Saturday, March 5, 2016

Launch at the Cape

Continuing our "let's be tourists" plan for the week, we decided it would be fun to see a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral.  We got lucky (or SpaceX got unlucky) and their latest launch, SES-9, had been delayed 4 times.  The latest attempt was scheduled for Friday, March 4th with a window from about 6:30 PM to around 8:00 PM. The weather forecast claimed there was a 90% chance of success, so scrubbing the mission this time around would likely be for mechanical reasons.  It seemed like pretty good odds, so we made the 2 hour drive down to see about getting a better view than could be had nearby.

Credit: SpaceX

We thought about making a day of it and going to the Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch from there, but ticket prices dissuaded us. We have all been to the center before and didn't really want to spend the $50/person this time around. (We don't recall tickets being that much before...I guess NASA figured out how to counteract their latest budget cuts...or Florida has found yet another way to gouge tourists.)  We also found out that they wouldn't have any special seating open, so the view from the visitors center is actually obstructed until the rocket clears a nearby tree line. I did a little research and found that the best free viewing area for the launch is just off Highway 528/A1A near Port Canaveral.

We got there early and tried finding a spot to park.  Of course, not being overly familiar with the landmarks, we weren't sure exactly where the correct launch pad was. Fortunately there was an older gentleman there with a sign that read "launch info", had a display about the Falcon 9 rocket being launched, and even a radio setup to pick up the launch broadcast and play it out over speakers.  We talked with him a bit and he pointed out where launch complex 40 is, so we parked where we had a completely unobstructed view about 8 or 9 miles from the launch pad. Now we had about a hour and a half to wait.

Getting some info from the guy who looks like he knows
something about the launch

As the launch got closer, the parking area we are at started to fill up.  What started out with 4 or 5 cars when we arrived slowly climbed to around two dozen as the launch neared.  In hindsight, we probably would have been fine getting there between a half hour and hour early and still had a reasonable place to park.

Parking starts to get a bit more crowded as launch time approaches.
Almost makes you want to look to the left doesn't it?

We found an FM radio station out of Orlando that was providing some information on the launch.  They would go "live" when the launch occurred, but for now they were at least letting us know that the mission was still a go. The only problem with the radio broadcast is that it has a delay in it.  If you were listening to the countdown on the radio, and didn't look up until they said it was launching, you would have missed the takeoff.  We were warned of this fact ahead of time and so my wife started watching about the time they started the countdown on the radio.  I got out of the car and was looking through my binoculars at the launch pad. (I highly recommend binoculars if you do this).

Pretty close to our view with the naked eye.
Picture taken with cell phone through binoculars.

The launch occurred right at the planned time of 6:35 PM.  From the launch pad you could see the engine start, the flames and smoke pouring out and then the rocket fighting it's way through the atmosphere.  Even though it was a small rocket and we were a pretty good distance away, it was still an impressive sight to see.  The rocket went up with a trajectory to the southeast so it got closer to us during the initial climb.  I guess I could write more about all of this, but the information on the mission and videos are available for those who were interested.  All I can say is that it was worth going to see.

Launch. Credit: SpaceX

The rocket vapor trail(s) as the sun sets. The break in the trail on
the right was the first stage separation and 2nd stage ignition.

I do hope that the United States decides that space exploration is worthwhile once again.  Far better endeavor than voting people off islands or dancing with washed up actors.


  1. One of my favorite parts of being in Florida! Very cool you got so close and that it went!

    1. Yeah, we lucked out on picking the location (after a little research). Glad after making the trip that it wasn't scrubbed. It went off like clockwork as soon as the window/target time arrived.

  2. We saw one of the launches last year when we were on our Scamper road trip. It was pretty cool! We weren't sure where to look, but fortunately there were folks that pointed us in the right direction.

    1. Yeah, you can look at the maps and google earth images, but when you get out there it just doesn't look quite the same. Glad we ran into that fellow that knew all about it.