You have to see this
A space shuttle launch is a great spectacle, a fiery and thundering display of scientific know-how and pure explosive power. And the image of shuttles blasting off has become an icon of Florida, an image as recognizable as Mickey Mouse and orange juice. But now you've got only three more chances to watch a space shuttle launch, including one set to lift off Friday. The shuttle program is scheduled to shut down this year. So here is a quick guide on how to see one of the remaining launches.
Find a good spot
Buy a ticket in advance and go to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, the NASA Causeway or the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. Pros: Prime viewing location in a great setting. Cons: Tickets are sold out for this week's launch and they will sell out lightning-fast for the last two launches (possibly within 30 minutes of going on sale.)
The best way to get them is to go online to kennedyspacecenter.com/visit-us and click on "sign up for launch and event e-mails."
Book a hotel on Cocoa Beach or nearby and stay for a few days. Pros: If the launch is delayed, you're still at the beach. Cons: Can be expensive. For more information: visitcocoabeach.com, or (321) 454-2022.
Road trip. It's possible to drive over and back in a day, but it will be long and tiring. Pros: It's pretty cheap. Cons: You could spend 10-12 hours of driving, waiting and fighting traffic, without seeing a launch (flights are often scrubbed).
Watch the launches from the Tampa Bay area, by looking to the east at launch time. Pros: It's really cheap. And in the event of a scrub, you're already at home. Cons: You're pretty far away, and clouds can obscure the view.
• In Titusville, along the Indian River on U.S. 1.
• The Beachline Expressway (State Road 528), especially along the Bennett Causeway.
• Off State Road A1A along the Atlantic Ocean in Cocoa Beach.
• Jetty Park at Port Canaveral.
Some words to the wise
It's a long trip and the post-launch traffic can be frustrating. Kind of like the traffic jam after a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game, only worse. So stay safe, don't be in a hurry and don't run out of gas. Leave Tampa Bay at least six hours before launch. Take plenty of extra drivers, food, water and maps or GPS devices. Pull over if you get tired.
Often, launches are canceled, and sometimes you don't know until minutes before launch time. This is why it makes sense to reserve a hotel room weeks in advance if possible. If the launch is scrubbed on one day, NASA will normally try again the next day. After that, officials will often take a day off before trying again.
The most direct way for most of the Tampa Bay area is to take Interstate 4 toward Orlando, take State Road 417 around the city, and head east on State Road 528. But depending on your location, there are alternate routes.
Three more chances
The current schedule for remaining launches: • Atlantis, Friday • Discovery, Sept. 16* • Endeavour, mid November
* Local connection: Astronaut Nicole Passonno Stott, who grew up in Clearwater, is scheduled to launch aboard Discovery on Sept. 16.