Battle of Launch Sites: What’s the Difference Between Florida’s Space Coast and Vandenberg, California?

So you want to get up close and personal and witness a tremendous feat of engineering, but before you slip on your NASA T-shirt and cloud your head with thoughts of the final frontier, you need to consider where to experience a rocket launch. How does Vandenberg Air Force Base stack up against Kennedy Space Center and Florida’s Space Coast? While we can’t decide for you, we think you’ll get a good idea of where you’ll want to see your first rocket launch.

Location. Location. Location.

Encompassing close to 100,000 acres on California’s Central Coast, Vandenberg AFB’s location is perfect for launching polar-orbiting satellites; in fact, it’s the only place in the United States that launches them. Although it may be great for polar-orbiting satellites, for tourists the location is less-than-ideal. The closest city to Vandenberg is Lompac; a quiet place home to vineyards, ranches, and fields of flowers. Lompac and Vandenberg might sound like places where you can escape from it all, but it’ll take a while to get there. From LAX it is a 3-hour drive (that’s if there’s no traffic), and once you arrive there really isn’t a lot to do.

Florida’s Space Coast and Kennedy Space Center are much more convenient for visitors flying into Central Florida’s airports. From Orlando Melbourne International (MLB) and Orlando International (MCO) it is a 40-minute drive, and from Sanford (SFB), it is about an hour. Besides being easy to get to, Florida’s Space Coast is a superior family-friendly destination with a lot to do. The region is home to the Brevard Zoo, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and 72 miles of pristine beaches. And that’s just a few of the things-to-do here. 

Planning Your Visit

Simply put, planning a trip to Vandenberg can be difficult. Because it is an active Air Force base, visits need to be arranged well in advance and are subject to government approval. There is a monthly windshield tour (escorted bus tour), and a quarterly tour of the Space and Missile Heritage Center located at Space Launch Complex-10. These tours are free, but spaces are extremely limited and are already booked well into 2020.

Kennedy Space Center’s Visitor Complex is open 365 days a year and tickets can be purchased at any time. The facility also offers a variety of tours, special events, and more including the famous Astronaut Training Experience. VIP launch tickets that bring you even closer to the action are also available. 

Preparing for Liftoff

Unless you have military clearance, your chances of viewing a rocket launch on site at Vandenberg are close to none. However, there are some great spots nearby to watch launches and folks even as far as Santa Barbara can have a decent view, but the area’s mountainous terrain and frequent fog can prevent from getting the best experience. 

Florida’s Space Coast offers multiple viewing options for rocket launches. Whether you’re looking to watch a launch in nearby Cocoa Beach or on site at Kennedy Space Center, you’ll find that a launch experience at KSC is unlike any other you’ll have on the Space Coast. For the latest information on Space Coast launches, download the Launch Console app on the iTunes Store or the Google Play Store.