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  • At NASA Wallops the visitor center is 4 miles from the pad.
  • Families of shuttle crews could watch from 3 miles away as their loved ones where hurled into orbit.
  • At Biakonur I can apparently get to within 1.1 miles of the launch.

But is that the closest I could get, as a civilian not affiliated with the crew? Is there anywhere in the world that allows viewing from even closer? Moreover, what's the closest anyone has been to an orbital launch. (including bunkers)

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    $\begingroup$ The last question: On the rocket;-) Next to that, there are often underground bunkers that engineers will occasionally be in that are only a few hundred feet from the launch. I suppose you mean outside, however, and that question I don't know... $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Dec 19 '14 at 12:10
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    $\begingroup$ I'm taking a shot at guessing that you really want to know about how close to the launch you could get without any special credentials. If my guess is wrong, by all means roll back the edit, but if you do, I would encourage you to actively clarify that part. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Dec 19 '14 at 12:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Michael Kjörling I suppose I'm asking two questions, one about private citizens, and another about the closest anyone has been. I think your edit clarifies the point. $\endgroup$ – ForgeMonkey Dec 19 '14 at 12:30
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    $\begingroup$ That's what one can get for being close to the launch site. $\endgroup$ – Deer Hunter Dec 19 '14 at 12:59
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    $\begingroup$ @ForgeMonkey "If the Proton crashed somewhere completely different to where it did, it might have hit something it didn't hit!" $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Dec 20 '14 at 12:22
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The closest launch to the public for an orbital launch is almost certainly the one you listed, Baikonur. I'm quite confident that for people outside, that is probably about the closest you can get as well. Quite frankly, a mile away isn't very safe to watch a launch...

As for just how close can you get in a protected environment, outside of the spacecraft? There are a few items which I can't determine which would let you be the closest. Contenders are:

  1. I believe I've heard of underground bunkers where some engineers sit during a launch, to do things like stop charging batteries right before launch.
  2. There is the infamous "Rubber Room", which was designed to protect astronauts and staff in the event of an emergency with a fully fueled Apollo 5. To my knowledge, this was never used during a launch, but it could have been, and was indeed very close.
  3. Submarines often launch orbital vehicles. The crew is presumably very close during launch.
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