Blasting Off Along A1A: Visiting Titusville

At 6:11 a.m. on April 22, 2021, NASA will launch its SpaceX Crew-2 Mission to the International Space Station; this manned crew, consisting of four astronauts, will be aboard a Crew Dragon Space Craft atop a Falcon 9 Rocket. This is a target date and of course is subject to change.

So where can you go to watch this launch?

A popular, though expensive, option is to view a launch from a Kennedy Space Center. For the April 22 date, all launch viewing packages, which includes admission to the space center later in morning, are sold out.

Another popular option is to visit Playalinda Beach at Canaveral National Seashore; it offers one of the closest views of a rocket launch. Here is the park’s statement regarding rocket launches:

The seashore plans to remain open for Kennedy Space Center launches that are within park operating hours of 6 AM – 8 PM. Incoming traffic may close for park safety/capacity. NASA has the authority to close part of the seashore for space center operations.

There will be those that will try to get onto Playalinda Beach; expect a huge crowd trying to get a parking spot and onto the beach within the 11 minutes from the park opening to the targeted launch time. I’m sure visitors will be hoping for a launch delay, and from what I have heard from locals in Titusville, this could be a safe bet.

If you choose Playalinda Beach, make sure you are aware about the beach area by parking lot #13, where the scenery might be too natural. By the way, it will cost $20 per car to get into Canaveral National Seashore.

My recent trip to Florida’s Space Coast was to visit some NASA-related sites and to scope out a spot to watch the upcoming launch. Obviously, Kennedy Space Center is the most popular site to visit; it will probably be a bit too popular on April 22. It is one of Florida’s premier attractions—if you haven’t been there recently, or ever, definitely add it to a future A1A itinerary. It is one of only four locations to have a retired space shuttle; along with Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center are Discovery (Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Dulles, Virginia), Endeavor (California Space Center, Los Angeles), and Enterprise (Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum, New York City).

For my overnight stay, I chose Titusville, from which travelers can access the NASA Causeway to Kennedy Space Center. Titusville itself offers us NASA nerds other things to see regarding space travel history.

As far as A1A is concerned, signage does not appear in Titusville; US 1 connects A1A from the north (Port Orange) to the south (Martin Anderson Beachline Expressway to Port Canaveral and Cocoa Beach). This is a scenic section of US 1, especially when paralleling the Indian River. And this stretch offers plenty of viewing spots to watch a rocket launch.

Entering Brevard County on US 1, where the Space Coast begins, you may receive this nice welcome.

Woof woof!

Easily noticeable along US 1 and Titusville are roadside motels, most of which certainly enjoyed the boom that NASA brought to the Space Coast from the late 1950’s and beyond. Aptly named, the Apollo Inn, south of downtown Titusville, is a no-frills motel that is walking distance to the waterfront. It is booked for April 21-22, however.

No worries—plenty of reasonably-priced lodging options are still available.

While the main focus of this blog is Titusville, Cocoa Beach and Port Canaveral cannot be ignored.

For an historical lodging option, La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham Cocoa Beach Oceanfront, has rooms available for a bit over $200 (April 21). Once known as the Cape Colony Inn, this hotel was originally owned by the Mercury 7 astronauts, this according to the signage located near the pool area.

The hotel is located within walking distance of Lori Wilson Park, where you can walk down “I Dream of Jeannie Lane” to the beach. Though the park doesn’t open until 7 a.m., I am sure it will draw a rocket launch crowd. It will also be a wonderful spot to watch a sunrise (6:50 a.m.).

Other Cocoa Beach options include Alan Shepard Park, Sidney Fischer Park, and Cocoa Beach Pier. As these options do not open until after the 6:11 a.m. targeted launch time, it is best to check in advance to see if exceptions will be made on April 22.

Port Canaveral also provides excellent viewing sites. Surprisingly, Cape Canaveral Lighthouse and Spaceflight Exploration Tours will offer its Thursday tour of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on April 22. It begins at 8:30 a.m. (at the time of this post, only four spots remain). The tour pick up point is Port Canaveral’s Exploration Tower, which provides an excellent area to watch a rocket launch (the tower itself will not be open). The tour provides an awesome now and then experience (including a visit to LC-34, the site of the tragic fire that killed Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee, and also the site of the Apollo 7 launch).

Space and lighthouse fans—this tour is a must experience; tours do book well in advance.

Also, surprisingly, there are plenty of affordable lodging options near many of the prime launch sites. Airbnb is where I found my lodging for April 22: a sailboat on the Port Canaveral cove, where we will be able to watch the launch from the boat.

I also used Airbnb (for the first time ever) during my Titusville stay. For under $50, Kelley, at her Whistle Stop Inn (house near the railroad tracks), was a wonderful Airbnb host; her place is walking distance to the waterfront, and one of her rooms is still available at last check. A nice touch: at the end of the evening, she serves a slice of Key lime pie. Also, her husband, who works for United Launch Alliance, offers excellent insight into the space program.

There are plenty of other Airbnb options within the Space Coast area.

For an excellent introduction on Titusville and potential launch viewing sites, head to the downtown Titusville Welcome Center. There, I met Sandy and Teresa; both were super friendly, and with enthusiasm, gave me the low-down on potential launch sites in the area.

Sandy and Teresa’s number one spot to consider?— the Hobby Lobby parking lot. Teresa did warn me of the intense traffic that follows each manned launch, saying that she once parked 10 minutes from her house but took over two hours to get back home.

“Plan accordingly,” she said tp me.

The center offers free parking and is an excellent spot to walk to a couple of NASA-related sites in Titusville. Space View Park, which honors those involved with the various space missions, is a prime launch viewing site. From the website:

“The Park is the first and only walk in the nation that honors America’s astronauts as well as the men and women behind the scenes who helped America lead the world in space exploration.”

Across the street from the welcome center is the American Space Museum and the Space Walk of Fame. Open Tuesday-Saturday, the museum offers three tours per day: 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m. On my visit, I found the museum at first to be sparse, mainly model renditions and artifacts. However, the tour is very revealing, especially when given by Travis Thompson, former close out crew chief of NASA’s space shuttle missions (he worked with NASA from 1983 to 2011).

For some background on Thompson, Brian Vastag of the Washington Post, wrote “Space shuttle Discovery takes the ground crew’s hearts with it.” Here, Thompson shared the melancholy felt by him and others as the Space Shuttle Discovery was being prepped for its final destination, Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Dulles, Virginia.

Thompson, who became Orbital Vehicle Closeout Crew Chief, shared stories of his work with John Glenn, members of both the Challenger and Columbia crews that perished during shuttle missions, and his relationship with famed closeout crew chief Guenter Wendt, who Thompson replaced in 1989. The tour basically became a storytelling experience, and it is easily recognizable that Thompson cherished his time with NASA, but also showed some resentment with how he and others were not kept around following the end of the space shuttle program.

The Space Walk of Fame includes all the monuments found at Space View Park.

One of the most popular spots to view a rocket launch from Titusville is the A. Max Brewer Bridge and Parrish Park. The bridge is part of the A. Max Brewer Memorial Parkway, which goes through the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, passing the historic Shuttle Landing Facility (which at 15,000 feet in length is one of the longest runways in the world) and onto Playalinda Beach.

A photo of the bridge following the scrubbed launch of SpaceX’s first manned space flight brought about some controversy as many thought the photo was taken years ago after the final space shuttle launch. Check out the Florida Today story by Mara Bellamy, “Photo of crowd on bridge for SpaceX launch captured our attention—for real” (May 28, 2020). At the least, you will get an idea of how crowded a launch viewing site can be, especially when the missions are manned.

To conclude, I mention Moonlight Drive-In restaurant, located just off US 1. Opened in 1964, this carhop is a definite throwback to the early days of NASA.

During my visit, I ordered a Key lime milkshake—it was awesome. Most of the customers ordered take-out or ate from their cars. I went inside and enjoyed the classic ambience, complete with a 1958 Seeburg jukebox, and pictures of 60’s-era personalities, including signed photos of John Wayne and Annette Funicello.

Here’s the menu. Shall we meet you for lunch on April 22?

Happy traveling!


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