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Watching a NASA Launch from the 'Left' Seat in the House

Wednesday, February 23, 2022 9:07 AM | Michelle Judice (Administrator)

by Scott Dyer

Have you thought about flying south to watch a NASA launch with your airplane?  Taking the Cirrus, Bonanza or Cessna down the coast to see the launch from the air?  I have, and I've been daunted by the day long trip each way to the Cape Canaveral area, perhaps joined with a delay of a day, or two, or three, or more, as the launch is on hold for weather or mechanical reasons. It just seemed too complicated unless I was otherwise going to be in Florida and could do a one day roundtrip within the state.

COVID adds another wrinkle, with the NASA passes for launch viewing being suspended indefinitely.

But...we found another solution!  Wallops Island, Virgina on the Eastern Shore is home to NASA's Wallops Flight Facility where sounding rockets and International Space Station (ISS) resupply missions among other things are launched.  It's a relatively short flight from HPN, maybe 90 minutes to 2 1/2 hours depending on winds and your aircraft, with good refueling at Salisbury Regional Airport (SBY) in Salisbury, Maryland or Accomack County Airport (MFV) in Melfa, Virginia.  Some launches are during the daytime, others are in the evening or at night, so you'll have to take your pick and make your plans.

If it wasn't already obvious, I'll reveal now that we took this very trip in February 2022 for the Cygnus NG-17 ISS Resupply Mission Launch.  Oh, and did I forget to mention this viewing was inflight?  

The launch was scheduled shortly after noon with only a 5 minute window for launching...we'd know pretty quickly if the launch wouldn't happen that day.  Yes, there are TFRs, and you have to watch the Restricted Areas over Chesapeake Bay, but there is plenty of room around V1 near Wallops (WAL) to loiter and wait for the launch - when we were there no other airplane was in sight at our 4,500' altitude. We were about 8 miles away under clear blue skies when the rocket ignited and lifted off.

You can pick your future launch by looking at the NASA Wallops Launch ScheduleThis link also shows the best locations to watch from the ground, if you want to land and rent a car for viewing at Salisbury.  

Watch the video of our February launch excursion from HPN.

Have a great trip!

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