My 13 year-old son and I attended the launch of STS-127 earlier this week. This trip report will hopefully help some planning to attend future launches. I am posting in both the Titusville and Cape Canaveral forums.
For those not aware, STS-127 scrubbed five launch attempts before finally launching on their sixth attempt. The first two scrubs were during June due to fuel tank leaks.
Our base for both the June and July launch attempts was the Clarion Inn in Titusville. I will write a separate review for the hotel. My summary recommendation is to get your reservations made before the hotel realizes the date of the launch. We were able to get reservations for $76 per night by booking early – the hotel was asking $220 per night by launch.
The shuttle launch schedule is fluid – dates often change. STS-127 was previously scheduled for May – I made the reservations when they decided to push 127 to June and made our July reservations between the two failed scrub attempts in June. Clarion’s reservations are cancelable up until the day before your arrival (check the details carefully in case this changes).
When we came down in June we did not have any tickets to watch the launch at NASA, so the Clarion (one of the very few hotels along the Indian River in Titusville) was a natural selection for the early morning launch. The July launches were in the evening and I had secured tickets to watch on the NASA causeway after making our reservations. I was able to pick up 2 tickets from the forum at www.nasaspaceflight.com Follow the “Going to launch” thread on the mission to see if anyone offers tickets – particularly on launches that get delayed after the tickets are originally sold.
Our flight to Orlando arrived on time at 7 p.m. Friday. We found the rental car lines to be extraordinarily long. We were in Terminal A and I sent my son to Terminal B to check out the line. The line was considerably shorter and they had more workers so he jumped in line and I walked over. Still we spent more than an hour to get our rental car. The airport had been closed for two hours due to thunderstorms and we arrived right as the backlog of landing flights cleared, but there were three hours of reservations in the rental car line. We had a reservation with Avis – great coupon codes at www.mousesavers.com One of the codes consistenly comes up with rates 30% - 40% lower than other rates.
Saturday evening was to be the original launch date – it was scrubbed mid-morning Saturday as NASA wanted to review the shuttle to ensure there was no damage from numerous lightning strikes around the launch pad on Friday. We decided to go to the beach on Saturday afternoon – since Playalinda Beach was closed due to the shuttle launch, we drove to Cocoa Beach and Lori Wilson Park. Off A1A just a little bit South of 520 (just past the Hilton). Ample free parking at the beach, showers for rinsing off the sand and a nice restroom for changing. Beach was gorgeous – we had a great time. Tried to go to a Brevard County Manatees baseball game on Saturday night. Got to Viera and found the game was called due to heavy rain right before we got there.
Went to St. Teresa’s for Sunday morning mass. Nice church – felt somewhat out of place with my shorts on. Most adult males had long pants on – I did not pack any. People were friendly. Went to lunch at Dixie Crossroads (no line when they opened at 11 on Sunday) and then headed to KSC for the launch.
A note about tickets to watch the launch at KSC. The hottest tickets available to the public are the causeway tickets. These are called LTT (Launch Transportation Tickets) tickets. They usually sell out within a few minutes of going on sale. Your sale is not complete until you complete your payment information (type fast) and submit. I have been told that taking the “Lunch with an astronaut package” tickets last a little longer – and give you a better chance of getting through. NASA also sells tickets to watch the launch from the visitor’s center. You cannot see the launch pad from the visitor’s center, so you miss the first few seconds of liftoff. You do have access to the visitor center attractions (including food, air conditioning and restrooms) while waiting for the launch.
Whether you have LTT tickets or Visitor’s Center tickets, you also have a vehicle placard giving you a time to arrive. Security checks for the vehicle placard several miles from the visitor center. Without the placard, you are turned around and not allowed to enter. Don’t buy any launch tickets from a third party without a vehicle placard.
Your LTT ticket is used up when you board the bus to the causeway. Sunday and Monday launches were last minute scrubs due to weather. After each of those scrubs, NASA gave us passes that allowed us to purchase replacement LTT tickets for $21.20 each ($20 plus tax). We had until the visitor center closed that evening to purchase the tickets. Any remaining LTT tickets went on sale to the general public the next morning (you had until Noon to arrive without a placard and be admitted). My understanding is the sale to the public is very rare.
The causeway was very comfortable both days we were there. We had purchased $10 umbrella style folding chairs at a WalMart in Orlando. We had a nice seabreeze and it was not as uncomfortable as I thought it would be. NASA had loudspeakers set up and there was countdown clock on the causeway. Portable restrooms and concession stands were available.
Monday’s crowd on the causeway was considerably less than Sunday’s. Not crowded at all.
After Monday evening’s scrub, NASA elected to take Tuesday off. We elected to drive to Jacksonville and St. Augustine for the day. Wish we had just gone to St. Augustine – we could have filled a full day there. St. Augustine Lighthouse was great and here is a recommendation for Pizza Garden for dinner – on A1A heading South from the lighthouse. We had spent an afternoon in Daytona on our June trip. I would recommend Daytona due to the shorter distance for a one day diversion from the Cape, St. Augustine is about a 90 minute drive.
It felt like the Groundhog Day movie by Wednesday morning. Fortunately no Sonny and Cher on the radio. We had a nice lunch along the water in Cape Canaveral and headed to the visitor’s center. We waited for one of the later busses to the causeway and were pleasantly surprised to hear that NASA closed the causeway (6.5 miles from the launch pad) and were taking everyone with LTT tickets to the VIP Banana Creek Viewing Area at the Saturn V Center – only 3.5 miles away. From discussion with our driver, this was an unprecedented action. The expected crowd was small enough to accommodate everyone at the VIP area. This is the location from which the astronaut families watch the launch. The families were segregated in a separate area – but were only 500 yards or so away from the rest of us.
The launch was simply awesome from the VIP viewing area. Only got a few pictures and many had advised to watch the launch with my eyes, not through the viewfinder. Have about 2 seconds of pictures and a lot of pictures of the sky – that’s what happens when you don’t look through the viewfinder as you take pictures. LOL
As for post launch traffic – after the Sunday night scrub we stayed at the Visitor Center for over an hour after our return from the causeway. We cruised out of the parking lot on to 407, but hit stop and go traffic about 5 minutes after we left the causeway and it took us an hour to get to Titusville. After the Monday scrub and Wednesday launch, we took the South exit from KSC on Route 3 down to Merritt Island – very little traffic this way. We hung out in the Cocoa Beach / Cape Canaveral area both nights until traffic thinned out to let get easily back to Titusville. If I knew I had LTT or Visitor Center tickets, I would stay in Cocoa Beach or the Cape Canaveral area instead of Titusville based on my traffic experiences.
Sorry for the long post – hopefully some helpful info for future shuttle visitors. The numerous scrubs made STS 127 a “non-normal” launch and Preston and other may tell us that my traffic and ticket experiences are not normal (I know the VIP area is not normal). Believe those veterans before you believe this rookie.
We did fly to Orlando on Southwest. It had been recommended for flights to shuttle launches as they are the only major airline not to charge change fees. This proved to be very beneficial as I had to change our return flight twice and was looking at a third change if the Wednesday launch had scrubbed. I did have to pay an increased fare (from 59 to 70 to 119) with each change, but it was much better than having to pay a $75 change fee each time along with the fare change. The Southwest boarding system can be a pain, but the no charge for changes policy is a must when attending something as unpredictable as a shuttle launch.