5 Tips for Viewing the Atlantis Shuttle Launch

A million spectators are expected to flock to Cape Canaveral to watch the final launch of the space shuttle Atlantis, which is set to take off on Friday at 11:26 a.m. The highly publicized event will result in bumper-to-bumper traffic and overbooked hotels, forcing some unprepared travelers to go home without witnessing history.

Here are some tips to help last-minute shuttlers attend the launch and leave unscathed.

Get there early

The trip from Orlando to Cape Canaveral, usually 45 minutes, can take anywhere from 6 to 8 hours on launch day. If driving, carpool with friends to make the hunt for parking easier and allow an extra hour or two to find a spot. Try to leave the road rage at home.

Stay in Orlando

Launchpad adjacent hotels in Titusville, Melbourne and Cocoa Beach have been sold out for weeks and forget any hotels near the airport. Luckily, there is still room in some parts of Orlando, a city that lodges throngs of families every day thanks to Disney World.

Prepare for weather

Thunderstorms are apparently on the way, so it will pay to be flexible. Shuttle flights through harsh weather conditions is prohibited because lightning can damage important electronic equipment on board. If rain clouds loom over the cape at dusk, the drive there will take even longer with cautious drivers behind the wheel.

Find a good spot

If visitors didn't nab tickets during NASA's lottery last month, they should forget about watching the launch from the on-site visitor complex unless they are willing to pay scalpers a hefty sum. The next best thing is to view the launch from one of the several parks along U.S. 1: Manzo Park, Rotary Riverfront Park and Kennedy Park in Titusville. NASA's website offers a list of other viewing locations.

Set up the camera

Don't forget to charge the batteries and clear space on the memory card. Use a tripod to steady the camera and choose a fast shutter speed to capture as many images possible. Set ISO to 100 if it's sunny to avoid overexposure. Remember to take the lens cap off, then remember to actually look up.

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