually originate in two distinctive geographic areas. The military launches are from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is north of the City of Cape Canaveral, and NASA launches are from the Kennedy Space Center, located in Merritt Island. Use Google Map coordinates 28.509N, 80.605 W to see both launch areas. The two locations are physically connected by a small strip of beach land, but the Space Shuttle launch is is best viewed from one of the following locations: The NASA Causeway or the City of Titusville.
Until 2002, private vehicles were allowed on the NASA Causeway, but for security reasons busses are now used to ferry visitors to the site. You’ll need to purchase tickets for the bus at least 4 to 6 weeks ahead of the launch. The price is $59 and if the launch is scrubbed, which it usually is, you will have to repurchase tickets for the new launch date.
It is a beautiful view of the launch from the causeway, but I prefer watching from Titusville. Your view is unobstructed, with only the Indian River between you and the launch pad and the entire flight can be seen from liftoff to separation of the solid rocket boosters.
You’ll want to arrive in Titusville at least 3 to 4 hours before launch to get a good spot along US 1. The best viewing areas are between SR 406 and SR 50 along the river.
Most private owners with parking space available will charge between $10 and $30 per car unless you’re lucky enough to find a spot in one of the riverside parks. Spaceview Park in North Titusville is very popular and is an excellent site for viewing the launch, and best of all, it’s free.
Assume the launch will be scrubbed once or twice, so have a backup plan for a theme park in Orlando or a day at a Space Coast beach.
Nighttime launches are rare but glorious. When I worked at the Space Center, I was privileged to view a launch from 3 miles away. I was dressed in a special body suit in case I had to rush out to the pad in an emergency, but I still had a spectacular view of the nighttime launch through my mask. It’s a cliche but as the night sky lit up a brilliant orange, it really felt like I touched the hand of God.
You won’t be able to view the launch from that close, which is a good thing from a safety aspect, but with enough preparation and tenacity you can find a good spot to comfortably see one of mankind’s engineering marvels.
Because of the dismantling of the Manned Space Program, there will be only one more launch, the Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-135, which is scheduled to blast off at 11:40 am on July 8.