Tag Archives: Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center, Florida Rocket Launch

Atlas V Launch Kennedy Space Center
Atlas V Launch Kennedy Space Center

Baby boomers grew up watching powerful rockets launch ‘right stuff’ astronauts into orbit. As the space program evolved, so did the size of the missiles from the Atlas to the Titan, and later the 360-foot Saturn V moon rocket. Sadly, the US manned space flight program is currently curtailed. Private companies are developing vehicles for future space exploration but none are available at this time.

Therefore, I was surprised to receive an invitation to watch a rocket launch on March 19, 2013, at Kennedy Space Center and even more pleased that it fit into my schedule. The drive from St. Augustine is a little under two hours and the launch window was scheduled from 5:21 pm to 6:01 pm. Perfect.

I parked in the Visitor Center lot ($10.00 fee per vehicle) then entered the complex through the suitably planted rocket garden. This area blossoms with numerous projectiles nurtured through NASA’s care and various flying machines like the tiny one-man Mercury capsule.

I meandered along, passing by the newly opened Angry Birds interactive encounter and found the bus queue for the Saturn V Center, a tour that’s included with visitor admission. The bus ride takes about 15 minutes and passes the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building), the largest one story building in the world. Huge is an understatement. The building, complete with a painted American flag, greets like an old friend; it’s familiar to anyone who watched past NASA events. The bus driver said, “Each of the stars on the flag is 6 feet across, the blue field is the size of a regulation basketball court, and each of the stripes is 9 feet wide.”

Vehicle Assembly Bldg Kennedy Space Center
Vehicle Assembly Bldg Kennedy Space Center

The Kennedy Space Center actually lies within the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, home to more than 1,500 species of plants and animals. Some 600 alligators thrive in the roadside ravines and lakes. The bus passengers caught site of a few gators, an Eagle’s nest and a number of egrets and herons.


Upon arrival at the Saturn V building, I learned it houses the original Apollo mission control center. Visitors file into an amphitheater attached to the control room and watch a three-screened video display. I became the observer of a countdown and launch of the world’s most powerful rocket on its take-off for the moon. The seats vibrate during the launch. Very cool!

As I exited the control room I practically ran into the massive side lying Saturn V. The rocket is 58 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty from the ground to the torch. The fully fueled giant weighed 6.5 million pounds and had a payload capacity of 260,000 pounds.

Saturn V Rocket Kennedy Space Center
Saturn V Rocket Kennedy Space Center

After perusing some astronaut spacesuits and other Apollo related displays, I went outside to set up my tripod. Although scheduled lift-off was still about an hour ahead, the grandstands were filling with spectators and kids were playing games on the grass. This was a slice of Americana, an apple pie moment.

A NASA spokesman appeared about 30 minutes before launch time and explained what would happen. We would see the launch of an Atlas V rocket carrying missile warning satellites for national security purposes. The Atlas V is a small rocket and its heaviest payload lifted into orbit was 15,000-pounds.

The spokesman said we would hear mission control requesting systems approval and the specialists responding with a “GO” signal — if all was right. Assuming it was, the mission controller would give permission for the countdown to proceed.

Ignition Atlas V Kennedy Space Center
Ignition Atlas V Kennedy Space Center

At about ‘T’ minus 3 minutes, a hush came over the crowd; people anxiously looked in the direction of the rocket. I could feel excitement mounting as the minutes ticked away. When the countdown got to 15 seconds, everyone was on alert. Then, the number 10 was spoken and the crowd spontaneously joined in the reverse count 3…2…1…zero. We heard the word “ignition” and saw lots of white smoke blast around the base of the rocket. Soon flames appeared and a gradual lift-off commenced. The adults began to clap and cheer.

As the rocket rose higher, the cheers grew wilder and the sight was honestly awe inspiring. Much more captivating and thrilling than seen on television.

After another ten seconds the rumble and roar grew louder; then a rocket separation occurred leaving a trail of billowing ghostly smoke high in the sky. I hate to say this, but the trail reminded me of the ill-fated Challenger’s. In a matter of ten more seconds, the rocket’s red glare was out of sight and headed into orbit.

I could scarcely contain my joy! Honestly, a launch is something to view and a moment you will not forget. I strongly encourage everyone to witness a live event, if possible. Had the rocket been larger and manned, I am sure it would have elicited goose bumps or tears. But, don’t let a smaller rocket stop you; the thrill is still magnificent.

I am so grateful I availed myself of this opportunity. Thank you Kennedy Space Center.

Atlas V Smoke Trail Kennedy Space Center
Atlas V Smoke Trail Kennedy Space Center

By the way, should your summer plans include a visit to the Orlando area, consider a stop to see the new $100 million Shuttle Atlantis facility being unveiled at KSC on June 29th. The addition is currently being constructed around Atlantis, the last shuttle to fly in 2011.

Also KSC behind the scenes tours continue- you can read about them in my earlier post.
The VAB tour has been extended through 2013 and the LCC and Launch Pad tours are confirmed through June 30. All Up-Close Tours are $25 per adult and $19 per child (ages 3-11) plus tax, in addition to admission.
For more information on Kennedy Space Center Complex, please visit www.KennedySpaceCenter.com.

Here’s a video of the Atlantis Shuttle launch as seen on a Behind the Scenes Tour:

Lunch with an Astronaut

Restaurant Review

As a travel writer I’ve met my share of million mile airline members and platinum level frequent flyers, but I recently dined with a man who undoubtedly has flown more miles than anyone I’ve ever met.

Debi Lander with Astronaut Charlie Walker
Debi Lander with Astronaut Charlie Walker

Charlie Walker, veteran of three space missions, and I were introduced before he spoke at the Kennedy Space Center’s Lunch with an Astronaut program.  Charlie was very personable and willing to share his experiences.

Continue reading Lunch with an Astronaut

Watching a Launch of the Space Shuttle


I always knew watching a space-shuttle launch would be an unforgettable experience, but I treated the opportunity as many do their local attractions. I blew it off, never making it a priority. Sure I could drive a few hours south to Titusville, but.. I didn’t. Okay, now– after 29 years and 134 missions– there are but two remaining manned launches. So, if watching a shuttle lift-off has been on your to-do list, start planning.

The only place to get tickets is the Kennedy Space Center website. I tried to buy a couple for the May 14th launch, but lady luck was not on my side. It’s easy; simply connect to the website and enter a virtual waiting room. However, chances of being called are about equal to winning the lottery– but it’s worth a try.

Since my ticket efforts failed, I drove an hour and a half to Daytona, Florida to meet a friend and observe the lift-off from the beach. Daytona is truly too far for an optimal view, but was certainly better than hometown Jacksonville. The best free public viewing areas require one to arrive up to 12 hours early and stake out their claim.

Rain, heavy cloud cover and wind are unfavorable weather conditions for a launch, but May 14th, the last lift-off, blossomed sunny and warm. Crowds began to gather on the world famous beach as the countdown proceeded. Folks with cell phones related the official mission status and a few seconds after T minus zero, the launch pad burst with brilliant billowing flames. Of course, I couldn’t see that view in Daytona, but I was close enough to hear a thunderous roar that shook the air. Very soon, the rocket appeared low on the horizon, trailing a fiery tail.

Shuttle rising as seen from Daytona Beach
Shuttle rising as seen from Daytona Beach

Spectators gaped and cheered. I almost forgot to take pictures being torn between watching with my eyes or through the lens. As the shuttle climbed higher, I heard whispers “Wow, look at that?” Other comments were more tentative like, “Let’s pray they make it.” Still others uttered typical profanities.

The rocket path produced a billowy trail of white residue that hung in the sky. Just before disappearing from sight, a blast of white light exploded. Then whoosh- it was gone. Quiet, over so quickly. I felt a bit teary and tight in my throat. I’d just observed courageous astronauts riding atop a bomb of sorts and witnessed the rocket jettison out of the earth’s atmosphere. “Awesome,” was the word that came to mind and seemed correct. Yes, that was an awe inspiring sight.

Being present at a shuttle lift-off is an intense experience and in retrospect, I wish I’d made the effort earlier. Unfortunately, launches are scrubbed 60 percent of the time because of weather or a technical issues — sometimes with just minutes left in the countdown. You have to be flexible, which makes it difficult for those out of the area.

Now, the final countdown is on; mark your calendars for the two remaining missions from the Kennedy Space Center. Discovery is scheduled for September 16th and the Endeavor will launch sometime in November. Both plan to rendezvous with the international space station. Join me- I plan to experience these historic events.

Shuttle Climbs Higher

To Buy Tickets:

Tickets to view a launching from the Kennedy Space Center NASA Causeway ($56; $46 for ages 3 to 11), the Visitor Complex ($38 and $28) and the Astronaut Hall of Fame ($17 and $13) are available at www.kennedyspacecenter.com three to six weeks before a launch.  They sell out quickly and will be in extremely high demand for the last two dates. You can sign up for an e-mail alert to know when they will go on sale.

If You Go

Launch-viewing spots
The Kennedy Space Center Causeway, seven miles from the launching pad on the other side of the Banana River, is the closest public viewing area and offers an excellent, unobstructed views. The effect is magnified by the river’s reflection of the fiery rocket boosters. Tickets sell out within minutes of going on sale.

Another viewing option is from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, about the same distance from the launching pad as the causeway. Trees and power lines partially obstruct the view, so you have to wait for the shuttle to climb some distance before getting a clear sight. However, the center offers a simulcast on jumbo video screens, a countdown clock and astronaut appearances.

A similar experience can be found at the Astronaut Hall of Fame, in Titusville, about 12 miles from the Kennedy Space Center. However, the view from the Astronaut Hall of Fame is no better than a spot along the side of the road, where there is no admittance fee.
Road views:

Portions of the Beach Line Expressway, otherwise known as State Road 528, that cross the Indian and Banana rivers offer a good view. There are decent sightlines off U.S. 1 along the Indian River and on State Road A1A along the Atlantic. Some landowners on those roadways may charge parking fees of $20 for a car and $30 for a van.

Space View Park in Titusville, less than 15 miles from the shuttle-launching pad, directly across the Indian River, probably offers the best view beyond the actual Space Center. Shuttle spotters start arriving about 12 hours early to stake out a spot in the city park. The park turns into a picnic, so I hear.

All that's left
All that’s left