One of the fun perks of being a Florida resident has been that many of us around the state have had the chance to see a space shuttle go up more than once, either near the launch site or from afar on the other side of the state.
Ask them, and most Tampa Bay residents will have a story about a special shuttle moment: the thunderous winter night-time launches that lit up the sky, a fiery trail against brilliant blue viewed from the Skyway, or that terribly sad day when the vapor trails of Challenger looked amiss overhead at Crescent Lake Park.
So Friday's scheduled launch of Atlantis as the last for the shuttle program has many longtime residents planning to scan the skies when the scheduled time arrives at 11:26 a.m. (That's if the shuttle goes up. There's only a 30 percent chance it will.)
But where are the best spots in the bay area to watch if you're not planning on driving across the state? Here are some suggestions, and all involve looking slightly northeast, about 2 o'clock high. If you have a radio to take with you, that can be helpful to figure out exactly when it goes up so you'll know when to look. The best viewing sites, of course, are up high, but any place that doesn't have trees or buildings anywhere in the east nearby can be good.
That's why these spots are good for viewing:
• Ballast Point Park in Tampa. Appropriately, the site was first named Jules Verne Park, for the French author who chose Tampa as the setting for his fictional launching pad in the 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon. It has open water and is easily accessible.
• The top of The Pier in St. Petersburg. You'll pay for parking, but there's air conditioning (and maybe an ice cream cone) once it goes up.
• The top deck of the parking garage at Tampa International Airport. The first hour of parking is free, so if the shuttle goes up on time, you're good to go.
• Any waterfront park in St. Petersburg, from Coffeepot Boulevard south to Lassing Park. The closer to the water you are, the better.
• Anywhere along Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa.
• Davis Islands in Tampa near the southern tip. Nice and open and plenty of parking.
• The Safety Harbor Pier in North Pinellas.
If you've got another good spot, leave a comment below. And good luck catching this momentous and historical event.