Space shuttle Atlantis: Last-minute tips for launch fans heading for Florida

Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger

If you’re heading to Florida’s Space Coast in hopes of seeing the final space shuttle, Atlantis, take off Friday, expect to be shoulder to shoulder with about 1 million people. Hotel bookings are setting a record. And take note: The launch date is under a cloud--literally.

The launch will mark the end of the three-decade-old manned shuttle program.

Atlantis is scheduled to blast off at 11:26 a.m. EDT Friday, though NASA’s online shuttle report said a 60% chance of showers and storms forecast for Friday could delay the launch. Still, nothing has been postponed yet.


Meanwhile, “hotels sold out faster than for any other launch,” said Rob Varley, executive director of the Space Coast Office of Tourism.

The shuttle, officially known as STS-1350, is set to go on a 12-day mission to the space station. For those with a desire to see history made, Varley offered these last-minute tips:

-- If you’re looking for a hotel room, try Orlando. Titusville, Cocoa Beach and other nearby areas are already sold out.

-- Start out five to six hours early to get a good spot. People will gather as early as Wednesday and Thursday nights at the public viewing areas closest to the launch that have campgrounds. Expect popular spots such as Jetty Park in Cape Canaveral or Space View Park and Sand Point Park in Titusville to be packed and plan accordingly. Check out this list of potential launch viewing sites open to the public.

-- Consider driving farther south to Satellite Beach or New Smyrna Beach near Daytona ,where the shuttle should be visible in the sky, weather permitting.

Varley also advised visitors to bring bring sunscreen, water and a cooler with food to cash in on the party atmosphere.

“If they love tailgaters, they will love Titusville,” he said.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex sold out tickets for its viewing areas that cost $20 to $61 for adults during a lottery held last month.

However, Florida Dolphin Tours, (877) 352-4646, was selling shuttle-viewing packages for $139 for adults and $119 for children, including tax, and had availability as of Tuesday. Caveat: The ticket gives you a spot at the visitor complex, 13 miles from the launch site, where you would see Atlantis only once it climbs high in the sky.