Update: The launch date has been changed to “no earlier than June 24.” Park hours may vary from those originally posted.
NASA announced Monday that SpaceX will soon attempt the first-ever night launch of a Falcon Heavy rocket. Liftoff is currently targeted to take place at 11:30PM on June 22nd. A night launch is always spectacular, and with the Falcon Heavy being gigundo enough to be easily, brilliantly visible even in broad daylight, the odds are that this night launch will be nothing short of redonkulous (technically speaking). If you’re not keen on driving out to the space coast (which you really need to do at least once in your life), maybe you’d like to see it from someplace fun, like a theme park.
Now, before we go too far… a few words of caution. First, know that spaceflight is finicky. Launch dates move. There are holds… delays… and scrubs for things like fuel leaks, upper level winds, wayward boats, and the ever-popular RUD during testing. When we schlepped cross-state to Canaveral National Seashore to watch the first-ever Falcon Heavy launch, winds led the launch to be pushed to the very, very end of the launch window. That led to a long, hot, sweaty day on the beach… but man, oh man, was it ever worth it in the end (the four-hour creeping drive home, on the other hand…).
On top of all of that, there’s the moving target that is Central Florida weather. It takes surprisingly little cloud cover to block our view of a launch. The launchpads on the space coast are only about 60 miles away from, say, the center of Epcot. But all it takes is one *$&%#@! cloud to block your view. For the last (daylight) Falcon Heavy launch, a low-level fog/smog/overcast blocked the view of the launch and allowed us only a view of literally one or two seconds of the boosters’ return to the launch site. Night launches are even harder to judge because Central Florida has a bright enough night sky that the stars aren’t always clearly visible even on clear nights… so you might step outside your home, fight the swarms of mosquitoes to try to see a launch, and have nothing to show for it except some itchiness. I’d love to tell you today whether or not you’ll have clear skies on June 22nd, but as of this writing, that’s a little less than 20 days away and any forecast that far out ranges somewhere between voodoo and horse hockey.
But hey, let’s be optimistic here. Let’s say the launch happens as scheduled and the sky is gloriously clear. How can I witness it churro-in-hand? Let’s start with a neat quirk (or who knows, maybe genius master plan) of both Magic Kingdom and Epcot. If you stand in front of their respective space-themed attractions (Space Mountain and Mission: Space), you’ll be in a pretty good spot to see the rocket launch generally behind them. Both attractions are on the east-ish side of the park, and Kennedy Space Center is generally east-ish of the parks. It’s too soon to know exactly how the sightlines will play out in Galaxy’s Edge once it opens at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but that’s on the southwest edge of the park so early indications are that it won’t be quite as awesome for rocket viewing. If you’re not too concerned about your pavilions being themed to the rocket launch, you can stand in front of the Knight Bus at Universal Studios and see the rocket launch generally over Krusty The Clown’s head across the water. But in that case I’d honestly just go to the top of one of the parking garages instead.
Of course, unless you’re keen on getting a trespass notice, you’ll probably need to find a park that’s actually open during the launch if you want to watch it from inside the gates.
Yeah, about that.
The Universal Orlando parks both close at 10:00PM on June 22nd, so they’re out. SeaWorld? 9:30PM. On Disney property, Epcot and Hollywood Studios clock out at 9:00PM. Animal Kingdom hangs on until 10:00PM but that still does us no good. Help me Magic Kingdom, you’re my only hope. The park closes at 11:00PM on June 22nd. That’s just close enough that it might work for an 11:30PM launch. Our experience has been that even though attractions are closed, the park takes enough time to dump out that you can probably buy yourself an extra half hour hanging out to try to catch the launch provided it happens on time. Of course, this all depends on the park’s operations for the day. If a Cast Member asks you to move along, then for pete’s sake do what they say. You might have to watch it from the Hub or even Main Street USA if they start sweeping folks from the outer lands of the parks. Worst case scenario, you might wind up on a ferry boat or even at the Transportation and Ticket Center looking generally in the area of the Contemporary or Wilderness Lodge. It’ll take maybe 30-60 seconds for it to get high enough up for you to see it… and then, depending on the trajectory and the sky cover, you might have a couple of minutes of nice viewing. One thing’s for sure… if the sky is clear and you’re looking toward anything remotely resembling a eastward direction, it’ll be pretty darn hard to miss.
Image Credit: SpaceX