Jaded Floridians Need Not Apply
May 31, 2008 4:42 PM   Subscribe

Ever been to a Space Shuttle launch?

I might be in the general area when STS-125 is scheduled to go up in October. I found this website about the where's and whatnots of watching a launch, but I was curious if anyone had any first hand anecdotes.
posted by Cyrano to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I saw it years ago. It was Columbia, probably in 1997 or so. If I recall, we were in the VIP area (someone I met through science fair hooked us up), but it was right near the general area, and we walked around there.

From what I remember, people arrive early. There's something akin to a festival atmosphere, with lots of excitement, T-shirt vendors, etc. Most people are just there to see a big rocket go up, but there are definitely shuttle groupies who have strong opinions on things about which you'd think it impossible to have strong opinions. As the countdown gets near, everyone crowds around a bit for a good position, the shuttle launches, people watch for a while, cheer, listen to the broadcasted audio, and then there's a huge traffic jam to leave.

It was a lot of fun and worthwhile, and I'm glad I went, but I'm not sure what to say.

Things I recall:

1. You're really reasonably far away, so it looks much smaller than on TV. Bring binoculars or a telephoto lens for the best view/photos.

2. It's interesting to see the delay between light and sound over the reasonably large distance. It's definitely noticable. (Something akin to a fighter jet passing overhead in delay).
posted by JMOZ at 5:01 PM on May 31, 2008

Reading your link: when I went, you could drive onto the causeway. I guess the VIP area was special parking or reserved spaces so you didn't have to arrive early. Anyhow, I guess this portion of my recollections is no longer meaningful since you can no longer drive to the NASA Causeway.
posted by JMOZ at 5:05 PM on May 31, 2008

I've seen it numerous times and it is not to be missed--truly spectacular.

We always watch from Titusville, and we go very early, much like we were heading to the beach: chairs, blankets, games, books, deck of cards, radio, picnic food.

There's tons of places from which to see the launch, but along the banks of the river is the best option. Just find a place and pull over. There's a real sense of comraderie and excitement among the crowd as the day goes on, and that in itself is pretty fun.

Go as early as you can. If the scheduled lift off is 5pm, getting there before lunchtime would be advisable. Once you are within about two hours of launchtime, your chances of finding parking become increasingly maddening.

Have fun!
posted by agentwills at 5:10 PM on May 31, 2008

I've made it a point to make it to a launch before they end the program altogether. So thanks for asking!
posted by Busithoth at 5:38 PM on May 31, 2008

Saw the third shuttle launch. It was boiling hot, with no shade. We were far away, so it wasn't as spectacular as it looks on tv, be sure and bring binoculars. My only clear memories of that day iare the utter disappointment about how anti climatic it was and the family who were dressed in their Sunday best and how the kids looked miserable.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:53 PM on May 31, 2008

I saw a nighttime launch from Orlando and it was spectacular. I am not sure they are doing nighttime launches anymore in order to properly document an debris that might hit the shuttle during launch. However, if you can see one of those it will be spectacular. It was awesome and lit up the sky in Orlando so I can't imagine what it must have looked like at the Cape.
posted by mmascolino at 6:15 PM on May 31, 2008

I've seen it go up several times. Like agentwills, we go to a park in Titusville, watch it from our backyard, or go to the beach. For the life of me I cannot remember the name of the park we go to in Titusville . For some reason I think it is Titusville Park. It's not much of a park, but it works. There is a very festive mood. People have their fancy cameras and telescopes and binoculars. People camp out all day and bring books, games, coolers, etc. The park is on the water (intracoastal waterway) has a couple covered pavillions with restroom facilities, boat dock, picnic tables and a big lawn. There is a small hotel nearby, I think it's a Holiday Inn or something. They serve a hot lunch with lemonade and iced tea that you can purchase just for the festivities. It's not as close as the Cape, or other parks that are closer to the shuttle. There are a few other popular spots to see the shuttle go up. I think one park has the word "rock" in it's name. Basically, people are everywhere. They are camped out down US1 and elsewhere to see the launch. It's a big deal. Such a big deal that I forgot to watch the shuttle go up today!

For some reason I think the bleacher viewing areas are closed off to the public for security reasons. I don't think they have let the public into the "bleachers" at the Cape for a while. Could be wrong.
posted by LoriFLA at 6:33 PM on May 31, 2008

I've seen one launch, and it was a night/early AM launch. It was a whole lot of delays, family threatening/begging to go home and then it finally took off.

It was all amazingly worth it even from my vantage point miles away. I was watching a site lit by the flood lights from miles away expecting to see nothing and for hours saw nothing. Countdown reached 0 and everything got awesome. We couldn't make out any details, but just being able to see the enormous rising glow go up and up and up and up was stunning. It was so freakin' bright and big and... Glorious. I was a kid fascinated by the space program and the launch kept me fascinated for years.
posted by Science! at 6:42 PM on May 31, 2008

From other people's descriptions I bet I was in Titusville as well. We watched the launch from a park, and were separated from the site by a body of water. There were tons of other people who had been there long before we got there, and it was a public area of some sort. Just to emphasize, I was miles away and was still stunned.
posted by Science! at 6:47 PM on May 31, 2008

I got to be a VIP at events preceeding a 1999 Columbia launch (STS-93) because my father played a significant role in designing the payload (the Chandra X-Ray telescope satellite). There were several days worth of parties, scientific lectures, tours, and strange events, e.g., a concert featuring a horrendous Judy Collins performance of an original song dedicated to Eileen Collins, the first female shuttle commander. One thing that was pretty amusing: the presence of Fabio thanks to a prank the astronauts played on one of their group, Cady Coleman. The astronauts get some number of VIP tickets to distribute to their friends and family and the group wrote Fabio a letter purportedly from Coleman offering him a ticket and claiming to be a huge fan of his work. Fabio showed up for the whole thing, stiding around wearing black jeans with his shirt open to reveal his waxed chest, but was eclipsed by the arrival of Hillary Clinton with the US Woman's soccer team, which had just won the World Cup. We got to watch the launch (there were several false starts) from a field within NASA's secure area. BTW, we never got to see the astronauts as they spend the last several days in isolation so they can focus and avoid picking up an infection. The whole thing was a great experience.
posted by carmicha at 8:32 PM on May 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

My parents saw a launch back in the 80s and still talk about how cool it was. Where I grew up (in GA) we could usually see the shuttles that launched from Canaveral waaaay up in the sky, and it was still a pretty awesome sight.
posted by phunniemee at 8:34 PM on May 31, 2008

Oh, and we were warned to watch out for alligators at the site where we assembled for the launch, which was a little disconcerting since it was about midnight.
posted by carmicha at 8:37 PM on May 31, 2008

One night I was hanging at my house in Jensen Beach, FL in about 1985 and there was a loud knock on my door. Scared the hell out of me. It was my buddy, Don Terry. He didn't even call. He said "Get up and let's go watch the shuttle launch. It's going off in 10 minutes." Luckily, he had beer. We rushed out to the Jensen Beach Causeway on the Indian River. There were a lot of people waiting set up with chairs and coolers. It was a party. It was also a rare night launch.

Somebody had a radio on and we knew when it was gonna go off. When it did, it lit up the sky like the sun. It was like daylight for 30 seconds or so, then it sped away and the light faded. I was a hundred miles away from it and it was awe inspiring. It has stayed with me.
posted by wsg at 11:59 PM on May 31, 2008

As a matter of fact, I was just at the launch yesterday. I watched it from the KSC Vistor's Complex. You don't see it until about 5 seconds or so after launch, but it was unbelievably cool. One thing the videos of launches don't show is how ridiculously bright it is. And then there was the huge rumbling. Just very, very cool.

The advantage of the Visitor's Complex is that you can visit KSC while you're there, plus the ticket is good for an extra day within a week after launch. If you can snag a Causeway ticket, it's even better, but those sold out within a day. Make sure to get there really early. The Center is officially closed on launch day, but they send you a parking pass with an "Arrive By" time on it. Arrive earlier than that. They actually have tours and events going on all day, so you won't be lacking for things to do, plus the traffic was much less insane 7 hours before launch than it probably would have been 3 hours before.

Like others have said, a telephoto lens for my camera would have been nice. My pictures aren't very impressive.

Also, traffic after launch is insane. I was stuck in traffic for a good two hours (and then my AC conked out -- thanks, car). You'll want to make sure you have enough gas to get home. KSC still had things going on for a couple hours after launch, which I probably should have taken advantage of.

Finally, one big disadvantage of the Visitor Complex pass is that, should the launch get scrubbed after you arrive at KSC, your pass is still only good for 7 days, so it's a bit of a gamble.
posted by dirigibleman at 3:20 AM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I used to work at KSC. If you don't know anyone at the center, you won't be able to get on base to watch a launch. Even the absolute best seats are 3 miles away from the pad, so no matter where you are it looks small. I'd recommend a public park at the north end of Cape Canaveral- I watched a few expendable launches from there. Keep going towards the ocean every chance you get as you head north on A1A and you'll find it. The view from the beach is pretty decent (keeping in mind what everyone said above- it's gonna be small).

Also, we still do have night launches occasionally. It's pretty much the most spectacular thing in the world. I cried.
posted by zap rowsdower at 8:02 AM on June 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Can I just add one thing? Great idea!

Mrs. Director and I have been casting about for a new vacation idea since a planned drive to the Artic Ocean was scrubbed at the eleventh hour. Always wanted to see a launch and she's even excited about it (excited == no rolling eyes).
posted by trinity8-director at 1:07 PM on June 1, 2008

Back when I lived in Orlando we would go to as many launches as we could. The place we would always hit up was out by port Canaveral, right at the entrance to the airforce base ( here ). It was always great as you can see everything out over the river, and there usually isn't as many people as Titusville ( though it still gets packed so go early to stake out a good spot).

I honestly think everyone needs to see a night launch, its is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. I think that every night launch I have ever been to, has been delayed by at least one night. So it takes some dedication.
posted by brent_h at 2:28 PM on June 1, 2008

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