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Go See a Rocket Launch: A Florida Bucket List MUST

Sure, we can sometimes spot a rocket launch from here at home in Tampa Bay, but why not experience a rocket launch from miles away at least once before the kids grow up?

This has been a bucket list activity for me, and we finally went to see the Space X Falcon 9 CRS-22 launch at the Kennedy Space Center.

While there are so many different viewing locations along the Space Coast—some popular spots to see a rocket launch are beaches like the Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier and parks like Space View Park in Titusville—there’s nothing quite like being at the Kennedy Space Center on launch day.

*Keep in mind that admissions for launch days often sell out, so buy your admission for the day at least a couple of weeks in advance to be safe.

Get planning | Upcoming 2022 Rocket Launches at the Kennedy Space Center:

Artemis 1 target launch dates:

Aug. 29 at 8:33am EDT with a 120-minute window
Sept. 2 at 12:48pm EDT with a 120-minute window
Sept. 5 at 5:12pm EDT with a 90-minute window

Artemis Banner at Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex
Artemis Banner at Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex – Dani Meyering

What does this mean? 

These target launch dates are not three separate launches, but rather the three separate possible dates and times at which the Artemis I will launch for the first time – hopefully. As you can imagine, returning to the moon for the first time in decades is no small task. And flying a new type of rocket for the first time adds to the variables.

So these dates are when NASA is aiming to hopefully launch Artemis I.

Astronauts will not be on board this first launch. Since this is the first of its kind spacecraft and the first time in a very long time launching to the moon, a test mission will take place first.

Planning a trip to view such a launch, or any launch for that matter, comes with the possibility that the launch could be scrubbed and moved. So, go with the expectation that things could change. And if they do change then go enjoy all that the Space Coast has to offer. And if you are at Kennedy Space Center then you’ll have plenty of things to do even if the launch is postponed.

Artemis Mission Manual Scavenger Hunt at Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex – Dani Meyering

*Launch schedule subject to change and launches may not occur during normal business hours. Stay up-to-date by visiting the Kennedy Space Center Rocket Launch and Events page.

You and your kids can learn more about the Artemis missions by visiting the new Gateway attraction at Kennedy Space Center. This awesome indoor attraction showcases the next era of space exploration with NASA and their commercial partners. Learn about Artemis and the many other incredible innovations happening here, and cap it all off with a new immersive ride.

A four year old boy walks through a room with an illuminated floor with a space themed projection on the floor and on the screen in front of him at Gateway Attraction at Kennedy Space Center
Learn about Artemis Missions at Gateway Attraction at Kennedy Space Center – Dani Meyering

What to Know When You Visit the Kennedy Space Center with Kids on Rocket Launch Day:

Depending on the launch, you can upgrade your visit to get even closer to the launch pad with a reserved spot at the Apollo/Saturn V Center, but this prime viewing experience requires a lot of pre-planning since reserved bleacher seating often sells out.

You can also try to book free bus transport to view from the Apollo/Saturn V Center lawn. You’ll not only need to arrive early, but be quick to book your timed bus reservation. You can only book the bus the day of launch and only when on property, so make sure to have the location services enabled on your phone so the Kennedy Space Center app or website knows you’re there. (I didn’t and didn’t figure it out until it was too late.)

The Apollo/Saturn V Center viewing area puts you as close as 3.9 miles away to 8 miles away, depending on the launch pad being used for that particular launch.

Still, viewing from the lawn at the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex was a pretty cool experience. For the Space X Falcon 9 CRS-22 launch, the launch pad was about 7.5 miles away. We were close enough that we could feel the launch as it got a bit higher in the sky which was pretty awesome.

Rocket launch viewing from the lawn at a the Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex Lawn. June 2021.

What to Bring to the Kennedy Space Center on Launch Day:

Be sure to bring a blanket and umbrella (to seek shade while you wait for the launch). You can also pack a small soft-sided cooler with snacks and water and folding camp chairs to relax in while you wait. Don’t worry—all umbrellas come down at launch time. The other Florida basics like sunglasses, sunscreen, insect repellant and wipes to wipe down hot, sweaty kids are other must-haves.

Viewing from the Kennedy Space Center lawn actually turned out to be the best option for us because it allowed us more time to play—yes, we said PLAY! There are so many interactive exhibits for little kids and kids at heart. The NEW indoor Planet Play area was a family favorite. It’s a three-story immersive, space-themed playground that also has craft beer, and wine in a small adult lounge area. Yes, please.

We recommend visiting to learn more about each launch mission and to see if special viewing locations are available. It’s a fun research project for kids and adults…and who knows, it just might inspire your little ones to one day aim for the stars.

To stay up to date on future launches and find more viewing spots, check out:

How to View a Rocket Launch By Water:

Book a boat or kayak tour on launch day! A Day Away Kayak Tours, Space Coast River Tours and Sail Cocoa Beach are just a few that offer launch day tours.

There’s also Jetty Park, Playalinda Beach, The Cocoa Beach Pier, and even a space-themed rooftop bar. Here’s Where to Watch a Rocket Launch Like a Space Coast Local from one of our sister publications,

More ways to play while on the Space Coast:

Make it more than a day trip and spend a few days on the Space Coast to explore all they have to offer! We did and here are some cool things families can enjoy together–other than the beach, of course!

Brevard Zoo:

This Melbourne zoo has a beautiful winding boardwalk and sidewalks that take you through the different habitats. We loved feeding the birds in the aviary and feeding the giraffe! You can also walk up close to kangaroos and there’s a splash pad for the kiddos if you need to cool off for a bit. They also have a zip-line but check ahead to see if they are booking. 

Sea Turtle Walk Tour:

This is a unique summertime activity where you can book a tour to see the many sea turtle nests along the beaches and maybe even catch baby sea turtles making their journey to the sea.

Bioluminescence Kayaking Tour:

Another unique nighttime summer experience is a bioluminescence tour on the Indian River Lagoon. There are several companies that offer the experience like Get Up and Go Kayaking. July and August are prime time viewing months. 

American Space Museum:

If you didn’t get your fill of space, head over to the American Space Museum in Titusville where kids can get hands-on with actual shuttle launch controllers and view pretty cool artifacts from the space program. You can get through this museum in a couple of hours, tops.

Museum of Dinosaurs and Ancient Cultures: 

This is another quick indoor trip. If your kids love dinosaurs, they’ll love this place. While most of the dinosaur bones are replicas of real bones, there are real fossils on display. There is even a large store on the first floor.

Florida Surf Museum:

Right next door to the iconic Ron Jon Surf Shop, this museum will walk you through the history of surfing in Florida.

*Originally published in the July 2021 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine, but updated July 20, 2022

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