Get inspired to reach for the stars by these rocket launches you can view in-person
Got an aspiring astronaut or space enthusiast who would give anything to see a real, live rocket blast into space? Get ready to count down and feel the rumble of the engines! Whether you’re headed west to California or south to Florida—or somewhere in between—pack your bags and head to one of these amazing U.S. spaceports to see a rocket launch, up close and personal.
Note: Not all rockets are deemed “go for launch.” Space flights may be called off even as close to seconds before liftoff. So be flexible, and try to make your plans to allow a few days of a window to see a launch if it is delayed due to weather or mechanical failure.
Kennedy Space Center | Merritt Island, FL
The "It" spot for rocket launches, Kennedy Space Center not only has prestigious crewed and unmanned launches every few weeks from its Florida "Space Coast" complex—but it's also one of the world's best space museums in the country! That means, even if your coveted rocket launch is canceled or delayed (which happens frequently), your space cadets will have a blast learning about aerospace through a ton of hands-on, immersive experiences, including a simulated Space Shuttle launch and scheduled meetups with astronauts.
That said, if you're lucky enough to catch a launch (the launch schedule is listed on the Kennedy Space Center website), the Center offers several exclusive Launch Viewing Packages to get you as close as you're allowed to be when the countdown begins. Packages include admission/transportation to spectator areas as well as live commentary from experts leading up to and during the launch. To reserve your spot, check the Kennedy Space Center website.
Of course, you don't have to be at the Kennedy Center to see the space capsule soaring toward the heavens. If you'd rather not pay to see the launch—or if seats have already sold out (which they will!)—there are many great spots along the coast that'll still give you a great view of the action. Finding a prime spot sometimes takes a little research, as you'll want to find a place that offers the best view for whatever rocket you're hoping to see. (As a rule of thumb, find a viewing spot closest to the launch pad the rocket is taking off from—Kennedy lists its launch sites on the website.)
For a complete list of viewing spots—including a map of Kennedy and Cape Canaveral launch pads—check out Visitspacecoast.com.
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station | Cape Canaveral, FL
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is just a few miles from Kennedy Space Center, so launches from both locations can be seen from Kennedy's viewing areas. If you've already done Kennedy (or if it's sold out) and you want to find your own spot along the seashore to watch the rockets fly, public spots include:
Playalinda Beach (1000 Playalinda Beach Rd., Canaveral National Seashore): This 4-mile stretch of the Canaveral National Seashore offers straight-shot views of Cape Canaveral launches. Note: This location is closed for launches from Complex 39A (it's that close!).
Space View Park (17 Orange St., Titusville, FL): This spot is especially good for launches from Complex 39A, with free parking and panoramic views across the water (See what it's like with this Youtube video). This location also features various space monuments and the U.S. Space Walk of Fame, which takes visitors through the history of space exploration.
Sand Point Park (10 E Max Brewer Causeway, Titusville, FL): Make it a beach day! This coastal spot offers free parking, restrooms, BBQ grills, and picnic tables—plus a playground and splash pad for the littles.
Jetty Park (400 Jetty Park Rd., Cape Canaveral, FL): This beach offers great views for most launches—especially from Complex 46—and offers umbrella rentals, kayak and paddleboat rentals, and a full-service restaurant.
Wallops Flight Facility | Wallops Island, VA
Also known as the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), this busy space launch facility on the eastern shore of Virginia hosts large and small rocket launches that can be seen for miles down the coast. For the best views, take your little skywatchers to the Wallops Visitor's Center, which offers a free launch viewing area that's one of the only public sites with a clear view of the launch pads. Note: You can only watch a launch from the Visitor's Center if the launch happens during its regular hours, Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Large-scale launches, including the liftoff of the Antares rocket that goes to the International Space Station, are super-popular and spots at the Visitor's Center fill up quickly—so get there early. (You can watch a Youtube video of an Antares launch here.) Launches of smaller-scale rockets, known as "sounding rockets" (these contain research tools that take measurements from space) aren't as popular, so you can usually get a spot. These rockets apparently take off so fast you might miss them as they dart up into the sky, so keep your eyes open! (Or watch a video of a sounding rocket launch here).
If the Visitor's Center is closed—or full—viewing locations on the nearby Chincoteague Island include Robert Reed Park on Main Street or Beach Road spanning the area between Chincoteague and Assateague Islands. The Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware Atlantic beaches also provide good viewing locations, though you'll only see the rocket streaking through the sky from a distance. Want to make a beach vacation out of it? Book a seaside room at Chincoteague, where reportedly every balcony will give you a view of rockets soaring (if you're lucky enough to catch a launch, of course).
Vandenberg Air Force Base | Lompoc, CA
If a West Coast launch is more convenient for your space-loving brood, Vandenberg Air Force base is a drivable 2 1/2 hours from LA and 4 1/2 hours from San Francisco and has frequent enough rocket launches that you'll likely find one that works for your space-loving tykes. The active base is closed to visitors, but there are plenty of spots around town and on the seashore where you can get a great view of the rockets launching into the sky—some of them so close you'll feel the vibration of the engines and have to cover your ears to muffle the boom. (Check this super-informative Youtube video to see what it's like to watch a Vandenberg launch).
To find the best spot for whatever launch is happening while you're there, check out this City of Lompoc guide to local viewing spots. In general, you'll want to pick a spot that's got the most direct view of the launch pad (there are several launch areas within Vandenberg, but this rocket launch calendar usually lists the specific launch pads for each launch).
Of course, like all flights (space-bound or otherwise!), delays and cancellations are common—so be prepared to entertain your space travelers with, maybe, a trip to nearby Santa Barbara.
Related: 72 Hours in Santa Barbara With Kids
Spaceport America | Upham, NM
Spaceport America bills itself as the "first purpose-built commercial spaceport in the world" and its behemoth welcome building—a flying saucer-esque structure perched in the middle of the desert like a bona fide spaceship—looks like something straight out of Star Wars. And even though its middle-of-nowhere location doesn't host public viewings of its rocket launches (yet), a visit to this 18,000-square-foot spaceport is a must for any space buff.
Located 45 miles north of Las Cruces and 20 miles southeast of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, Spaceport's main tenant is Virgin Galactic, whose goal (if Sir Richard Branson has his way) is to make "cosmic tourism" within reach for everyone. Launches aren't open to the public (unless you've bought a Virgin Galactic ticket to the stars), but tours of the facility are available—and sound like a dream-come-true for kids (and adults) who want to get an inside look at the elusive location.
- Pictures by the replica Virgin Galactic Space Ship
- A visit to the Spaceport Operations Center, Mission Control, and dedicated fire & rescue department.
- Q and A session
- If available, a short drive down the "space-way" (runway)
- Pictures in front of the Gate Way to Space (Virgin Galactic's) building.
- A visit to the 4K Gallery to learn more about Spaceport America and some its tenants—as well as a chance to try the G-Shock Simulator, a ride that simulates what astronauts feel during rapid acceleration.
There was talk of building a public viewing area at Spaceport for the space-loving sort to gaze skyward, but nothing has been finalized. Until then, the tours are your best bet to get a glimpse of the future of space travel. For more information about Spaceport America, check out Spaceportamerica.com.
SpaceX South Texas Launch Site | Boca Chica, TX
If Elon Musk has any say in the matter, Boca Chica, Texas, a desolate swath of land on the southeastern border of Texas and Mexico, will become the next great portal to the stars. The up-and-coming spaceport known as "Starbase" is Musk's grand venture into galactic travel; it being the launch pad for his "Starship" rocket, a colossal capsule that he hopes will eventually shuttle earthlings to and from Mars. Orbital test flights of the rocket may come as early as this fall, so if you'd like to see the monster rocket lifting up, keep an eye on this calendar.
In the meantime, the rocket stands ready on the launch pad, proudly pointed skyward—and aspiring space travelers can get up close to (but not inside) the facility to check it out (the nearby road gets you close enough to snap Insta-worthy photos). When the rocket does launch, nearby South Padre Island makes a great stakeout point (with warm waters and sandy beaches, it makes a great vacation spot, too!). Want something even more unique? This quirky "Rocket Ranch" Airbnb is banking on space tourists, with space-themed rooms and launch viewing spots from its Rio Grande River location just down the road from Starbase.
If you can't make it to southeast Texas, the Starship launch promises to be a big deal, so you'll be able to count down with Mission Control by watching the launch online at Space.com. No plans to head to the border? The non-NASA-affiliated website NASASpaceflight.com has live feeds of the spaceport on its Youtube channel If you want to take a peek at what's happening right now.
Launch Site One (Blue Origin's Launch Pad) | Van Horn, TX
Fun Apps That Bring the Launches to You
Want the option to see every major rocket launch that happens, whenever they happen? There's an app for that! Download Space Launch Now or T-Minus apps to be notified of every rocket launch out there and get live feeds of the rockets as they lift off. Nothing like stepping away from the PTA meeting to watch a space launch!
Even cooler? Put the rocket in your backyard! The Backyard Apollo app uses augmented reality to launch a rocket from wherever you point your camera. You'll be able to plant a rocket in your backyard, school parking lot, or kitchen floor—then walk around and under it to explore what it looks like, up close. The app also includes live audio to narrate the launch—as well as on-screen labeling of all the rocket parts as your camera goes over them, so your little Mission Controllers can understand the flight operation in real-time.