Watching a Rocket Launch

By Jim Haklar

NASA Rocket Launch

NASA Rocket Launch

I have always enjoyed watching NASA’s rocket launches on television, whether they were the Apollo Moon missions or an unmanned probe. In 2008, I was lucky enough to be at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis. It was an awesome sight that I’ll never forget.

But did you know that you can see rocket launches without going all the way to Florida? NASA has a facility in Virginia, called the Wallops Flight Facility, where rockets are launched. And depending on the weather, the time of the launch, and where you live, you just may be able to see one of these rockets head into space.

I had such an opportunity on September 6, 2013, when NASA launched the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer – LADEE for short. The launch was scheduled for 11:37 p.m. and the sky was clear. From my viewpoint at the EPA’s Edison, New Jersey Environmental Center, I first saw the rocket about a minute after lift-off. While I couldn’t see any details on the rocket, I could easily see the exhaust. In about a minute it was all over and the rocket headed into orbit, ultimately destined for the Moon.

Launches from the Wallops Flight Facility are announced beforehand with detailed information on when and where to look, so if you’re interested pull up a lawn chair and enjoy. It’s fun, and you don’t have to travel all the way to Florida!

About the Author: Jim is an environmental engineer at EPA’s Edison, New Jersey Environmental Center. In his 28 years with the Agency he has worked in a variety of programs including Superfund, Water Management, Public Affairs, and Toxic Substances. He has been an amateur astronomer since he was a teenager, and can often be found after work in the back of the Edison facility waiting for the next rocket launch.