T-Minus 10 & Counting . . .
One of the most dramatic events in the course of human civilization was the space race of the 1960s, beginning with the successful launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviet Union. The whole world watched in awe as the U.S. and its former Cold War adversary competed to be the first to the moon and back. The best way to relive the excitement of that era is to witness the launch of a space shuttle from the Kennedy Space Center. The blaze of white-hot light, the thundering noise, and the sight of a manned shuttle tearing across the skies is sure to reignite the thrill of space exploration.
Space shuttles generally take off from Launch Pad 39A of Kennedy Space Center, located on a barrier island off Florida’s Atlantic coast near Titusville, about 52 miles (84km) east of Orlando. If you’re in Orlando, there are tour buses available, or you may wish to rent a car. Either way, it pays to plan ahead to see a shuttle launch. The best public viewing is from the NASA Causeway just south of the launch pad, but the area is accessible only with pre-purchased tickets. The next-best places to watch the lift-off are either Spaceview Park in Titusville (just south of the 406 bridge, east of Rte. 1) or the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex. The Visitors Complex lacks a clear view of the launch pad, but it’s close enough that the explosive sound is terrific and the shuttle usually flies right overhead once it has lifted off.
Visitors can sign up for NASA Causeway e-mail ticket alerts; tickets can be purchased online once they are available for sale, but act fast because these events have been known to sell out in a matter of minutes. Remember too that launches are sometimes scrubbed due to bad weather or other conditions.
Besides the thrill of watching the shuttle lift-off, there are dozens of space-related attractions at the Visitors Complex, including IMAX films, astronaut encounters hosted by real astronauts, and the Shuttle Launch Experience, an interactive simulation hosted by shuttle personnel that comes complete with videos, sound, and lighting that mimics the experience of an actual shuttle launch.
Kennedy Space Center ( 321/449-4400; www.kennedyspacecenter.com).
When to Go: Open year-round; check website for launch schedule.