You might think it odd that a guy who grew up in Florida never witnessed a rocket launch up close. Alas, I attended my first this past weekend. My kids, having an ever increasing appetite for spaceflight, came with me. We all enjoyed it immensely.
I won’t go into detail about the mission; you can read the details straight from ULA.. The whole experience is something to be enjoyed from start to finish - planning the trip, driving across Merritt Island, finding a spot on the beach. frolicking in the waves.
The actual launch (from the lay person’s perspective) is pretty brief. But what’s there is exhilarating. The moment we reach T-0, Atlas’ solid rocket boosters produce a huge plume of steam and exhaust and, shortly after, the bright glow of burning rocket propellant. Speed builds fast and after several seconds the sound becomes audible. It’s closest to rumbling thunder but gets slowly louder and louder until the beach shakes quiet substantially for maybe 30sec. All this from 6 miles away!
Here are a few items I noted for next time, maybe they’ll save you some headache:
Launches tend to get delayed and keeping tabs at home on the internet works pretty well. On a crowded beach with everyone refreshing Twitter; not so much. There are local broadcast options so bring a standard AM/FM radio.
Viewing from Playalinda beach is pretty good but even with available parking at Lot 1 (closest to the launch site), there’s still about a mile of beach to walk which will take you closer to the the cape. That extra walk is worth it so leave maybe 20-30min to do that.
Park admission is $5.
There may be other, better views along the causeway coming across the island but I have not researched them. If I find a better place, I’ll definitely write about it here.
All in all a very good day and one that comes along infrequently enough to truly enjoy.