Viewing a shuttle launch

Sam Wormleighton By Sam Wormleighton, 20th Jan 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Travel>North America>United States>Florida

NASA Shuttle launches are one of the most awesome spectacles on the planet, and there aren't many left. Here are my tips for viewing a launch, the low stress and low cost way.

Watching the launch from an official NASA location

It's possible to view a launch from within the Kennedy Space Center itself. If you intend to do this you should apply for passes at the earliest oppertunity, they're alwsys in great demand. Visit the launch information pages here.

Viewing from the space center will get you closer, and hence there will be more noise. But you don't get a clear view of the launch pad. The distance from Kennedy is approx 7 miles, versus approx 12 miles from Titusville.

View from across the river

My preferred option requires less planning, although you won't be as close to the action. The launch pads can both be seen from many places along the Indian River on U.S. Highway 1, especially around Titusville.

On the map above I have marked a small jetty just south of Titusville as A, the shuttle launch pads are the grey circular structures to the East, labelled 39A and 39B. This jetty is at the southern end of the range of popular viewing points, making a pretty good low-traffic option for getting back to Orlando. Zoomed map at Google Maps.

The view from the jetty

Any location along the river will be packed on a launch day. Aim to arrive at least 2 hours before launch, and preferably 3 hours or more. The view across the river is relatively unobstructed, with just one small white sign near the jetty to work around.

Bring binoculars for viewing the platforms and assembly building before the launch. If you have a camera then take test shots before the launch to get a light reading, once the shuttle engines are lit they will confuse the sensors and leave the rest of the picture black. If its a day launch then remember that you're very exposes and hand towels over the railings to cast some shade, or bring umbrellas.

The launch pads (39B on the left, 39A on the right) are marked with arrows on the photo. Information about which is being used for a mission is available on NASA's website, currently all launches are planned to use 39A.

Local businesses hawk drinks and food, but there is also a McDonalds about 1/2 a mile to the north.

When the launch takes place you'll see the bright light of the engines almost 1 minute before you hear their roar, quite an unnerving experience.

If you're lucky, it'll go up

Remember that NASA launches are always subject to cancellation or delay. So only make the trip if you don't mind that possibility. Take a radio or make friends with one of the many people that'll have scanners to listen to the NASA broadcasts. Without these you'll be in the dark about any delays or problems.

If you're in Florida, and especially if you're in Orlando, when a launch is scheduled you should seriously consider going. Nothing else is like it.

At the time of writing there are only 4 planned launches left, and only 1 night launch. So take any chance you get, there won't be another!


Florida, Free, Nasa, Shuttle, Vacation

Meet the author

author avatar Sam Wormleighton
I am Wikinut's top technical author and advisor, which makes me a pretty big nut when you think about it!

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author avatar Joby
11th Feb 2010 (#)

We followed this advice to the letter and saw the last scheduled night launch on 7 Feb. Thanks, it ws AWESOME!

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author avatar Denise O
30th Sep 2010 (#)

Love the article but, it does leave me a bit sad.
I never have seen a launch,
except on TV.
Oh well.
My husband has, since he was raised in Florida and he says they are just a wonderful sight.
I love the pictures also.
Thanks for sharing.

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