That may sound like a weird question, but when you start to Google "where can I go to watch a roc", the auto-fill completes it with "ket launch". That means people are searching for it: where can I go to watch a rocket launch.
I was born on the Space Coast of Florida, as my father was a veteran of the United States Air Force. He was a technician on rockets, working mainly on the electrical systems. Much of his work was top secret, so he couldn't tell us when some launches were scheduled to occur, but he could plan a sunset picnic on the beach with his family at that exact time (wink, wink).
I was lucky enough to witness dozens of launches in the 4 years I spent living at Cocoa Beach in Florida (yes, the same place Major Nelson and Jeannie lived), from Minuteman missiles to Saturn V rockets carrying live astronauts.
My dad's next duty station was in California, so I was able to witness more launches at Vandenburg Air Force Base.
If you've never witnessed a rocket launch in person, it is quite an experience: the ground trembling under your feet, the bright light of the burning fuel, the crackling of the engines, the plume of steam and the trail of the exhaust are all etched in my mind.
I hadn't hit my teens yet when my father retired from the service, and another 30 years went by before I witnessed another launch and, as an adult, the experience was just as exhilarating. I had the opportunity to witness 2 Space Shuttle launches, and both were amazing.
With the rise of private rocket companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX, interest in space travel and exploration has been rejuvenated. I am not certain interest will be as high as it was after President John F. Kennedy's impassioned speech to congress in 1961, in which he states, "We choose to go to the moon", but it is still a topic of conversation. (Remember the Moon Race? Good times!)
It appears that many people are searching for terms like "Where can I watch a live rocket launch?" and "Can I see a rocket launch in person?", so we thought we'd answer that question for you: Yes, you can!
The most active launch locations in the United States are on the coasts: Cape Canaveral (Kennedy) in Florida and Vandenburgh Air Force Base in California. Today, we're going to concentrate on the Right Coast.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: WHEN IS THE NEXT LAUNCH?
NASA puts out a schedule of upcoming rocket launches on their official web page with the name and description of each mission. They also provide a link with information about viewing launches from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
The coastline south of Cape Canaveral's launch pads seems to be the most popular place to view the launches for free, that is if you don't live in the area (I'm sure some people have their patios set up for optimal launch viewing, as we set ours up for optimal sunrise/sunset viewing).
When we were kids, dad used to tell mom to pack a few sandwiches (okay, a BUNCH of sandwiches, as there were 10 of us) and we’d head to Satellite Beach, just south of the launch sites, for a picnic. Mid-sandwich, you’d notice something out of the corner of your eye. Over at the launch area, you'd see the flash of ignition and then feel the earth begin to shake under your feet. Soon, you hear the crackling of the engines as they propel the rocket skyward. Believe me, it's an amazing, surreal experience.
Several times, those picnics turned out to be no more exciting than just a picnic at the beach (which, I must admit, I’d go for right about now). Delays to a launch due to weather or technical or mechanical difficulties were not rare, nor were complete “scrubs”, in which the launches were canceled altogether.
To see an early evening launch was the most memorable for me, as you are facing east, the sun is low in the sky behind you, and the launch lights up the evening sky spectacularly. As the rocket passes near any clouds that may be close, they, too, would light up from the fire of the engines.
If the launches were early morning, they were best when they occurred either just before sunrise or as the sun was just peeking over the horizon.
If you do decide to travel to Florida to witness a launch, don’t get your hopes too high: remember those delays/scrubs I mentioned a minute ago? Again, they are not rare, and it’s possible that you won’t get to witness the launch at the time you had hoped.
If it’s less than a 3-hour drive for you to get to Cape Canaveral, you’ve probably already witnessed a launch, or at least have seen a rocket as it has made its trajectory across the sky. If it’s more than that of a drive for you, the cost of an overnight and a few meals might just be worth the experience.
The following video of the launch of Space Shuttle mission STS-126 was taken near Orlando, Florida, which is about a 3-hour drive from the launch site.
The Orlando Insider Vacations website lists a few great places to witness a rocket launching from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Their list includes public beaches, restaurants, boat and aircraft experiences, and gives tips for better viewing.
One of the best places to see a launch is from NASA's Press Site, an area dedicated to launch viewing. I'm certain you've seen the big electronic clock that NASA uses to count down to the launch. Well, that's the prime place to view a launch. Only 3 miles from the actual launch pad, short of working for NASA, this is the optimal site.
Okay, folks: we're talking Florida here. There are beaches galore. Pull up to a beach, pop out the beach chairs or blankets, slather on some sunscreen, and wait.
The only places I can recall watching launches when I lived in Florida are the beach, the front yard, and the schoolyard (if you were in class and heard a rocket launching, all bets were off! Kids just poured outside to watch!).
Titusville is just slightly north of the launch area, and provides some of the best viewing. Many establishments boast their great rocket launch viewing and are probably quite busy on launch days.
Just make certain that your balcony is facing in the right direction.
I can also recall old newsreels of launches that showed a line of cars miles long pulled over on the side of the highway with people hanging out of the windows, waiting on the launch! When I returned to Florida to witness the Space Shuttle launch, parking on the side of the highway to watch a launch was still a thing.
If you’ve ever had the opportunity to witness a launch in person, please feel free to drop us some pics of your experience. Better yet: if you have video, we’d love to share it!