Experiencing the first SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch from 7 miles away, the most powerful rocket to launch since Apollo 17 in 1973!

Posted by Paul Braren on Feb 5 2018 (updated on Apr 29 2019) in
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  • Falcon Heavy Animation
    Click the infographic to view it full size at space.com

    Caption from SpaceX Channel's YouTube Video above:
    When Falcon Heavy lifts off, it will be the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two. With the ability to lift into orbit nearly 64 metric tons (141,000 lb)---a mass greater than a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel--Falcon Heavy can lift more than twice the payload of the next closest operational vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy, at one-third the cost.

    Falcon Heavy's first stage is composed of three Falcon 9 nine-engine cores whose 27 Merlin engines together generate more than 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, equal to approximately eighteen 747 aircraft.

    Following liftoff, the two side boosters separate from the center core and return to landing sites for future reuse. The center core, traveling further and faster than the side boosters, also returns for reuse, but lands on a drone ship located in the Atlantic Ocean.

    At max velocity the Roadster will travel 11 km/s (7mi/s) and travel 400 million km (250 million mi) from Earth.

    Model rockets as a kid


    I was quite the Estes model rocket enthusiast in my youth. My neighbor's dad used to launch big models, and it certainly inspired me to give it a go myself. Living right near Wethersfield High School gave me the opportunity to thoroughly enjoy this hobby from late elementary school right through middle school, with my older brother helping chaperoning my activities. My favorites were the Estes ASTROCAM with the 110mm film, and Big Bertha.

    Years later

    When I was asked to help move a sister-in-law from Florida back in the early 90s, I jumped at the chance to fly down there. I always enjoyed a travel adventure. As we came in for a landing at Fort Lauderdale, luck would have it that I could easily see the Space Shuttle poised right there on pad 39A, ready for take off later that same afternoon! As soon as my cab arrived at my in-laws, I asked if I could borrow a car and head up to Cape Canaveral, since we weren't moving until the next day anyway. Boy was I glad the answer was yes! Off I went, barely making it on time to public lands along route 404 near Palm Shores, about a 3 hour drive. I was some 12 miles from the launch pad, about as close as you could get at that time, at least without any advanced planning.

    Saw a Space Shuttle launch in my 20s

    I will never forget how profoundly awesome the brilliant white light of the engines was, knowing full well my camcorder couldn't possibly do justice to what I had just witnessed. Then as the shuttle zoomed up to about 30 degrees of elevation above the horizon, the sound began to hit me. Yes, 12 miles x 5 seconds per mile (for the speed of sound) = 60 seconds. There's a loud grumble before the lift-off, and it only got more impressive from there. Shaking my bones, literally. Absolutely breathtakingly awesome.

    Image from Pixabay - Creative Commons.

    This experience was profoundly impressive. Yes, that's overly redundant, but it was that good.

    There were strangers a few dozen feet away, but the experience was pretty solitary, wishing I had family with me. Only later did I realize that I really wasn't alone, with plenty of fire ants keeping me company. Apparently I was too distracted to notice them exacted their revenge, for me kneeling on their turf when I was setting up my tripod moments before the launch. This "won't do that again" Florida lesson-learned made for an itchy 24 hour solo U-Haul truck drive back up to Connecticut the next day, but oh so very worth it!

    A missed opportunity, followed by years of regret

    I was visiting family in Florida with my kids back in July of 2005, but seeing the Space Shuttle STS-114 "Return to Flight" mission following the Columbia disaster just didn't work out. The launch kept getting delayed over and over. Turns out it finally did launch, the date after I was back home. So much for the Dad’s a hero thing on that hot road trip. I try. Sigh.

    Years went by

    Image courtesy of space.com, click to view the full article.

    Back in February of 2010, I had the chance to see a distant STS-130 Shuttle launch from my home Connecticut. Turns out the trajectory was more northern than usual, it could be seen in the pre-dawn hours. I woke my older son to enjoy the experience with me. It was just a rising dot in the southern sky, but he still remembers. And so do I.

    Now my "kids" are in their 20s, my age when I actually saw a Shuttle launch

    Falcon Heavy Demo Mission, December 28, 2017.

    On Sunday, Jan 28 2018, like many tech enthusiasts, I started hearing that SpaceX had successfully done some test-firing of their Falcon Heavy, and that a launch date of Tuesday, February 6 2018 was set.

    Then I saw articles surface saying that this was the biggest rocket in the world right now. Here's the latest example of many, from the New York Times:

    If the launch succeeds, the Falcon Heavy will rank as the most powerful rocket in operation today, and the mightiest space vehicle to blast off from the United States since NASA's Saturn 5 rockets last carried astronauts to the moon 45 years ago.


    By Monday, I couldn't resist: I needed to check if my work schedule would allow such a last-minute trip, especially once I discovered airfares from several airlines in the sub-$200 range, round trip. Hmm...

    I also noticed that there were 2 chances for an early afternoon launch, Tue Feb 6 and Wed Feb 7th,. So I picked an itinerary that would up my odds of successfully seeing another launch, one that keeps me in the Orlando area for both Tuesday and Wednesday.

    I know it's all more than a little crazy and a bit extravagant, but I also know I don't particular enjoy regretting not trying to get to such momentous occasions as this, even better when the experience is shared. By Monday evening of January 29th, we were all set. Expedia trip locked-and-loaded, Kennedy Space Center here we come!

    Oh wait, what about tickets? I mean, tickets to get even closer to the launch pad this time around. The closest/priciest viewing areas were sold out even when I first started checking out the tickets site, so I went with the closer category. Looks promising, right at Kennedy Space Center. In 3 days, the required Fuscia parking permit showed up, this was all becoming more real.

    I won't be alone this time

    Luck would also have it that my oldest son is able to fly with me this time. Should make for some great memories, and certainly a lot more fun.

    Uh oh, our flight has been canceled?

    So I notice that my flight reservation suddenly disappears from my JetBlue app, 5 days before take-off. Um, Expedia, what the heck?


    Only took about 100 minutes (and 6 times put on hold), but in the end, my politeness and patience prevailed. Expedia and I worked things out, with JetBlue saving my bacon and re-booking my flights (thank you, Lori!), and Expedia paying the difference because a manager finally admitted their booking mistake. Phew!

    All systems go!

    Click for the latest forecast, which indicates the odds of weather getting in the way.

    No flight delay, yay! The space coast forecast is 80% chance of a go, according to the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron page. I'm just a big kid, who finds seeing and hearing what humanity is capable of first-hand quite thrilling. Kind of like the time my grandpa brought me to JFK airport to see the Concorde take-off right in front of us, from a parking lot rooftop. Only rumblier.

    We just got here to our Orlando-area hotel today, Monday evening, the eve of the launch, publishing this article, with an early start needed to get to Kennedy Space Center on time tomorrow. The parking pass says we need to arrive 4 hours before the launch.

    I'll update this post sometime after the launch, but you'll likely see a tweet or two sooner, follow me @paulbraren if you're interested.

    That's a wrap for today...


    Tomorrow should be either quite exciting. Or, deeply disappointing, if the launch is scrubbed both Tuesday and Wednesday. No worries, I know a guy in southern Florida to visit instead, just in case launches don't work out at all.

    In case you're wondering something along the lines of "what about your other son"? Yeah, I thought of that, there's always next year, when the even bigger Orion Spacecraft is expected to roar skyward...

    Live Webcast of Falcon Heavy Demo Mission


    Feb 06 2018 Update

    Great views and quality sound from the roof of the NASA's Vehicle Assembly building, where you can hear the air ripping. See and hear for yourself in this "The Incredible Sounds of the Falcon Heavy Launch [BINAURAL AUDIO IMMERSION] - Smarter Every Day 189" video published on Feb 07 2018.

    We made it to Kennedy Space Center with plenty of time to enjoy the exhibits, and despite some delays, the launch actually happened, and it was good. Initial impressions in my tweet, a great day in all! Our view of the pad was obstructed by vegetatation, true for everybody in the “closer” category of viewing from the Kennedy Space Center. This was made clear when booking the tickets, and along with wind direction, the intensity of the noise that reached us was reduced. Compared to the Shuttle’s solid rocket boosters, the Falcon Heavy’s exhaust plume was largely absent. While visually a bit less dramatic, it does appear to be easier on the environment, and that shimmering flame plume is so bright that no HDR TV could possibly hope to render it properly, ever: you really need to be there.

    If at all possible, folks shouldn’t hesitate to go for the “Feel the heat” tickets if they’re lucky enough to find some available, and able to afford them. I’m guessing that an unobstructed view from just 3 miles away would be pretty dramatic. Imagine seeing the launchpad’s dramatic billowing steam ejected at high velocity, and feeling that incredible rumble as much as hearing it.

    Unfortunately, my hotel’s horrible Wi-Fi, and my laptop’s power brick unfortunately-timed failure tonight conspired to prevent me from being able to share the 4K 60fps video I took, doing what little I can from my phone. I’ll be sharing that (admittedly distant) footage and some more photos of amazing KSC Visitor Center exhibits later in the week, once I’m back home, with all my tools and bandwidth.

    Video Replay

    Gladly, SpaceX has a full replay of the live-streamed launch here and now, queued to the final 1 minutes of countdown:

    Falcon Heavy Test Flight

    Feb 07 2018 Update

    Amazing pictures from Starman are now here.

    Feb 08 2018 Update

    I'm back home now, with a working PC! Weather/ice delayed my JetBlue flight a bit, but we landed safely at 12:03am today, and I now have more media I can finally share with you, with much more to come soon.

    First, my view of the launch.

    My unedited 4K 60fps video taken from KSC, using only my iPhone X. Sorry about the crooked framing and lack of a true telephoto lense, but the footage iss very clear, and it's fun to hear the audience reactions.

    Next, the always-on live stream right from the Tesla Roadster, intended to inspire future generations of space travelers.

    Live Views of Starman

    See also:

    • Sending a Tesla into space wasn’t such a dumb idea
      Feb 07 2018 by Vlad Savov at The Verge

      Maybe it’s my instinctive distrust of bored billionaires treating the world as their playground, but I’m always dubious about Elon Musk’s various moonshot projects ... then I saw the Earth fly-by videos and suddenly it all made sense.
      Elon Musk, the master salesman of our times, has found the perfect implement for making science sexy and evocative to everyone: a Tesla Roadster. Without a human element, even the fiery eruptions of a rocket launch can start to feel repetitive, especially in our present age of instant access to the spectacular and otherworldly. So Musk is saying, how about a glossy red electric supercar to reignite imaginations?

    Finally, my photo gallery thumbnail, giving you a glimpse of the set of tweets I was able to get out during and shortly after our wonderful Tuesday in Titusville FL.

    Click to visit my related Tweets.

    Feb 14 2018 Update

    Here's a fun new video from the employee area 6 miles away, posted in this reddit thread. The exuberant voice over by "proud hollering space nerds" is certain to make you smile!

    "Falcon Heavy Kerbal Camera Crew Reaction Vid" published on K Space Academy's YouTube Channel on Feb 12 2018, in 1080p60.

    Feb 17 2018 Update

    A fun new web site has come online, to track the whereabouts of the Tesla Roadster with Starman:



    The Verge also posted a nice article about the backstory on why Ben Pearson created this site:

    Animated GIF above is from Whereisroadster.com, via The Verge

    Feb 19 2018 Update

    Home Gadget Geeks 345 - LIVE

    Feb 20 2018 Update

    "Elon Musk Extremely Emotional Reaction To Falcon Heavy Launch" at Elon Musk Viral Videos on YouTube.

    Mar 10 2018 Update

    Excellent little article by The Verge just came out:

    featuring a very inspiring video with perfectly timed music, seen and heard below.

    Falcon Heavy & Starman

    I also received my John Kraus photo, as seen below, and it looks (and feels) great!

    This pic of a pic of Falcon Heavy by John Kraus doesn't do it justice, but you can see that I'm happy. Looks great next to my new TinkerTry home lab workbench, evoking some good memories every time I see it.

    Finally, Elon's tweet.


    Apr 29 2019 Update

    My older son found an excellent video (below) that compares the shound of the last Space Shuttle launch with the sound of the Falcon Heavy launch, both recorded from the press area 3 miles from the launch pad. Awesome!

    I found it interesting that in the video, Lon mentions the intense brightness of the flames. This is something I vividly recall noticing when I witnessed a Space Shuttle launch first-hand, even though it was decades ago. I even remember how disappointed I was with how dim the Hi8 playback looked on my TV afterward, which started the years of yearning to see another launch someday, in person. Perhaps HDR and subwoofers will someday give me a better sense of that live experience when watching future launches from home, once I go 4K on a monitor or TV. But nothing will ever replace being there with many other humans around, to hear the emotional reactions of others around you, and to enjoy such shared experiences. Can you imagine watching a rocket lifting off that's headed to the Moon, or maybe even Mars?

    Lon.TV - Apr 24 2019 - Launch Sound: Space Shuttle vs. SpaceX Falcon Heavy - Wear your headphones!

    Full resolution photos courtesy of the SpaceX Media Gallery's link to Flickr, all in the public domain.

    SpaceX Infographic explains what happened, exactly.
    Falcon Heavy Demo Mission, December 28, 2017.
    Falcon Heavy Demo Mission, December 28, 2017.
    Falcon Heavy Demo Mission - Payload, December 6, 2017.
    Falcon Heavy Demo Mission - Payload
    Falcon on Intelsat 35e Mission, July 5, 2017
    "February 6th, 2018: 27 Merlin engines power SpaceX's Falcon Heavy from LC-39A for the first time." - John Kraus Photos, available for purchase at johnkrausphotos.com/falconheavy.

    John Kraus Photos available for purchase at johnkrausphotos.com/falconheavy.

    Entering the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, a special place I had never actually been to before, only driven by on my way to the Saturn V display. Boy did I miss out!
    Yep, my Fuschia placard is on my dashboard!
    Oh my, the memories of my youth this evokes, and nice to look at while waiting on the security inspection line for only about 20 minutes, having arrived by 8:40am, with only about 15 minutes of extra traffic.
    Nice backdrop for the John F. Kennedy quote.
    Heroes and Legends exhibit was closed on launch day, but not the Rocket Garden! This is where the queues formed for the folks getting shuttled by bus to the even "Closest" and "Feel the heat" viewing locations.
    Only 4 hours left on the clock, until the expected 1:30pm launch.
    My favorite looking 1960s rocket was laying down.
    The Visitor Complex.
    With the launch delayed, there was more time to enjoy the various exhibits, that's a pretty awesome entrance to the Shuttle Atlantis exhibit.
    Somebody's kids are dressed to impress. Inspiration for the next generation.
    The actual Space Shuttle Atlantis, displayed in a very dramatic and effective manner.
    Wow, those engines, with so many little thrusters too.
    Familiar logos, and lots of little "NO STEP" signs.
    I feel like a kid, flying a Shuttle.
    Canadian contributions are evident.
    The lawn had a screen, but since the launch didn't happen until 3:45pm, the glare of the Florida sun made it a bit harder to view from a distance.
    Getting his camera ready.
    Falcon Heavy shoots upward! This screenshot of my 4K video is right around the moment that lift-off sounds reached us.
    We quickly walked to be able to see the screen, with the excited crowd, awaiting the booster's return, far to the right of the launch pad.
    Panoramic image I created of the crowd on the lawn, just a few minutes after launch.
    Teleprompter? Are they recording audio of the crowd's reactions? Curiously, the feed ended very soon after the boosted landed, short of covering the issue with the center booster. I think this was a subtle way to disperse this late-day crowd.
    There seemed to be a disproportionate number of Teslas in attendance. Gee, I wonder why that would be. I walked by 5 of them actually, as I crossed 5 rows in Lot 5. This pic was snapped as we headed back to Orlando, which took an extra hour or so due to pretty extreme traffic. Impossibly bad Verizon internet that first 12 miles also meant I couldn't even let Google Maps intelligently reroute me around any of it. But oh so worth it!

    See also at TinkerTry


    See also

    Here's the complete launch history for Saturn V:

    One of my favorite movies, October Sky on Netflix.

    Great overview article with a fun video of Elon Musk:

    • SpaceX's First Falcon Heavy Rocket Test Launch Set for Feb. 6
      Jan 28 2018 by Tariq Malik, Space.com
      In the video, Elon explains:

      "There's a lot that could go wrong there," Musk said last year. "I encourage people to come down to the Cape to see the first Falcon Heavy mission; it's guaranteed to be exciting."

    More videos

    SpaceX Falcon Heavy Megarocket - 5 Awesome Facts
    The Incredible Sounds of the Falcon Heavy Launch [BINAURAL AUDIO IMMERSION] - Smarter Every Day 189
    Compilation of crazy crowd reactions to twin Falcon Heavy booster landing.