To provide, safe, socially distant fun, Kennedy Space Center (KSC) has been offering “Launch and A Movie” as a drive-in style experience in their parking lot to allow visitors to see something truly unique.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), I was able to attend the event twice. You see, rocket science is very precise and the slightest variable can stop everything at a moment’s notice. About a month ago, I was out at KSC for the event when the launch was aborted (scrubbed) in literally the last seconds before liftoff.
Just a few days ago on Thursday however, I was able to return thanks to the “Scrub Policy” for the event, allowing a return visit up to twice should the rocket launch be aborted for any reason. Return I did for what turned out to be a launch for the same reason as the launch on my first visit, a SpaceX Falcon 9 taking GPS 3 satellites up into orbit.
Slightly different than the first time around, the launch took place before the movie. Both visits however, saw a NASA Guide explaining where to watch the sky, what was going on out at the launchpad at that moment, and answering any questions folks might have all being pumped right into your car radio, along with a soothing soundtrack of classical music to orbit by. I wish this station were somewhere on Spotify or Sirius, etc.
You aren’t required to stay in your car either. After you don your face covering/mask, you can head over to the KSC entry plaza and see some of the rockets of the Visitor’s Complex and grab a bite to eat from the Rocket Fuel food truck. When you buy tickets to the event in advance, you can also pre-purchase a meal package and this is where you’d pick that up. There is also a small area to pick up some souvenirs, and this is also where the restrooms of the event are located. Anything beyond the turnstiles of the KSC Visitor’s Complex is unavailable for this event.
The movie part of the event was the IMAX film, Hubble. The film, a decade old at this point, takes viewers on a journey through distant galaxies to explore the grandeur and mysteries of our celestial surroundings, and accompany space-walking astronauts as they attempt the most difficult and important tasks in NASA’s history and celebrates Hubble Space Telescope’s legacy and highlights its profound impact on the way we view the universe and ourselves. Also, it’s narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio and that’s what caught the passenger in my car’s attention.
The big show is the actual launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. There is always some kind of mission going on, even the NASA Guide referring to upcoming missions would mention the vague confidential nature of some of the upcoming launches saying “Top Secret Payload” or “Classified Recon Mission.” Tonight’s was for a string of GPS3 satellites to help with, well, GPS devices as well as a vague and briefly mentioned Space Force project.
About 10 minutes before the launch, the screens placed in the parking lots would switch over to a live feed from SpaceX control in California with live views of the launchpad that is in Florida, approximately 6 miles away from those in attendance in the KSC parking lot.
Any rocket launch is something spectacular to see and hear, but a launch at night is one of those bucket list items that everybody needs to experience. The glow of the boosters as they ignite, and how it lights up the night sky for literal miles and lifts up and into the sky is truly a sight to behold. While the launch can be seen dozens and dozens of miles away (weather permitting) those that are close, like say at the KSC Launch and a Movie Drive-In event, also get to literally feel the power of the launch. The sound takes a bit to get to you (you are 6 miles away from the launchpad after all) but once it does, it is loud and thunderous and you can feel every bit of the vibration in the ground beneath where you’re standing.
While a camera can only capture so much, I set one up to capture the illumination of the night sky and followed the rocket for as best as I could as it entered an orbit around the planet. You can see that video below. As an added bonus, you can see the (actually quite amusing) disappointment of an aborted aunch at the end of the video from our first trip out to Launch and a Movie.