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Nighttime launches: where to watch ‘em

May 14, 2014
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Tomorrow night at 8:08 p.m., you have the chance to see something breathtaking: a nighttime launch of a Delta IV rocket, which will be carrying GPS satellites for the U.S. Army. If you’ve never taken in a dark sky launch, you’re missing out on something pretty awesome. Yeah, we know the word “awesome” gets thrown around a lot, but this time we really mean it.

It’s a challenge to get the best view of a launch here in Orlando, what with the city lights and trees and other inferences, so we put together a list of the best places (within an hour-ish) to catch this and all other launches from Kennedy Space Center. So, pick a spot, pack a picnic and some bug spray and watch the sky light up.

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
This one’s a no brainer. Of course, you’ll have to pay for the privilege of being so close to the action, but it’s no more than a regular day of park admission ($50 for adults.) Plus, you can check out all the other kick-ass space stuff the park offers, like the Shuttle Launch Experience and Exploration Space.

Space View Park
Located in Titusville, the name of this park really says it all. Sit on the riverfront and you’ll get an unobstructed view of the launch pads, which are located 15 miles across the river. Bonus: Visitors to this park can listen in on a live audio feed directly from the NASA control room.

SR 528, aka the Beachline
This one’s for you lazy rocket watchers. Just drive east on the Beachline Expressway and when you pass Merritt Island, pull over. Watch the launch, then get off at the next exit, turn around and head home.

The Cocoa Beach Pier
It’s best to do this one before the historic pier changes forever. This is a no picnic required launch viewing spot, as there are restaurants and bars dotting the pier. Our recommendation? Hit the tiki hut at the end of the pier, indulge in a freezy drink and wait for the magic, er, science to happen.

Max Brewer Bridge
At the end of SR 406/Garden St. in Titusville lies a killer spot to view nighttime launches. On launch days, they close the bridge to vehicle traffic, so pedestrians can safely watch the rockets. Parking can be a bitch, though, so be sure to head over there early.

Port Canaveral
At Port Canaveral, you’ve got your choice of bars to drink at while you wait for the launch. Oh, and there’s some pretty tasty seafood, too, if you need to lay down a base for all those drinks you plan to nurse. Show up at about 4:30, and you’ll also have time to settle in and watch the cruise ships leave port. You’ve never seen tiny-ant-looking people waving goodbye so hard.

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