I don’t really believe in bucket list items. But if you’re into aviation a rocket launch should probably be on your list.
You don’t get especially close to the event. Proximity is generally measured in miles. And you typically have to be very lucky for the number of miles to be in the single digits. It is still an incredible experience.
The problem with a launch is that it is over so quickly. With clear skies maybe you get 90 seconds of time with the rocket visible from ignition until it is too high and too far down range. In that context watching a live stream online might be the “better” choice. But, to me, that’s selling the overall experience short.
You miss out on that initial moment where the rocket fuel is burning furiously and yet nothing appears to be happening. For a brief moment some 550 tons (for SpaceX Falcon 9, others will vary) floats just off the pad as though it is deciding whether to head into space or not. Of course it does, but there’s always that moment. And it is different in person than on video.
You miss out on the noise when watching a launch online. Some 30-40 seconds after ignition (or more, depending on how far from the site you end up) the roar of that massive energy release comes rolling across and it is deafening.
And you miss out on the camaraderie of joining others equally excited to be a part of something that is still incredibly special. SpaceX wants to make launches a regular occurrence. So does Blue Origin. And maybe they’ll get there eventually. I’m not betting on it given costs and limited demand. Either way, it remains a very special event today.
I’ve now been fortunate enough to attend launches at sunrise in California (this one), mid-afternoon in Florida (SpaceX/Inmarsat I-5 F4) and just after sunset in French Guiana (ViaSat-2/Eutelsat 172b on an Ariane 5). They were all spectacular in their own right. There’s no reason to claim a favorite when it is that much fun every time.
Just remember that uncertainty and flexibility are all part of the process. Rockets are still far more dependent on weather and other factors than planes. Delays happen and that’s part of the process. I almost bailed on this trip two different times because of the delays. I shuffled and rebooked (hooray, last minute saver-level award space!) and then rebooked again as flights were disrupted. But the payoff is incredible. I highly recommend it.
Huge thanks to the folks at the 30th Space Wing for their hospitality and to Iridium and SpaceX for letting me on the media list for the event.
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