AmericaSpace Launch Viewing Guide for Atlas V

An Atlas V rocket launches NASA's MSL rover “Curiosity”- bound for Mars. Photo Credit: Mike Killian

When it comes to actually viewing rockets thunder off to orbit – few places can match Florida’s Space Coast. Miles of beautiful, scenic beaches stretch out as far as the eye can see and on those days when Deltas, Atlases and Falcons launch – they provide a beautiful backdrop from which to witness the majesty that is space flight. However, when it comes to launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) – some places are better than others.  Cape Canaveral covers a lot of acreage, so a spot that is good for watching one type of rocket lift off – might not be the best place for watching another.

Currently, United Launch Alliance, more commonly known as ULA, is planning to launch the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS-1) satellite for the U.S . Navy atop an Atlas V 551 rocket on Feb. 24, at 5:15 p.m. EST. Weather conditions are good, with a 60 percent chance of favorable conditions. The launch “window” will be open for about 44 minutes.

But where do you watch from? Which place is best? It really depends on what type of launch vehicle that you’re watching.

Playalinda Beach, hands-down, is the best spot from which to view the latest iteration of this ULA classic (a version of this rocket was used to launch John Glenn on his historic flight in 1962). Why is Playalinda so “awesome?” Location, location, location. From Playalinda you get an unobstructed view of the Atlas launch complex from a distance of about 5 miles.  It will set you back a whopping $5.00 to get into Playalinda Park.  The park closes at 6:00 p.m. in the winter. Another popular spot to watch Atlas launches from is Port Canaveral.  Anywhere along the SR-528 Bennett Causeway or along Route 401 behind the Port will do the job of offering a great view of the Atlas’ climb to orbit.  The problem? You don’t get the full “effect.” The sound isn’t as strong and hearing one of these vehicles roaring to orbit is guaranteed to send a chill up your spine.

HOW TO GET TO PLAYALINDA BEACH:  Take U.S. HWY-1 through Titusville and turn right at Garden Street / Route 406.  Go across the A Max Brewer Parkway bridge and follow the road all the way to its end at Playalinda Beach.  There are lots for parking, just take a walk and choose your spot to enjoy the launch.

The blue highlighted area shows the route to take from Titusville to Playalinda Beach. Image Credit: Google Maps

HOW TO GET TO PORT CANAVERAL:  Take SR-528 or the “Beachline as it is commonly known as from the west, AIA from the east /south (A1A turn into SR-528 if you’re coming from Cocoa Beach).  Take the exit for Exit A North Terminals and follow the road (Route 401) across the small drawbridge and around the curve which brings you behind the port.  On the left side of the road is where you can watch the launch from. Best part? It’s free!  Space is limited, so arrive early.  Skip the port exit all together and watch a launch from the grassy field areas along the SR-528 Bennett Causeway, just keep an eye out for other vehicles parked along the waters edge to figure out where to park.

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

Want to have the “full” space experience? The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is selling a limited number of tickets that could allow you to watch this launch – from the Saturn V center. This huge building is where NASA’s VIP guests watched shuttle launches at. To see if there are any tickets available – call 866-737-5235.

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