If all goes well, space exploration will hit a new milestone this weekend when an uncrewed spacecraft launches on a mission around the moon. NASA scrubbed the launch of Artemis 1 earlier this week to tend to engine issues and has rescheduled the liftoff for Saturday afternoon at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Saturday’s planned launch, in the midst of a busy holiday weekend for travel, is expected to bring large crowds of spectators to the region. It’s also prompting considerations of what it means for Labor Day weekend travel — by air and by sea.
This launch is the first of what NASA hopes will be continued, future lunar exploration as part of the Artemis program including potential manned missions to the moon in the future. You might want to start thinking about how you can watch upcoming launches, whether it’s this one or another in the future.
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Saturday’s launch plans
The two-hour window for NASA’s latest launch attempt for Artemis 1 was originally scheduled to start at 2:17 p.m. Saturday.
The preparations did hit a bit of a snag first thing in the morning, though, as crews worked to deal with a leak while flowing liquid hydrogen to the ship. Within an hour, NASA reported the filling had fully resumed, though it will be worth watching whether this leads to any residual delays in the launch.
Teams have stopped flowing liquid hydrogen into the @NASA_SLS rocket, as a leak has been detected in the engine cavity. Teams are troubleshooting by warming up the area. Standby for updates.
— NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems (@NASAGroundSys) September 3, 2022
NASA is billing this as the first in a “series of increasingly complex missions,” beginning with this uncrewed flight to pave the way for human deep space exploration. If successful, the spacecraft will travel 280,000 miles away from earth on this mission, flying around the moon and back over the course of about three weeks.
The Orion spacecraft will be in space longer than any manned ship has previously been without docking to a space station.
In a word of caution that doubled as a reminder of the historic nature of this launch, emergency management officials in the region warned that noise from the launch may be louder and last longer than usual for people on the ground — many of whom have grown accustomed to the rumble of launches from Cape Canaveral over the years.
Labor Day crowds are already expected to pack beaches along the Florida coast. On top of that, emergency management officials project some 200,000 spectators — or potentially more — are likely to show up for Saturday’s spaceship launch.
9/1/22 3:20 PM: We’re looking forward to another @NASAArtemis launch attempt this Saturday, 9/3/22. The two-hour launch window opens at 2:17 p.m.
? It’s Labor Day weekend and this historic launch is expected to attract 200,000 people.
— Brevard EOC (@BrevardEOC) September 1, 2022
This means that as NASA tests the logistics of the Artemis program with this mission, logistics on the ground, in the air and at the closest cruise port will be tested, too.
The busy Florida cruise port of Port Canaveral sits less than 20 miles from Kennedy Space Center.
Disney Wonder at Port Canaveral. RENNETT STOWNE/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/CREATIVE COMMONS ATTRIBUTION 2.0 GENERIC
A homeport for several major cruise lines, four ships are expected to be there on Saturday as hundreds of thousands of launch spectators flock to the area.
The ships expected in port on Saturday will likely arrive early in the day, port officials told TPG this week. The goal is to allow passengers to disembark earlier, so cruise lines can bring new guests into terminals earlier, even if those passengers are not able to board early.
Please see our plan for access to the Port during the rescheduled launch of NASA’s Artemis-1 rocket. The launch is currently scheduled for Saturday, September 3rd with a two-hour launch window opening at 2:17 p.m. and lasting through 4:17 p.m. pic.twitter.com/rWzw0jknYx
— Port Canaveral (@PortCanaveral) September 1, 2022
To that end, port officials warn roads in and around the area will likely be congested due to Saturday’s launch. They’re urging guests planning to drive to the port for cruises departing on Saturday to leave early, recognizing they may run into major delays on the way in.
Sailing from Cape Canaveral. PORT CANAVERAL
Normally, launches out of Kennedy Space Center do not pose a major disruption to cruise traffic, port officials explained. However, the historic nature of this launch combined with the holiday weekend means the crowds are likely to be significant.
Impact to flights
TPG’s Clint Henderson watched a rocket launch while on board a flight from Jamaica back to the U.S. in March 2022. CLINT HENDERSON/THE POINTS GUY
Throughout the summer, we’ve seen time and again how even a relatively brief storm over Florida can prompt a slew of flight disruptions among airlines, given the vast number of flights in and out of Florida airports each day. A number of airports are in the relative vicinity of Cape Canaveral, including Orlando International Airport (MCO) some 40 miles inland.
The combination of NASA’s space activity and the rise in launches from private companies means the Federal Aviation Administration has faced the increasingly complicated task of managing the airspace during launches and re-entries of spacecraft.
Fortunately, Saturday’s planned launch is not expected to have a major impact on commercial aircraft operations in the area, NASA told TPG Friday.
This is because the rocket will reach an altitude of 125,000 feet — far higher than the cruising altitude of passenger planes — within a mere two minutes.
The FAA points to a couple of factors that have improved airspace logistics around launches even as more such events have happened.
Instead of rerouting a large number of planes, air traffic controllers only reroute planes that would be directly affected by a rocket crossing the airspace, the agency told TPG Friday.
Additionally, the agency now often only begins rerouting planes once the operator of the launch has loaded fuel into the rocket — a key step, considering the number of launches that get scrubbed, even minutes away from liftoff.
Airspace closures have dropped from a typical of four hours per launch to just two hours, with some closures as short as 30 minutes, the FAA said.
Technology allows the FAA to reopen the airspace within three minutes of the rocket or capsule clearing the area.
Watching the launch from home
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen at sunset. 2022. NASA/JOEL KOWSKY/GETTY IMAGES.
I can remember catching a glimpse of Space Shuttle Discovery taking off in the wee hours of the morning while on a family trip in the spring of 2010. I wasn’t anywhere near Kennedy Space Center, though. I was much farther north, in South Carolina.
At that time, even if you didn’t have an up-close view of the launch, there were still ways to enjoy it.
There are key differences with this launch, though, including the fact that it’s going to occur in broad daylight as opposed to pre-dawn.
While most may have to settle for watching the launch on television or online, those “within a few hours drive” of Cape Canaveral might be able to briefly see the launch, NASA told TPG.
If that’s not sufficient for your viewing preferences, the good news is that NASA, again, sees this as only the start of a largely new era for space exploration. That means more launches are highly likely in the future.
Watch #Artemis I launch to the Moon! The broadcast will begin Saturday, Sept. 3, at 12:15pm ET (16:15 UTC) on our Twitter, YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, Daily Motion and https://t.co/ieGQx2G190.
More on how to watch the launch, ask questions and participate: https://t.co/PARh9Hvnk4 pic.twitter.com/zyc42xSaXj
— NASA (@NASA) August 31, 2022
If you’re thinking of visiting the area to catch a future launch up-close, Kennedy Space Center has several viewing locations within a few miles of the launch pads that can allow you, as the center says, to “see and feel” the liftoff.
Kennedy Space Center in Florida. JONATHAN NEWTON/THE WASHINGTON POST/GETTY IMAGES
Typically the space center’s visitor complex offers a number of ticket options, including for launches, which you can purchase ahead of time or on the same day. Generally, when there’s a scrubbed launch, your ticket may be valid for the next launch attempt. Obviously, this is all going to be subject to ticket availability.
Officials of Brevard County, Florida, are urging drivers not to park along the side of roads, in medians or at Port Canaveral for Saturday’s launch (fearing an even greater impact on traffic). However, NASA points out there are a number of additional parks and other suggested viewing locations not far from the space center that can act as good viewing locations.
Certainly, the best viewing locations can vary greatly from launch to launch, depending on which launch pad is in use.
Since the region is a prime vacation spot near a major cruise port and Kennedy Space Center, there are numerous nearby points-eligible hotels.
That’s not to say it’s easy to find a room, particularly when you combine a major launch event with Labor Day travel.
“It’s a holiday weekend and hotels are full,” Brevard County emergency management officials said this week.
One option is a newer Marriott property just across the Indian River and NASA Causeway Bridge. The Courtyard Titusville Kennedy Space Center has a rooftop, according to its website, allowing guests a “spectacular viewing area” to look out toward the launch one while enjoying the rooftop pool and “Space Bar.”
Not far from the Courtyard, the Hyatt Place Titusville / Kennedy Space Center also puts guests within prime access to the space center.
Of course, rooms can fill up quickly ahead of major launches, so it’s generally a good idea to book as far in advance as possible.
If it goes on as planned, Saturday’s launch of the Artemis 1 mission from Kennedy Center will be a historic step for NASA and space exploration, but it’ll put everything from ground traffic to air traffic and cruise logistics to the test.
With more missions planned in the future, though, it’s a great time to consider what it would be like to take in a launch up close.
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Featured photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images.