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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

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How to View a Space Shuttle Launch

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On July 8, 2011, the final NASA Space Shuttle mission will launch from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.[1] Viewing a space shuttle launch is a once-in-a-lifetime experience you won't want to miss, especially for the program's last liftoff ever. Although the NASA viewing points are sold out, it is still possible to see the launch from various free places, and this article offers tips on how to ensure you can be there for this historical event, as well as some viewing advice for the rest of us at home or work.


  1. View from NASA viewpoints. Provided you booked your tickets months ago (because they're all long gone now[2]), you will be able to see the launch from either the NASA Causeway, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex or the US Astronaut Hall of Fame. Follow the visitor's instructions accompanying your tickets or refer to the information NASA provides online. If you don't have any tickets, your best bet is to check online travel or auction sites for anyone who has spare ones to sell. If you do find tickets on an auction site, expect to pay thousands for them![3]
  2. View the launch for free. If you didn't get around to purchasing tickets, don't despair. There is still a chance provided you're organized, early, and armed with viewpoint information. You can view the launch for free at specially designated routes along the local highways. Naturally, these are likely to be busy, so be sure to get to them early and take care when driving to avoid sightseers crossing the road, etc.
    • Also consider going to Titusville and the cruise ship port of Port Canaveral.[4]
    • If you're on a boat, you can also view the launch; tune to Channel 16 VHF-FM to ensure that you're not in restricted areas (the Coast Guard will be advising). While restricted areas are in place, boaters can use the Intercoastal Waterway and can move on the Banana River up to marker 15 (but not beyond) and on Mosquito Lagoon, but not the southern part.
    • Some beach areas will enable you to see the launch for free. You won't see the launchpad but you'll definitely see the shuttle in the sky. At Cocoa Beach, while you won't see the launch, you will "feel" it![5]
    • The specially designated routes along local highways are available at:, or see the list under "Tips" below.
  3. Travel to Cape Canaveral, Florida. If you're driving, follow your road maps from the area you live in. Signs indicate the direction towards the Kennedy Space Center complex for drivers, and where you can park your vehicle. For flying in, the closest major airports are Melbourne International and Orlando International, located approximately 41 and 48 miles away, respectively.
    • If you plan on staying in Florida, consider finding someone to stay with. Hotel, camping grounds, and other paid accommodation facilities are likely to be fully booked out both in the vicinity and in Orlando and elsewhere within reasonable driving distance.
  4. Arrive early. Crowds of close to one million people are expected to attend the launch, so arriving early is crucial if you'd like an unobstructed spot to view. The estimated time for launch is 11:26:46am EDT.[6] However, your estimated time of arrival should be before sunrise (and possibly even earlier) to grab yourself a good spot and to avoid traffic crawls.[7]
  5. Bring comfortable chairs, a camera, and someone with you. You may have to wait for several hours prior to the launch, so have things to do to pass the time, such as crossword puzzles, your iPod, work, your latest novel, etc. As well, bring along a hat, sunscreen, insect repellant, snacks, and plenty of water for drinking.
  6. Listen for the final countdown. Loudspeakers from NASA mission control will provide commentary on the shuttle launch, as well as the final ten seconds before liftoff. There is also an unofficial channel of information provided by the Launch Information Service and Amateur Television System (LISATS), which retransmits NASA audio and video signals for shuttle launches. If you wish to listen to that, you'll find the audio on 146.94 MHz and the video on 421.75 MHz.[8]
    • For Ham radio users, NASA audio can be accessed on UHF at 442.6 MHz.
    • The local radio station (WMMB) has information on AM 1240 and AM1350.
  7. Watch the shuttle launch! Keep an eye in the sky as the shuttle lifts off and advances towards the sky; see "Tips" for photography help. And if you can't get there to watch the whole event, you can see it live on television and the internet. For example, NASA TV online,[9] Spacevidcast online, and TV stations (check your local guide for more details). There will be more than just the launch itself for viewing on TV or the internet, including fueling, crew movements, and preparations. For example, Spacevidcast will begin broadcasting from 6am EDT, showing experts, celebrities and previous shuttle astronauts.[10]


Video of a space shuttle launch at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.


  • For free viewing areas, try one of these NASA listed places:[11]
    • Marina Park, 501 Marina Road, Titusville -- Restrooms, parking
    • Sand Point Park, 101 N. Washington Ave, Titusville -- Restrooms, parking
    • Space View Park, 8 Broad Street, Titusville -- Parking nearby
    • Manzo Park, 3335 S. Washington Ave (US 1), Titusville -- Restrooms, parking
    • Rotary Riverfront Park, 4141 S. Washington Ave (US 1), Titusville -- Restrooms, parking
    • Kennedy Point Park, 4915 S. Washington Ave (US 1), Titusville -- Restrooms, parking
    • Westbound SR 528 Causeway over the Banana River Park well off the right-of-way near the water
    • Jetty Park, East end of Port Canaveral off George King Blvd. -- Restrooms, parking
    • Cocoa Beach Pier, 401 Meade Ave., Cocoa Beach -- Restrooms, parking
    • Alan Shepard Park, East end of SR 520, Cocoa Beach -- Restrooms, parking
    • Fischer Park, East side of SR A1A 1/2 mile south of SR 520 -- Restrooms, parking
    • Lori Wilson Park, 1500 N. Atlantic Ave, Cocoa Beach -- Restrooms, parking
  • If taking photographs, brush up on taking photographs of the sky and how to angle your shots for a moving object in the sky. The recommended launch exposure for a sunny day is ISO 100, f/8 and 1/1000 or ISO 200, f/8 and 1/2000.[12] Use a tripod for telephoto shots and lock in focus manually; don't use auto-exposure or auto-focus for telephoto, although a wide angle photo can use auto-expsure.[13]
  • For a full shuttle countdown timeline, see
  • After the launch, tour the Kennedy Space Center if time permits. The exhibits, displays, replicas, and galleries will greatly enhance your experience. However, given the amount of people likely to be around, this may be challenging, so be prepared to wait, or to come back later in the day, or even the next day.


  • If you are bringing young children, be prepared for the extremely loud noises audible during the launch. If you know that your children are sensitive to loud noises, consider having them left with a babysitter.
  • Inclement weather or mechanical problems can delay or even scrub shuttle launches with very little advance notice, so be sure to have a backup plan.
  • Be careful and patient in the traffic. A million people is a lot of people moving at once; be considerate and recognize that everyone wants to have a good time too. A drive back to Orlando will probably take about 6 hours (it normally takes 45 minutes),[14] so have some chill-out music, plenty of car games and snacks, and your sense of humor on board.

Things You'll Need

  • Maps of area
  • Snacks, water
  • Hat, sunscreen, insect repellant
  • Radio or online access
  • TV

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Sources and Citations


Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to View a Space Shuttle Launch. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

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I've got to remember to watch this on the NASA Web Site!


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