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NASA PACE Falcon 9 Rocket Launch

Posted on   3 minute read NASA PACE Falcon 9 Rocket Launch

Up close and personal

In February of 2024, I had the pleasure of spending some time in Florida for a work conference. While there, I kept an eye on the forecast and space launch schedule to see if I might catch a rocket launch while in town. SpaceX was planning to launch a Falcon 9 with the NASA PACE payload. The launch ended up being delayed for 3 days, finally happening early in the morning on February 8th, 2024.

This was not a publicly accessible launch, and I’m not sure why, but my assumption is that Falcon 9 launches are getting so frequent nowadays that late night/early morning launches are too much work from an organization perspective to try to allow the public access to the Cape to see launches. So, what does this mean? The public can still watch; they just have to do it from remote locations, not on the Cape.

Mission Control Morrell Operations Center Entry

Mission Control Morrell Operations Center Display

Where did I watch the launch? I was fortunate enough to be invited to join a couple of remote family members who live and even work on the Cape, so I got special access. The morning started out with a quick tour of Mission Control, yes, Mission Control for the launch! There are actually two different rooms for MC, one for the active launch, and one for anything else going on or tours, so we got to walk through the empty mission control room and look into the active room. With Falcon 9 launches, the number of people in mission control is pretty minimal, which was surprising to see considering what was occurring.

Mission Control at Morrell Operations Center with Me!

Mission Control at Morrell Operations Center

What was the best part about the Mission Control tour? The laugh I got in the bathroom! Check out this sign. If the people who are launching rockets into space can’t even hit the toilet, how are they going to land on Mars? (sorry, I couldn’t resist)

Mission Control Urinals

Then came the launch itself. I won’t share exact details on where we were for the launch, but boy was that an experience! This Falcon 9 rocket was launching towards the south, something that a NASA payload hadn’t done in 50+ years, the last time on November 30th, 1960, having a problem during launch and rumored to kill a cow in Cuba. After the launch, and I mean, almost right after, like 7 minutes, the rocket would come back and land also on the Cape.

We were set up to watch the launch, knowing that we didn’t have the best spot to view the landing pad, but had thoughts of maybe trying to drive over to catch the landing. Long story short, we didn’t make it over to see the landing, we took too long watching the launch and nearly missed the landing altogether as we were driving west towards it when the sky lit up with what looked like lightning then the sun as the rocket reignited for landing along with sonic booms as it broke the sound barrier. I managed to stick the camera out the window of the SUV and got a shot or two, but nothing great of the landing.

It was a great experience, it had been 14 years since I saw my first shuttle launch, also a night launch with access to the Cape from an employee. This launch had a little less excitement as the Shuttle launch we had to rush to get on the bus to depart our viewing location because of the risk of an acid cloud blowing back at us!

I can’t wait for my next launch, and definitely am taking my family with me next time so they can experience it too!

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