On May 11, 2009, the space shuttle Atlantis blasted off from launch pad 39A (28.608 N, 80.604 W)at the Kennedy Space Center on a mission to repair the Hubble telescope. And I was there to see the lift-off. Check off a bucket list item!
My brother-in-law and I drove from Dallas, Texas to Titusville, Florida, which is the closest town to the Kennedy Space Center (right across the Indian River) and offers the closest off-site viewing after the NASA causeway. The causeway requires you to purchase tickets and unfortunately there are very few and are sold out months in advance. Not being among the lucky few able to acquire tickets, we watched the launch from Spaceview Park in Titusville, which is 12.1 miles directly across from the launch pad. As you can see from the photos, it was still a spectacular experience.
Photographs and YouTube clips do not do justice to a shuttle lift-off. It's one of those things you really need to see in person - feel the awesome rumble of incomprehensible power deep in your chest; the man-made fire as bright as the sun. The collective experience of several hundred of your fellow human beings, all holding their breath for the first few seconds after lift-off and then the cheers; "Go Baby, go!" "My God, do you feel that?" "Holy cow! Look at her go!" It's an experience you will not forget.
Was it worth the hundreds of miles we drove and waiting in the hot sun for almost 5 hours just to watch about 15 seconds of shuttle lift-off?