One of my (Jeff’s) earliest memories is sitting in front of our tiny black-and-white TV, watching John Glenn blast into space atop a Mercury rocket. Fast forward a few years and I remember the excitement of staying up late to watch Neil Armstrong become the first human to walk on the moon. But despite watching many rocket launches on TV, I had never been in the right place at the right time to see one in person. That is, until now.
While at the Thousand Trails Orlando RV Resort, we learned that there would be a daytime rocket launch from Cape Canaveral during our stay. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus crisis, there would be no on-site viewing at the Kennedy Space Center, but after consulting with friends and with google, we learned that we could have great views right from the side of the road near Port Canaveral. So we piled into the car with our friends Adam and Helena, our camera equipment, and our binoculars, and headed east to the coast. As we approached the port, we saw cars lined up along a service road by the Banana River, so we joined them. We then found a tiny piece of beach where we could keep our social-distance from other observers yet have a clear line of site across the water to the launch pad. I eagerly set up my tripod and camera.
Lesson 1 – Rockets don’t always take off on time.
Lesson 2 – If you’re going to be sitting on a hot beach in Florida, you should bring an umbrella and chairs.
For Space Geeks: This launch by the United Launch Alliance was an Atlas V rocket carrying the sixth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF-6) satellite. AEHF-6 is the final AEHF satellite, and it will provide highly secure, jam-proof communications — including real-time video — between U.S. national leadership and deployed military forces. It was also the first launch of the newly formed U. S. Space Force (www.space.com).
As my camera rolled, we listened to the “live” countdown over the internet, which stopped just 46 seconds before lift off! Never fear. There was a hydraulic problem, but the engineers were working on it and they had a nice, long launch window. The countdown timer was reset to four minutes. And then we waited. In the sun. On the beach. With no chairs.
After about an hour-and-a-half, we were starting to think about taking shifts in the car to cool off until (and if) the launch was going to happen. And just at that moment, the countdown resumed.
Lesson 3 – “Live” internet reports are delayed by as much as 30 seconds!
Fortunately, I restarted the video camera with about one minute to go – according to the internet. But imagine my surprise when the “countdown” got to 30 seconds and suddenly “there it goes!”
Lesson 4 – When you’re watching from a mile (or two) away, the sound doesn’t reach you until the rocket is high in the air. But what an amazing rumble it is!
The lift off was beautiful, exhilarating, majestic. It was worth the wait and worth the drive. What a fantastic afternoon! And in the back of my mind I’m hoping that someday, after the coronavirus pandemic has (hopefully) become a thing of the past, we will be able to get even closer, perhaps within the Space Center itself, and watch another exciting launch, up close and personal!