Where to watch the SpaceX launch to the International Space Station
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket awaits launch early Saturday morning, May 19, 2012, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 40. The rocket will take the Dragon capsule with 1,200 pounds of cargo to the ISS. (Red Huber, Orlando Sentinel)
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After a series of delays, the launch is set for the wee hours of Tuesday morning, May 22. The 3:40 a.m. planned launch should make for a spectacular view from all around Central Florida, if you're awake. The next available time is 3:22 a.m. Wednesday, May 23.
The launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 40 will take the Dragon up into space with 1,200 pounds of cargo to the International Space Station, the first time a privately built spacecraft will rendezvous with the station.
"It's almost like the lead-up to Apollo, in my mind," said Mike Horkachuck, NASA's project executive for SpaceX. "You had Mercury then you had Gemini and eventually you had Apollo. This would be similar in the sense that, we're not going to the moon or anything as spectacular as that, but we are in the beginnings of commercializing space. This may be the Mercury equivalent to eventually flying crew and then eventually leading to, in the long run, passenger travel in space."
So it has that going for it, and if you want good seats, here are your best bets.
Port Canaveral: There's a lot of spots just north of the port along Route 401 that have a full view of the launch complex that are free, but space is limited. It's about 10 miles away, so the sound of the launch won't be as impressive as Playalinda. Just take the exit for the North Terminals and take 401 around the port and grab a spot.
S.R. 528: The BeachLine offers another great view of the launch complex and is also free. Just pull off along the road after passing Merritt Island. You'll want to view from the north side. It is also about 10 miles from the launch complex.
U.S. 1: Pretty much anywhere along U.S. north of S.R. 528 up to Space View Park is a great place to watch the launch, but the view of the launch tower and distance of more than 10 miles won't be as nice as the other locations.
Because of the hour for the launch, two of the best viewing sites won't be available, Playalinda Beach and the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex. Playalinda Beach, part of the Canaveral National Seashore run by the National Parks Service won't be open to the public as its hours are from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. The KSC Visitors Complex will also be closed because of the early hours.
For more specific viewing location options, view KSC's recommendations at http://kennedyspacecenter.com/off-site-launch-viewing.aspx