Final shuttle launch tips
May 12, 2009 4:01 PM   Subscribe

What do I need to know about going to see the final Space Shuttle Launch in 2010?

I would like to witness STS-134, the final launch of the Space Shuttle scheduled for September 16, 2010. There is this previous Ask MeFi that has some good information, but I have a few additional questions that weren't really answered in that thread:

1) Because this is the final shuttle mission, I imagine that the crowds will be larger than normal. I also imagine that nearby hotels will be gouging as much as they can. Any nearby hotel suggestions? Any guestimates on how early we should arrive to secure a decent seat?

2) Since I will be traveling from California, I'm concerned about delays due to weather or other problems. What is the delay procedure for shuttle launches? Do they just take it day by day? I'd hate to fly all the way out there only to find the launch delayed by a week or two. I know we are at the mercy of the weather, so how is Florida in September when it comes to weather? Favorable to on-time launches?

3) Any other NASA-related (or non-NASA-related) things we should check out while in the area?

4) Any other tips to make this trip happen and be enjoyable would be greatly appreciated. Thanks! :)
posted by afx114 to Science & Nature (12 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: 3 try's to launch then 2 days stand down/recycle then 3 more try's better plan at least that time frame. A difficult thing to plan your life around. get a room in east Orlando & see the sights. Definitely do the KSC tour & the AHOF. Lots of other stuff too. Titisville is a cool little town just north of the space center. Google the ksc visitor center web site. & why wait? One launch is as good as another & something not to be missed in this life. Go feel it.

posted by patnok at 5:53 PM on May 12, 2009

You said you want a enjoyable time. then don't wait till the last flight. the place will be packed. trust me:-) Go soon as you can. I think next launch is june 13th. off season.
posted by patnok at 5:56 PM on May 12, 2009

I assume that you are already on the mailing list of the Kennedy Space Center? They will send you emails that notify you about ticket sales, etc. Looking at my inbox, tickets appear to go on sale about 6 weeks before the launches.

2) Yes--plans may change just a day before the launch, not so much due to weather, but due to last-minute repairs. My parents had V.I.P. invitations to the launch of STS-119 (Dad teaches the kids of several astronauts down the street from NASA), but ended up not attending because the launch got postponed so many times and they had other obligations. They had booked tickets through Southwest Airlines, and were able to change their tickets with a very short notice and no fees whatsoever (I am not aware of other airlines that do not charge change/cancellation fees). They booked their hotel through, which I believe also issues a full refund in case your plans change, which will likely happen, as long as you give a 24-hour notice.

3) Order a free Florida travel guide online. Again, sign up for the Kennedy Space Center mailing list.
posted by halogen at 8:04 PM on May 12, 2009

I lived in Orlando for awhile and we tried twice to drive out there and watch a launch. The first time they scrubbed it at T-17 seconds and the second time they scrubbed it at T-3 seconds (after the main engines had already started). We gave up after that. Unless I was feeling lucky, I wouldn't fly out from CA to try to watch it.
posted by Durin's Bane at 8:16 PM on May 12, 2009

Best answer: The bible for launch viewing is Ben Cooper's Space Shuttle Launch Viewing page. Read it, then read it again.

Hotel? Stay in one of the family owned beachfront motels in Cocoa Beach. I stayed at the Surf Studio in March and it was really nice. You can not underestimate the value of being able to roll out of bed and be on the beach in 30 seconds. Orlando? Ew.

Delays? This is the delay business -- a week delay is if you're lucky, we've seen 6 week delays in recent years (witnessed it myself with STS-122). Sometimes they march straight through a countdown and launch on the planned day, like they did yesterday with STS-125, and sometimes they discover a Serious Problem and everyone's travel plans go to hell. There's no easy answer, except to live close enough that driving there is a possibility, so at least you're not squandering airfare.

Things to do? do the paid bus tours (2 or 3 of them) offered by KSC. If there's a delay and you're sick of KSC, take a day trip up to the Smyrna Dunes park in Daytona and note the radome for the PDL tracking station. Great family day out.

And, yeah, don't wait until the last flight. You will live the rest of your life in regret when for whatever reason you don't get to see it after all. Go now. Personally I shoot for winter launches because the weather is less volatile.
posted by intermod at 8:19 PM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'd love to see a launch, but living in Tokyo, it sound like it would be tricky to fly across the world and hope the weather is good? Maybe I should check for local rocket launches... Reading that excellent Ben Cooper URL, it seem near impossible to organise from afar!
posted by lundman at 1:02 AM on May 13, 2009

Speaking as someone who grew up in Titusville and saw every launch from birth* through 1999, you have to go see a shuttle launch at some point. Next one, final one, whichever. But go. It's the most amazing thing you'll ever see in your life. There is nothing else like it. Just plan to be surrounded by confused tourists and pay inflated prices because the space program is the only tourism that Titusville has (and now that it's a dying little town, it's in the middle of the greed death rattle).

* Obviously I don't remember the early ones, but I'm told I was there to see them.
posted by Servo5678 at 7:03 AM on May 13, 2009

Re Tokyo: JAXA is launching HTVs to ISS; current schedule has one on Sep 1st and then another in July 2010.
posted by intermod at 8:12 AM on May 13, 2009

I just watched When We Left Earth: The Nasa Missions again and they mentioned that 500,000 people traveled to the Cape for the launch of Apollo 17 (final moon landing mission) so I'd book early and have a flexible schedule.
posted by futureisunwritten at 4:26 PM on May 13, 2009

Mid-September is awfully close to prime hurricane season. Invest in travel insurance.
posted by gatorae at 6:16 PM on May 13, 2009

intermod: have you been to one in Japan? I've yet to find a "guide" page in English, but it would be tempting to hop on the train to go down there.
posted by lundman at 6:58 PM on May 17, 2009

I don't have any info, but just now I posted the question on NSF and you should get an answer there pretty quickly.
posted by intermod at 9:14 PM on May 18, 2009

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