What It’s Like To See SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket In Person

Up close with a big rocket

spacex falcon 9 on the launch pad
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is ready for takeoff on April 8. Sarah Fecht/Popular Science

This is my first rocket rodeo. I’m here at Kennedy Space Center reporting on the SpaceX launch that’s scheduled for tonight, and I expected to be completely overwhelmed by the size of the rocket. I wasn’t, until I looked a little closer.

The rocket is a towering 23-stories tall, but by some trick of the eye, it doesn’t feel like it—at least not from behind the fence that keeps journalists from overrunning it. Maybe I’m just a jaded New Yorker. But the scale is also hard to grasp from the pictures. But there are a few tiny details that can put this behemoth into perspective.

Take the picture at the top of this post. Impressive, no? But the thing for me that made the size of this thing sink in was the little tiny people moving around at the base of the rocket. Here’s a zoomed in version:

man standing next to rocket, zoomed out
Did you see the man in the previous image? No? That’s because he’s tiny compared to the rocket. Sarah Fecht/Popular Science

Let’s see that again in the big picture.

man standing next to rocket, zoomed out
There’s our rocket man. Now it’s easier to see that this is a 23-story rocket. Sarah Fecht/Popular Science

Yeah. That’s a pretty big rocket.

But wait, there’s more. Did you see the landing fin? It’s the square grid thing near the top of the rocket that helps to steer the rocket as it’s hurtling back to Earth.

landing fin on the falcon 9 rocket
The rocket’s landing fins help steer the rocket during landing attempts. It looks small here, but it’s not. Sarah Fecht/Popular Science

It looks tiny in the rocket photo, but it is also about the size of a human.

landing fin looks tiny on falcon 9 rocket
Although the rocket looks like a big fish with little fins, that little fin is big enough for a person to lay down on. Sarah Fecht/Popular Science

The Falcon 9 isn’t the biggest rocket ever made—that title belongs to the 363-foot Saturn V rocket that launched the Apollo astronauts to the moon—but it’s still pretty impressive. And it’s just one of many reasons why this afternoon’s launch attempt is a big deal. Watch it with us, starting around 4:30 PM Eastern!