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I've never been to see a rocket launch. I'd like a checklist of what to consider in choosing where to go, what type of launch to pick, and what to allow for in terms of missed launch dates or other issues.

I probably would not try to photograph it - others can do a much better job and I've seen pics and videos. I just want to be close as possible, close enough to see it unaided, and hear and feel the roar.

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    $\begingroup$ From all the videos I have seen I would be happy seeing any launch live, so my single criterion would be "Is it close enough that I can get to it" :-) $\endgroup$ – Rory Alsop Aug 30 '13 at 11:45
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, absolutely. I just don't want to get there and miss it because of lack of information. :) $\endgroup$ – Don Branson Aug 30 '13 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ Consider the distance. If you live in Arkhangelsk, you can just go to Plesetsk. That's only 350 km. $\endgroup$ – horsh Aug 30 '13 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ @horsh - Yes, distance should definitely be on the list. $\endgroup$ – Don Branson Aug 30 '13 at 16:34
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    $\begingroup$ The weather forecast is essential. Clear sky gives you several minutes, low clouds give you just several seconds, especially if watching from dome distance. $\endgroup$ – horsh Sep 1 '13 at 22:18
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Disclaimer

These are from my own personal experience, which only encompasses launches from the east coast of Florida. Other US launch sites include Vandenberg AFB in California, which does have some decent viewing sites (though I do not know details), and Wallops Island, Virginia (about which I know next to nothing). I also have no real knowledge regarding non-US launch sites, other than general location (Kwajalein, Centre spatial guyanais, Baikonur).

Location

Depending on the launch details, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station offers several good viewing locations for a launch.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center offers tickets to various launches, which will typically let you watch from the closest point NASA and the Air Force are comfortable allowing the public. This is typically either the KSC press site or the East NASA Causeway, which is about 7 miles from LC-39A (Shuttle), 5 miles from SLC-41 (Atlas), and about 4 miles from SLC-40 (SpaceX). The farthest point on the causeway is only about 3.5 miles from SLC-37 (Delta), which is probably quite a bit closer than you would be allowed.

If you want to watch for free, your best bet would be either Space View Park in Titusville (13-15 miles from the active launch complexes) for high-azimuth launches, like SpaceX resupply missions to the ISS, or Jetty Park in Cape Canaveral for due-east launches (9-12 miles).

Other considerations

Photography

If you've never seen a launch in person before, don't focus too hard on getting good pictures. You want to watch the launch with your eyes, not with the screen on your camera. I was able to get decent video by zooming out and holding the camera at my chest -- pointing it in the general direction of the vehicle.

Delays

Launch schedules only move in one direction. Plan to be there for at least two or three days after the planned launch date, plan to be there at least a couple hours after launch time, and be aware that the launch may not happen after all.

Environment

CCAFS and KSC are basically in a giant swamp. Bring sunscreen (lots -- unless it's a night launch), plenty of water, and mosquito repellant (always!). Also keep an eye out for alligators -- expect to find one in pretty much every ditch and puddle around you.

Keeping tabs on the launch

If you have a digital trunking scanner, program in the CCAFS/KSC radio frequencies. You won't necessarily get the launch control loop, especially with military or proprietary launches, but you should get enough chatter to give you an idea of how long until liftoff.

If you have 4G service, you might try following streaming video of the launch (varies, depending on launch provider). Keep in mind the stream will about 30 seconds behind real time.

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  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage Please reread my answer and reconsider your downvote. $\endgroup$ – Tristan Sep 3 '13 at 14:40
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, that answer is a lot better. Also, I suggest fleshing out your location section a little bit, since it is only addresses US launches. It would be nice, too, if you could put the cities that the listed launch sites are in, for readers to easily estimate their distance. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Sep 3 '13 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ I can only speak from my personal experience, which is strictly Florida launches. Other US launch sites include VAFB in California (Atlas, SpaceX, and Delta), and Wallops Island in Virginia (various sounding rockets and other vehicles). I know nothing about where to view launches from for those locations, nor am I familiar with non-US launch sites. $\endgroup$ – Tristan Sep 3 '13 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ Excellent answer. I think an ideal answer would be country-agnostic - just what to consider across the board. $\endgroup$ – Don Branson Sep 5 '13 at 1:41
  • $\begingroup$ There are also sounding rocket launches in White Sands. Both EUNIS and Hi-C launched from there. (but I have no idea if there are any places for public viewing nearby, as I've never been) $\endgroup$ – Joe Mar 27 '14 at 2:12

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