A little over 40 years ago, the Apollo 11 mission blasted off from Cape Canaveral launching Neil Armstrong to his destiny as the first human being to set foot anywhere off the Earth. The Apollo program was the realisation of John F. Kennedy’s vision to take the human race to the heavens. Sadly he didn’t live to see the success of his efforts and Apollo 17 was the last manned spacecraft to ever visit our nearest celestial neighbour in December 1972.
However, a re-usable orbital transport system was being developed that would eventually become known as the Space Shuttle. Launched from the same location as the Apollo missions, and even the same launch pads, the Shuttle represents the wonder of space exploration to a new generation. But time is running out to take in the extraordinary experience of actually witnessing a Shuttle launch. Only two missions are scheduled before Discovery, Atlantis and the Endeavour are decommissioned.
Planning a trip to go and watch a Shuttle launch from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at Cape Canaveral takes more organisation than most holidays. First, you must consult the mission schedule at the nasa.gov website to check the proposed dates of future launches. It’s important to note that these can change and almost certainly will.
Planning at least a few months in advance is advisable, but once within four weeks of launch, if the date does change it rarely does so by more than a day or two. What is of paramount importance is purchasing tickets – this can be done online at the KSC website but they sell very quickly. The most recent launch of Discovery on mission STS-131 on April 5th sold out in about three minutes and only went on sale one month before. The best way to monitor what’s going on is to regularly check both the KSC and NASA websites and sign up to receive news updates by email.
To see absolutely everything at the KSC – like many theme parks in the US – you really need at least two days. Launch day itself – if it’s scheduled during the daytime – is largely taken up by securing a good spot, absorbing the atmosphere and patiently waiting for that all-important moment of lift off.