This picture was taken on Saturday in Titusville, Florida. If you look closely, you'll see the space shuttle not taking off in the background as thousands of people watch with excited anticipation along the banks of the Indian River, 19 miles across the water from the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center.
I'm standing in a field on U.S. 1 just south of the Miracle City Mall, which the Unofficial Space Shuttle Launch Guide recommends as one of the best places to not see the shuttle take off:
If you can't get a launch pass I suggest you come to Titusville. Go east on State Road 50 from I-95, to US-1. Go north on US-1 to the "Miracle City Mall" at Harrison. Park somewhere north of this spot. Anywhere north along highway 1, or east (as far as you can) along highway 406 (402) is good (specifically Sand Point Park), just as long as you can see the VAB and don't have trees blocking the view.
Because another disaster would mean the end of the program, I dragged the kids on one of those "memory of a lifetime" moments when parents force their children to enjoy something under protest, like the time in 1981 my siblings and I were subjected to a live performance of the Gatlin Brothers.
Traffic was horrible on Interstate 95 between the scheduled launch, the Pepsi 400 race in Daytona and July 4 weekend vacationers. After the shuttle was declared a no-go because of gathering storm clouds, the three-mile drive back out of Titusville took an hour.
The family will never forget the time we spent six hours in the car to stand spend 45 minutes in a weed-filled vacant lot.
On Sunday, we saw the launch from Butler Beach south of St. Augustine, which looked like a lot like this picture from Canova Beach to the south of the cape. This was a thrilling experience that left hundreds of beachgoers awestruck -- especially if miraculous feats of human engineering make you weepy.
But next time around, I'm going to get close enough for the launch to shake loose a few fillings.
One of the best parts of living in Orlando is that I can see Shuttle launches from my driveway, or zip right over and see them up close.
The first launch I ever saw was from right next to the Astronaut Museum, across the water. At night. Which is so much better than a daytime launch you can't believe it...
I had a similar experience back in 1984. My parents made me sit in a field to watch the Maiden Voyage of Discovery instead of building sand castles on the beach. After several hours, the launch attempt was scrubbed. The next day, we watched the liftoff from the comfort of our hotel room on the TV.
Little did I know that one of those astronauts who did not lift off that day would be killed soon after on the Challenger.
If it makes you feel better, nearly 22 years later, I still talk about the time I went to see the Space Shuttle NOT launch.
I'll never forget the time my school sent us kids on a field trip to "Cape Kennedy".
I think we were fairly well-behaved on the way there, but it's amazing how much a bunch of stifled hellions can raise the decibel level in even a building as large as the VAB.
Funnily enough, the highlight of the trip turned out to be the moment the moderator announced over the PA system, "Folks, Roy Rogers has just entered the building".
You should have heard us yell.
I settled for watching from my back yard, from the pool... on a float... Red Stripe in hand.
When I worked in the Pentagon I had the chance to attend a number of satellite launches as a VIP guest. Those Delta rockets shake your body in a way that's almost orgasmic, I'd love to see the shuttle... even at 3 miles it would be awesome.
I flew an ultralight plane as close as you legally can to the VAB, though not during a launch (now that would be exciting). Compared to a Cessna, it's the difference between riding a vintage Indian in the wind and driving a Camry.
I was lucky enough to witness a night launch from across the Indian River. Wow! What an experience. Because of the distance from the launch site, you see the shuttle before you hear it. Then you feel the sound rumbling across the river moments before you actually hear it. It was incredible.
You saw the launch from Butler Beach south of St. Augustine. I lived at Butler Beach for a few years, on both sides of A1A. Some of the residents could remember when Ray Charles (he went to the Deaf and Blind School in St. Aug) played boogie piano at one of the cathouses there. They said the place was really jumpin' back in pre-integration days.
Back when 18 was still the legal drinking age in Florida, we underage kids used to go to Butler Beach to buy beer and cheap wine. We'd go at night, of course, and it was like a quick trip to Bimini. The neighborhood still had an island vibe to it, then.
And the lady who sold us the goods had a nearly impenetrable accent, I thought maybe she was Geechee.
I actually lived for a while in the building that used to be the cathouse where Ray played. There was a huge mound of shattered glass on one side where my buddies and I would smash empty beer bottles against the wall. We'd hurl them as hard as we could across thirty feet of open room. What anarchic fun.
I think St. Johns County had more regional character then. Everything's more homogenized now, with all this exurban sprawl. Fewer and fewer mom-and-pop operations, more and more plastic chains with no soul.
A guy told me that some parts of coastal Australia are like time warps of here as it was in the '70's.
Maybe I'll go there.
Man, Brevard County where Titusville and the Space Center are, is a long county, north/south.
I was in a bar on the beach when the shuttle was launched (I'm not an alcoholic.) The view was spectacular, but ironically, even though I was just over the county line from Brevard into Indian River County, I was about the same distance from the launch as you were at Butler Beach.