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June 24th, 2011
02:25 PM ET

How to watch a shuttle launch

Fourteen days and counting! Space shuttle Atlantis is set to launch in exactly two weeks. The crew has completed a countdown rehearsal at Kennedy Space Center. Technicians are carrying out pre-flight tests.

(AFP/Getty Images)

And around the world, hundreds of thousands of people are finalizing their plans to watch Atlantis liftoff. I am one of them.

News Stream had the good luck of covering Discovery's launch live back in February. It was awesome. I just couldn't miss the chance to see the last-ever shuttle blast away from Launch Pad 39A.

Up to a million other people feel the same way. Yes, that could be how many astro-nuts turn up for NASA's ultimate shuttle send-off. And I'm betting more than a couple will be first-timers like me.

So I turned to the experts for advice: CNN's John Zarrella and Miami bureau supervising producer Kim Segal.

John has seen roughly 75 launches. (To put that in perspective, Atlantis is STS-135.) Though maybe I should say he has attended that many. John points out that while covering a launch, "I never get to really see one…!!! I’m facing the camera with launch pad behind me. But I do cheat and take a peak."

Which leads into what I consider his most important words of wisdom, "I would add…enjoy the moment. Look at it.  Forget about taking a picture.  You can buy better pictures of shuttles than you can take!!!"

Kim kindly indulged me even further and answered every question I could think of. Here they are:

How many launches have you watched live?

I have no idea. I would have to count my press credentials, because I do save them, but the challenge would be finding them. They are in boxes with other credentials and notebooks from stories I have covered for CNN over the past 22 years.

What is your best launch memory?

I think my best launch memory was when Senator John Glenn went back into space on Space Shuttle Discovery STS-95. That launch took place 36 years after Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth when he was a Mercury Astronaut in 1962. It was an exciting launch and I had an unusual job that day. I was in charge of communicating with the Goodyear Blimp which worked with CNN to provide aerial pictures.

Just how loud is it?

It's not really very loud on the press mound.  You can talk over the sound without screaming. I know this because during the most recent launches I have turned to my engineer while handing him my camera to ask him to take my picture.

Supervising producer Kim Segal at a shuttle launch

Say someone couldn't get a ticket for the KSC Causeway. Where would you go instead?

I would go to the beach in Cocoa Beach, Florida to watch the launch. The view may be better in Titusville but there is no better place than the ocean and beach to wait for liftoff and after launch traffic to thin out.

Take a picture or just enjoy the moment?

That is a tough one but I would have to say watch for as long as you can see the shuttle and once it disappears either behind a cloud or because it's out of sight then I would snap a photo. You should be able to get the smoke that lingers. Plus you can always buy a picture of the actual launch or save the next day's newspaper those photographs will be the best views.

How is the area preparing and what's the mood?

The head of Florida's Space Coast Office of Tourism has been anticipating this day for awhile now.  When I spoke to him he told me that after this last shuttle launch his agency will work on getting visitors interested in the unmanned rocket launches that take place in the area. If you go to their website you can see a list of dates for upcoming launches.

We've used the word "bittersweet" for the last two launches. What will the "bitter" to "sweet" ratio be for you watching Atlantis?

I will be watching the final launch on TV.  I am participating in a fellowship that has taken me out of the news side of our business for awhile. I am spending the summer working at CNN¹s headquarters in Atlanta so I think I will sneak in the control room to watch John Zarrella cover his final shuttle launch.

I am trying not to be bitter, I am just kidding. I am lucky that I have seen so many launches over the years but I am still finding the reality of no more expense reports titled "Space Shuttle" hard to believe.

Do you know odds of the launch really happening on July 8? What do viewers do if it gets scrubbed?

People spend so much time and money traveling to the area to see the shuttle launch that you can¹t help but to feel bad for them when you go to air reporting a scrub. A scrub for a launch that is expecting 1 million people would be unfortunate. I would rather have to watch this historic moment on TV than to have the date reschedule to one that I could attend.  Yet no matter the size of the crowd if there is one hair out of place, everything is not perfect, NASA will not give a go for launch. If you can't go to the Kennedy Space Center for the launch I think you will enjoy CNN's coverage it is going to be worth watching!

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Filed under: General • Space
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Carl J.

    ""It's not really very loud on the press mound.........""

    I've had old timers tell me although Space Shuttle launches are spectacular to watch, the Saturn V launches during the Apollo era were MUCH louder. They've told me that the Saturn V would produce a very low frequency, staccato pounding that would literally pound at your chest and shake the ground. That must have been very cool!

    June 27, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Reply
  2. Lofty Ambitions

    We'll be there too! The press site is 3.1 miles away, so we found Endeavour's launch to be pretty loud from that distance. What's amazing is that you see the smoke start to billow out from the launch pad before the sound travels that far. Then, especially because there was cloud cover, the heat hits you once the shuttle is well into the sky. We have photos, videos, and commentary at Lofty Ambitions Blog: http://loftyambitions.wordpress.com.

    The traffic is going to be horrendous after the launch!

    June 29, 2011 at 6:47 am | Reply
  3. Thomas

    "How to watch a shuttle launch"??? Travel back in time!

    July 14, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Reply
    • Fener

      Mike | July 5, 2009 How far south down the beach can I walk from New Smyrna? We will be there July 11, 2009 I'd like to get my boys as close as I can without going all the way down to KSC. Great video! Thanks!!!

      September 8, 2012 at 10:50 am | Reply

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