Cape Canaveral, located directly in front of the Kennedy Space Center up until today, it is still used for rocket ocassionally. Timing has to be right and you need to be lucky, but it’s possible to see a rocket launch in your Florida holidays.
Space X Falcon 9
Space X was responsible for the rocket launch we saw. Space X is a private aerospace company, founded by Elon Musk (Paypal, Tesla). In the long run, the company wants to settle mars. In this case, a rocket was sent to supply the ISS.
While we were just visiting Kennedy Space Center, we have accidentally discovered that a rocket launch was about to happen soon. The rockets launch was scheduled to take place 3 days later. We definitely wanted to see that and decided to come back to the Kennedy Space Center from Orlando. The rocket was to take off at 8 pm (anywhere outside the US this is called 20 o’clock). Of course, I got it wrong the first time and thought the rockets launch was in the morning. Even though, I know that pm means evening, I still made that mistake.
Rockets launches can also be seen from outside the Kennedy Space Center, at the beaches of the Space Coast (that means all beaches south of Cape Canaveral that are open to public). Like that you do not need to pay. I dunno how well you really see. We didn’t do it; we went to the Kennedy Space Center.
Another Day in the Kennedy Space Center
We were not expecting to spend another day in the Kennedy Space Center but that is how it happened. Watching the rockets launch requires to pay the regular one day ticket. For us that meant, we could have done the same program again, anyways we decided to pay some extra money for one of the special tours. Even the rockets launch required and extra ticket. I cannot recall how much it was but it wasn’t expensive. I think it was something like 20 Dollar but I’m not sure. Since we already had a day ticket (from 3 days before) that ticket was changed to an annual pass for just 5 more bucks. That was really nice and made things a lot cheaper. We did not need to pay for parking anymore (it’s included in the annual pass) and could also visit the Astronaut Hall of Fame for free (also included). If this had been possible in Germany, I strongly doubt it. “You have already purchased a daily pass, I cannot change it to an annual pass.” Something like that would have been the answer in Germany. In the US, customer service is much more important, people are more friendly and helpful.
Rocket launch: Space X Falcon 9
Busses took all visitors to a field. There are also bleachers but when we came, all the seats were already taken. We had taken the last bus and watched a movie about the ISS in the IMAX Cinema to kill time before that. 20 busses are available to reach the field. To keep a kind of organized system, we were asked to return to the same bus for the way back. “Only come back to exactly this bus and no other, only bus number 5.” Because all the busses look the same, it’s really easy to get into the wrong one.
Finally, everyone is on the field and the bleacher. The ocean is only a few steps from the field. Right now, it’s time to wait and see. The rocket is already forms a layer of smoke and fumes and looks ready to start. The rocket and the launch pad are on a small island and can be seen in distance on the other side of the water. How far that really was, is difficult to say but we could see the rocket and the launch pad perfectly.
Of course, there is a countdown. At zero, the rocket is released. A giant explosion is taking place, the earth is shaking and all of a sudden it is extremely light and bright. The rocket rises slowly but steadily to the sky, straight upwards. When the rocket reaches a certain height, it appears to be as bright as a second moon. At some point the rocket gets out of sight. As long as the rocket is visible, all visitors are totally banned by the rockets and cannot look anywhere else. All the power that is needed for the rockets launch can literally be felt. All in all this experience blew off my mind.
You can see on the picture how light everything had become because of the rocket. All of pics are taken without flash or artificial light. Even though, light came from far away, it still gave me enough light for my pics.
Driving back to the Kennedy Space Center
Everyone gets up at the same time and walks around, a bit confusing to everyone. Now, it’s clear why everyone needs to go back to “his/her” bus. Because we had taken the last bus, it was waiting at the very end of the line and it took as a while to walk there. On the way to the start, every single seat in the bus was taken, now two seats were empty. The driver was totally confused about that and wanted to make sure we had not forgotten anyone. His advice was to return to our original seats to make sure this does not happen. Of course, that did not work. When I came to the bus, my seat was already taken. Two people in the bus said they were sitting in the now-empty seats but are now somewhere else in the bus. Now, the driver was even more confused. “This would not have happened if everyone had returned to their seats.” After waiting for a while, the driver finally took off and left. The field was entirely empty, no one there anymore. These two people must have disappeared, gotten into another bus or were never there.
Our bus then reached the final station at the visitor center. We were supposed to get off last because we were the last bus. The driver didn’t care at all; he just took over all other busses and opened the doors. The Kennedy Space Center itself was closed; everyone just walks to the exit and leaves.
Watching a Rocket Launch in Your Holidays?
The rockets launch was an absolutely unique experience, something totally unexpected and new. The driver did a lot of talking on the way to the launch. He said things like “an earthquake”, “a giant explosion”. To be honest, I thought he was exaggerating. I thought, that’s an American thing, they are always enthusiastic about everything and tend to exaggerate things (everything is always the best and the greatest). In this case, I was wrong. He was right and wasn’t exaggerating at all. The Earth shivered, a gigantic explosion happened. An extraordinary experience I am so glad we came back for that launch.
The Website provides information about rocket launches. But that’s a bit tricky, three days before the launch, when we bought our tickets, they still claimed plans can changed due to weather or technical problems and that launch date is never guaranteed. Dates can be pushed on very short notice. Being lucky is necessary to make something like that work in your holidays. But if you are lucky enough, it is something totally unique. I would always recommend taking that risk and buy tickets even though you don’t know for sure.
The Kennedy Space Center publishes information about rocket launches on its website: http://www.kennedyspacecenter.com
Also the Website of the Space Coast, the beaches near Kennedy Space Center, has information about rocket launches: http://www.visitspacecoast.com/