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Kennedy Space Center – Seeing a Launch

You've probably seen film clips of rocket launches on TV dozens of times. But, to quote Al Jolson, you ain't seen nothin' yet! Seeing a launch live and in person is one of the truly great experiences a Florida vacation has to offer. Catching at least a glimpse of a launch is surprisingly easy. On a clear day, the rising rocket is visible from the Orlando area. Getting a closer look, however, requires a bit of planning.

While they don't have the same cachet as the shuttle launches (which ceased in 2011), the launches of commercial and military satellites on Delta and Atlas rockets that still take place on Canaveral are pretty fun to watch. When they are in the offing, visitors are given advance notice and will be advised as to the best places along the KSC Tour from which to get a view of the big event. The latest launch status information can be found at http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/launchingrockets/index.html.

First, you must understand that you don't have to be close to the launching pad to get ringside seats. In fact, no one can be close to the launching pad. The greatest danger a launch poses to bystanders is, surprisingly, the noise generated by the awesome engines. Unless you're a credentialed reporter, a federal official, or have some inside pull at NASA, you will be a good bit away. But you can still have an excellent view and an experience you will remember for the rest of your life.

At the Center, tour buses may run on a limited schedule on launch day, depending on the time of launch, or they may not run at all. But the entire Visitor Complex plays a live broadcast over the PA system of the events unfolding, including updates from mission control, and a jumbo TV screen in the Rocket Garden plays a live TV feed.

Viewing a launch from the best vantage point requires a modest investment and some advance planning. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex sells a limited number of tickets for its buses to the viewing area. The cost is $20 for all ages, in addition to regular admission (required). Tickets may be purchased a couple weeks pre-launch by calling (866) 737-5235 or (321) 449-4444, or on the Internet at www.kennedyspacecenter.com. (See below for a free alternative.)

Launch viewing details were in flux at press time, and may not be offered for certain flights. Demand for these tickets is unpredictable, and has been considerably less intense since the end of the shuttle program. Given the uncertainty of the actual launch date, you will have to check back regularly to plan your visit. KSC's website and a recorded message at (321) 867-4636 provide the latest information.

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