On one of our first visits to the beach upon arriving to Florida in Dec 2017 we noticed crowds of people looking into the sky.
Even though where we were on Jensen Beach was about 100 miles from the rocket launch site near Cape Canaveral on the Space Coast, we could see a con-trail from a rocket snaking its way into the upper atmosphere.
From then on we knew we had to see a rocket launch while we were in Florida!
We got online and were excited to find out that they were planning a launch in February of the Falcon Heavy – a heavy-lift launch vehicle designed and manufactured by SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space company. It is the most powerful operational rocket in the world, and they have been trying to launch it since 2015.
Tom (the space nerd that he is) had been following the Falcon Heavy news and SpaceX launches for a while, so it was sheer luck that we happened to be here when they were going to try again. It could lift 64 metric tons, or 141,000lbs, into orbit. It also is a proof-of-concept for reusing rocket boosters – drastically reducing the cost of space launches.
Launch Day – February 6, 2018
The launch window for the rocket was between 1:30 PM and 4:00PM EST. In anticipation of maddening crowds vying for a place to park and see the launch, we got up at the ungodly time of 3:24AM to get a move on. We had about a 2.5 hour drive up to Cape Canaveral National Seashore which opened at 6AM and where we planned to watch the launch.
We packed food, chairs, bikes, and pillows and were on the road by 4AM. We reached Titusville around 6:30AM and that is where we hit the traffic. It was slow and painful to inch along, anxiety and sleep deprivation toying with us. Would we find a spot? Should we have left earlier? Luckily, we had a gorgeous sunrise to lighten the mood as we waited to enter the Seashore.
We finally got to the entrance gate around 7:30AM and a huge weight lifted from our shoulders! We followed cars to a parking spot in Lot 6 (of 13 or 14) and we settled in for a much needed nap.
*TIP – bring your own toilet paper and hand santizer, the bathroom lines are long and can run out of supplies fast!
Our Viewing Spot
After our naps and a little bit of work (cell service was terrible due to remoteness and number of people trying to stay connected) we scouted out the area for our viewing spot. We hiked out onto the beach, where the high boardwalks had long-since been staked out by photographers and enthusiasts.
The beach was packed, and people were taking advantage of being stuck waiting on a beach and the gorgeous weather that day.
At the closest place to the launch you could get there was a line of cameras on tripods. It appeared that the tide was coming in, and space was tight.
From here you couldn’t even really see the whole rocket – it poked up halfway over a sand dune in the distance. We decided we’d head back to a hill we spotted on our exploration. Our viewing hill from behind, Falcon Heavy ready to launch in background.
It turned out to be a perfect viewing spot, so we set up our cameras and towels…and waited.
Around 1:15 we got word that the launch had been delayed to 2:30 due to high altitude winds. Then to 2:50.
Then shortly after it was pushed to 3:45PM. The launch window closed at 4:00, so if they bumped it any more they’d have to scrub the launch til another day – perhaps tomorrow. We all crossed our fingers and waited some more. We really wanted to see it launch, but we also wanted to see it successful.
We were so torn and anxious, and couldn’t even imagine what Elon Musk was thinking or feeling. He had all these people outside waiting for the final decision. Would they go for it even if conditions weren’t perfect? Or would they hold off and disappoint so many excited people?
And then finally, after several long, hot hours, showtime arrived! Adrenaline surged at the countdown and then….
And then the rocket boosters came back!!
We were ecstatic! The whole Seashore was going nuts cheering, laughing, exclaiming! We had witnessed history being made, and we were all so grateful to be there to see it.
We drove back in horrible traffic, although again we were treated by mother nature to a beautiful sunset during our wait.
When we finally got home we turned on YouTube to watch Falcon Heavy’s payload orbiting the Earth – a Tesla Roadster being driven by Star Man. Such an epic day!
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