How to see a space shuttle launch live
Go for lift off!
NASA will conduct 10 more launches of space shuttles before it retires the Endeavour, Discovery, and Atlantis. If you don’t see one of these launches by the end of 2010, you may have to wait a while. A new series of manned spacecraft, Orion, might not take to the skies until 2014.
Pick a three-day launch window
NASA regularly updates the launch schedule on its website, but the agency usually changes the schedule repeatedly—including at the last minute. Plan to be around Cape Canaveral, Fla., for at least two days—the scheduled day and the day after. (We suggest you arrive a day ahead of the launch date so that you can take a tour and snap photos up close of the space shuttle on the launch pad.) The area immediately around Cape Canaveral isn't that interesting, but Orlando is about a 45-minute drive west, and the Spanish colonial town of St. Augustine, Fla., is only about two hours north.
Here's where to catch the best views
The closest you can get to a rocket launch is the NASA Causeway, which offers a clear view from a spot five-and-a-half-miles from the launch pad. At this spot, you'll hear official launch countdown commentary and have access to restrooms. Visitors must buy a launch transportation ticket and admission to the Kennedy Visitor Complex.
The other officially sponsored option is The Rocket Garden at the main buildings at the Kennedy Visitor Complex. At the Rocket Garden, you’ll be able to hear launch briefings, talks by astronauts, and a live NASA countdown. You'll also see video presentations on a jumbo-sized screen. But the Center is six miles from the launch pad, and a treeline partially obstructs the view of the take-off.
Tickets for both sites, which include a tour of the Kennedy Space center, become available from the Kennedy Space Center by phone at 321/449-4444 about six weeks before a launch. They cost $40 to $85, varying by the launch date you pick and the location you choose. Tickets are limited. The next launches are Discovery on February 12, 2009, Endeavour on May 15, 2009, and Atlantis on July 30, 2009. Updates about future launch tickets can be found on the space center website: kennedyspacecenter.com
A word of caution
If your launch is rescheduled up to the day before, your tickets will be valid for the rescheduled launch date. But if you enter the Center and the launch is rescheduled to another date, your launch viewing tickets are considered “used” and you'll have to buy a new ticket for the new launch date. And if a launch is canceled (or "scrubbed," in NASA lingo), you don't get a refund.
Rather save money?
Watch from an off-site location. NASA recommends four different locations (the first three listed on this webpage are free). Listen for launch details on the radio on AM stations 1240 and 1350.
Can't make it to Florida?
NASA TV streams the launch from its website.
Here's a minute-and-a-half video with a synchronized collection of space shuttle launches.
This weekend: Model trains take over Traverse City, Mich.
Christmas has come early for those hoping for a model train under the tree this year: the Festival of Trains kicks off this weekend in Traverse City, Mich. The festival, a tradition in this town in Northern Michigan for nearly two decades, opens Saturday. Volunteers set up built-to-scale model trains, mostly in the N, HO, S, O and G scales. The result is a tricked-out giant display of models running on tracks through diorama-like scenes. The Northern Michigan Rail Road Club puts on the display at the Grand Traverse Heritage Center, a building that used to house a library. The Center is in a beautiful district that also has several mansions of 19th-century lumber barons. More than 8,000 people attended last year's installment, and organizers are expecting about 10,000 this year. In case you didn't know, Traverse City is a resort town that's about two-and-a-half hours north of Grand Rapids on Lake Michigan, between the pinkie and the fourth finger in Michigan's mitten. 322 Sixth Street, 231/995-0313, tickets from $2. Open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. A family pass is available for unlimited visits for $25. MORE Read more in the Traverse City Record-Eagle. Check out the Traverse City Visitors Bureau for ideas on what else to do. Shop in the city's historical downtown area. For more travel news, go to Alltop.
Picking on Paris and other "overrated" cities
In a move so shameless I wish I'd thought of it myself, professional traveler/TV host Leon Logothetis fought against the post-Thanksgiving doldrums of the Los Angeles Times with a "special package" listing five cities he found particularly overrated. Athens, Paris, Prague, Dubai, and Moscow all get slammed—often for their residents' poor social skills. And rain. Seriously. Predictably, the comments are as cranky and funny and anecdotal and unfair as the article itself. Here's a sample: "[Honolulu is a] thin veneer of beachfront overdevelopment fronting a slum with wretched roads" …that "city where the cab driver ripped you off—are you sure that wasn't Bangkok?" "[Venice,] often thought of as a beautiful and romantic city, has become a smelling tourist trap." "We went to a rain forest [in Costa Rica] and saw no animals except small monkeys. We saw no flowers, only many trees." What places would you put on your own shortlist of the overrated? And (just as important) which do you think aren't overrated at all?
Gear: A new wheelie bag arrives
Just in time for holiday travel, Timbuk2 is rolling out its first wheelie bag. Appropriately called the Checkpoint, the lightweight 22-inch carryon is part of the company's travel collection for Spring 2009. Made of the same durable ballistic nylon as the company's signature messenger bag, the Checkpoint weighs less than eight pounds. The front pocket provides easy access to your one-quart Ziploc bag of toiletries when you're going through airport security. Check out this video to see the other features, including a hidden pocket for your jewelry. I especially like how the bag has handles on all four sides, so you can stash it in the overhead luggage compartment in any direction. The Checkpoint is available at timbuk2.com for delivery before Christmas. The bag, which comes in brown, black, and green, will be in retail stores starting in January. Today is the last day to place orders for free ground shipping. Otherwise expect to add from $14 for shipping. Timbuk2.com, $250.
A few good links: Amsterdam cleaning up its act
A few travel stories that caught my eye this past week: Tiny Texas town is heading to Las Vegas for vacation. It's free—but the citizens have to appear in Sin City tourism ads. [AP via Yahoo] Amsterdam to close sex shops, brothels, marijuana cafes The mayor's plan would "cut the sex windows and marijuana cafes by more than half." [Tripso] Passports with Purpose Travel bloggers holding a raffle to benefit Heifer International. [Wanderlust and Lipstick] Europe's Christmas markets The Christmas market is "for Nuremberg what the Oktoberfest is for Munich." [Christian Science Monitor] Five things I hate about airports Surprisingly, "lack of decent seats" didn't make the list. [Travel Rants] Personalized in-flight mags at Heathrow HSBC is running an airport promotion that lets you pick from a bunch of articles to make your own ideal mag. But will it end up being more entertaining than flipping through SkyMall? [Springwise] Is there a "Flat Tire Rule"? On some airlines, if you show up less than two hours late because of a flat tire or similar emergency, they'll put you on standby without a fee. [Airfarewatchdog]