I Experienced My First Rocket Launch! in Cape Canaveral, Florida

If you don’t personally know me, I’m a HUGE aerospace + space nerd. Always have been. I mean, I’m a huge science nerd in general, but aerospace is one of my passions and is central to my career. I used to work at NASA but have since left to go into the private industry, which has been very exciting!

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always wanted to go to Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, but, growing up I lived on the west coast of the United States in California, so Florida was too expensive to visit. It was always a dream to go to a rocket launch, especially a crewed one like space shuttle or NASA’s new commercial crew program. It was an unattainable dream. I haven’t been to any crewed launches yet, buttttt… Now that I live in Florida and am in the aerospace industry, I experienced my first rocket launch!

My company recently launched our new solar arrays for the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 Dragon from the historic launchpad 39A, where the Apollo missions launched! The day before launch, we were lucky enough to go see the rocket and launchpad up close (but still from a safe distance, of course). What a dream come true! Not only did I get to experience seeing a rocket on a launchpad up close, it was *the* launchpad of the Apollo programs. If this rocket wasn’t on that specific pad, I would’ve wanted to go see it regardless. It was surreal to see the two together.

It was also so calm and peaceful out there. It’s surrounded by beautiful nature landscapes. How crazy to think that that entire area would experience one of humankind’s craziest and most impressive feats.

We also got to see the Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB for short. It’s absolutely gigantic! It used to house the old shuttles + rockets but has since been turned into an assembly building for NASA’s Space Launch System rockets, or SLS rocket, which is NASA’s program to return crewed rocket launches to the American coast (in a non-private system, which it currently is with SpaceX and Boeing). The SLS and Orion, the name of the crew capsule, is a long-coming program that is taking years and years to develop, but is nonetheless exciting.

The day of launch was nerve-wracking. The weather was very cloudy, rainy, windy and we were expecting thunderstorms at some point that day. Rocket launches are very subject to the weather – if it’s too windy or there’s lightening, is a no-go. With that in mind and a 1:29pm ET liftoff time, we were only tentatively optimistic for a launch to actually that day. The backup time was the next day and it was still expected to be stormy the next day, so we weren’t even sure if we would see a launch at all.

Nonetheless, the countdown clock continued. At T-1 hour to launch, we went outside to check the weather and it hadn’t improved much. In fact, we weren’t even sure if it was going to launch until the very moment that it did.

That tiny thing I’m cradling in my hands is the rocket!

Since I was at KSC (Kennedy Space Center) for work, I was working right up until T-5 minutes, when I decided that I needed to stop and run out to the viewing area. A large river/river outlet sat between the launchpad and us, but we still got an amazing view.

We all counted down. 1 minute… 15 seconds… 10 seconds… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… wait a few more heart beats and then boom! The engines explode and smoke goes everywhere, you hear the faint sounds of the engines starting. A few more heart beats and the rocket begins to rise and rise and rise. The rocket is a few hundred feet up in the air and the sound finally hits us. It’s so loud that it nearly knocks you over, you feel it deep inside you and coming up from your feet. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced. You see the rocket continue to rise and hear the delayed sounds and vibrations.

Eventually, since it was a cloudy day, the rocket became obscured by the clouds and we could no longer see it. A few minutes later, the boosters returned to the “Of course I still love you” drone ship, which is an amazing feat by SpaceX. We couldn’t see this but were able to watch it on the live broadcast. At second stage engine cutoff, the Dragon pulled away and we saw our beautiful solar arrays safely tucked away in the trunk. (They’ll be installed in upcoming spacewalks!)

And then it was over. The rocket that I had seen the previous day was gone. The launchpad was empty. The Dragon and our solar arrays were safely in space. It’s crazy to think that something I saw just a few hours earlier was floating thousands of miles above me in space.

What a surreal experience. If you ever get the opportunity to see a rocket launch in real life, I 100% recommend that you do it! It’s unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced. It brought tears to my eyes. I’m forever grateful for this moment.

This is proof that dreams do come true. If you work hard and strive towards your goals, you can make anything happen.

Cheers to hopefully many more rocket launches in my career, eh?

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Thank you for reading! Have you ever been Kennedy Space Center or seen a rocket launch in person? Let me know in the comments below and like this post if you want more like it!

Xoxo’s

Emmalee

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