Best Public Viewing Locations to Watch Thursday's Orion EFT-1 Launch

The ULA Delta-IV Heavy in action. Photo Credit:  Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

The ULA Delta-IV Heavy in action. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

Thousands of space enthusiasts and spectators are flocking to Florida’s “Space Coast” this week to witness the world’s most powerful rocket launch NASA’s deep space Orion crew capsule on Thursday, Dec. 4 (7:05 a.m. EST liftoff). Hotels throughout Brevard County have been sold out for weeks, and while there are many launch viewing locations available for the public to choose from, some are definitely better than others (follow our LAUNCH TRACKER for regular real-time updates and NASA TV feed throughout the countdown and launch to splashdown).

The best public, off-site viewing option—at least visibility wise—is from Port Canaveral, which is located 8-9 miles south of Space Launch Complex-37B (SLC-37B) and the impressive United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta-IV Heavy rocket Orion will ascend to space on. The angle north across the water leaves a mainly unobstructed view of the rocket face-on; spectators on Route 401 (coordinates 28.419 N, 80.630 W) behind the port are treated to a clear view of the entire launch, and at a distance of less than 10 miles it is also the closest public off-site option (click HERE to watch a previous Delta-IV launch shot from Port Canaveral).

The SR-528 Bennett Causeway viewing area as well as Exit A into Port Canaveral taking Route 401 behind the port. The white circled areas represent the appropriate launch viewing areas. Image Credit: Google Maps

The SR-528 Bennett Causeway viewing area as well as Exit A into Port Canaveral taking Route 401 behind the port. The white circled areas represent the appropriate launch viewing areas. Image Credit: Google Maps

One thing to keep in mind is the fact that Route 401 behind the port does not leave room for many; space is very limited along what is roughly a one-mile stretch of roadway at the water’s edge, but the view—particularly for photographers—is worth arriving early for, as it is first-come, first-serve. The 528 Causeway just west of the port works, too; it offers roughly the same view, and there is plenty more space for crowds to park off the highway for an unobstructed view across the Banana River.

Along the 401 behind the port, and just before the main entrance to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, is the Air Force Space and Missile History Center, which will open two hours early, at 7:00 a.m. EDT on Dec. 4. The museum offers free admission and no special access is required, and across the street they have bleachers set up for spectators.

Another option for many will be along HWY-1 in Titusville, which is located west of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and SLC-37B. Space View Park was always particularly popular for many to watch the space shuttles launch; however, Titusville does not serve the same view for a Delta-IV rocket launch because SLC-37B is considerably farther south than NASA’s Launch Complex 39. Therefore, spectators watching the launch off-site from Titusville will be roughly 15 miles from SLC-37B, as opposed to 8-9 miles from Port Canaveral. Titusville viewers will also be looking at ULA’s triple-barrelled mammoth rocket from the “side” rather than face-on, and from such distances a side view is dramatically different than the face-on view offered from Port Canaveral, and the sound / rumble of the mighty Delta-IV Heavy will be considerably less the farther one is from the launch pad.

When deciding where to watch the launch from, spectators should also consider access to facilities; behind Port Canaveral and along the 528 Causeway there are none. However, HWY-1 or Space View park in Titusville offers plenty, with gas stations, stores, and restaurants all within walking distance of the shoreline (click HERE to watch a previous Delta-IV launch from Titusville).

Both Jetty Park (next to Port Canaveral) and the Cocoa Beach Pier (farther south) are popular places for off-site rocket launch viewing, too, but neither option offers any clear view of the rocket at liftoff; you can’t see the rocket at all from either position until the rocket is already well on its way to space. Not only that, but Cocoa Beach is much farther south, and so the sound of the world’s most powerful rocket will be considerably less.

NASA's Orion and ULA's Delta-IV Heavy rocket inside the SLC-37B Mobile Service Tower prior to launch. Photo: ULA

NASA’s Orion and ULA’s Delta-IV Heavy rocket inside the SLC-37B Mobile Service Tower prior to launch. Photo: ULA

One thing to note for anyone expecting a shuttle-esque launch: don’t. ULA’s Delta-IV Heavy flies on the power of three liquid RS-68 engines. There are no solid rocket boosters, and therefore no noticeable plume will follow the rocket’s ascent, which may make following the rocket more difficult for some, especially with the morning Sun to the east.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is offering on-site EFT-1 launch viewing for the general public at two locations as well. The first is included with general admission; the KSCVC has set aside an area adjacent to the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit for ticket holders, complete with live mission control commentary. However, there is absolutely no view of the rocket until it is off the pad. On the other hand, the location will offer a much closer presence, and so the sound / rumble of the rocket will be considerably louder than any off-site location (click HERE to watch a previous Delta-IV launch from the KSCVC).

For an extra $20, the KSCVC is offering launch viewing from the Apollo/Saturn V Center (coordinates 28.605 N, 80.699 W), which is on Kennedy Space Center itself (the KSCVC is just outside the KSC west entrance). The location is where VIPs and other invited guests watched the space shuttle launches from, but, as noted earlier, SLC-37B is much farther south than the shuttle pads. For that reason, the distance from this viewing location is close to the same as from Port Canaveral, and so it really does not offer any special advantage except to say “I was on-site.”

In addition to offering launch viewing options, the KSCVC will also be hosting plenty of launch day activities, including multiple programs, various presentations, and appearances by veteran shuttle astronauts Sam Durrance, Bruce McCandless, Mike McCulley, Jerry Ross, and Winston Scott.

Another option is Playalinda Beach (coordinates 28.655N, 80.632 W) on Canaveral National Seashore, which is located just north of NASA’s launch pads 39A and 39B. But, being that SLC-37B is much farther south, the beach does not offer a view of the pad (although you may just see the top of the rocket). The distance to SLC-37B is also roughly the same as the view from Port Canaveral. The park will open at 6:00 a.m. EDT on Dec. 4, and there is a $5 charge to enter Canaveral National Seashore and Playalinda Beach.

Those with mobile devices are encouraged to stay up to date in real-time by following our “Launch Tracker,” which will provide regular countdown status and updates for viewers, as well as the live NASA TV feed. Those not in attendance are also encouraged to follow the countdown and launch live with us, too.

 

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