The Wallops Flight Facility has launched quite a few rockets that are visible from most of the East Coast of the United States. Especially at night. On a clear night, with little to no obstructions, one can watch a rocket in flight. It’s clear to see them and you may want to see one launch in person. They are free. Here is what you need to know.
Plan early. You can go on the Wallops site to find out when the next launch will be. It is advisable to schedule your vacation around it, as many unforeseen circumstances and delay or even cancel a launch. If your job requires you to put in for a vacation and when you do, you are locked into those dates, you may be disappointed if tests cause the launch to be delayed for months. If you can change your dates, that works best. The visitors center is the best place to see this. Wallops is close to the Maryland- Virginia State Line in Virginia.
Try to arrive at least one day in advance, to get the lay of the land. There is plenty to do, such as ferry rides, beach activities, a lighthouse tour and in the summer, island nightlife. By arriving early, you will be refreshed and rested on launch day. Speaking of launch day, if the rocket is scheduled to blast off at 2:12 p.m. it is a good idea to arrive at the Visitors Center on Rt. 175 about 11:45 a.m. This will insure you a prime parking spot and insure you a good spot to watch the launch. If the launch is on a weekend, the earlier you can come, the better.
Be prepared to be disappointed. You may wait three hours and during the go/ no go poll the launch could get scrubbed at only a few seconds remaining. Anything can happen. If you go expecting to see a successful launch and it does not happen you will be upset.. If you mentally prepare yourself to be underwhelmed, when the launch is successful, it makes it more special. A hazy day will hamper visibility.If there is a significant threat of bad weather, the launch will not happen.
You are as close as you can be without special clearance. Four miles. Do not waste your time with a small camera or a cell phone. your photos will be of a little orange dot that you will tell people is the rocket. From that distance you will need a minimum of a 400 mm lens to get anything resembling fair. To get a good photo you will need at least a 600 mm to 800 mm lens, and the experience to use it. That fact that your camera that costs all of $250.00 can zoom in 27 times is a waste. Trust me. The photo will be too pixilated to be able to tell you what is going on. Bring binoculars. Bring a folding chair in case the bleachers are filled. Bring bug spray and water. You will absolutely want to bring bug spray. That cannot be said enough.
If you want to watch from the Chincoteauge or Assateauge Island area you will still want to come early . Traffic may be heavy around the beach area. Some areas require a fee to get in. Check before you go.
Arriving by car is the best way. It’s a five hour drive from New York. North Jersey area, Three and a half from Philadelphia. Part of North Carolina will see a five or six hour ride. from Dover it’s about a two hour ride. If you have a boat check with authorities as to how far out in the ocean you have to stay to be able to see this.
If you are driving, there are plenty of placed to stop to eat. Some folks want a quick familiar fast food burger and they are done. Others want something different. There will be something for everyone.
Seeing a rocket launch in person is a lot different than watching one on television. It’s a sobering sight. You will see the flash of ignition and then several seconds later you will hear the roar of the engine. Light travels faster than sound. Depending on the rocket and your vantage point,the ground may rumble. With Wallops launching more and more rockets, it’s easier than ever to see it. It’s something that should be on your bucket list.