Watching from just a few kilometres away as the Falcon Heavy rocket blasted off Tuesday at Cape Canaveral, Fla., was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Calgary space enthusiast Don Hladiuk.

"It was electric down here, the atmosphere was crazy," he told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday morning.

"The roar, the rumble, I haven't heard something like that since the shuttle. Television can certainly give you better views, up close with their telephoto lenses. But watching a rocket launch … the TV does not show you the intensity and the brightness of that flame that's coming out, and the rumble and roar is unbelievable.

"It's an event I'll never forget."

And watching the two rocket boosters land soon after was icing on the cake for the former president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada's Calgary chapter.

"To see those two boosters, almost like an orbital ballet, coming down together, almost simultaneously, and extending their legs and firing their rockets to slow down and to basically stick the landing on the launch pad, that was science fiction," he said.

"But it wasn't science fiction. It was real life. It was incredible."

Hladiuk was among an estimated crowd of 100,000 who watched the launch and landing from the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral — which marked the largest crowd there since the last shuttle launch in 2011.

Don Hladiuk Falcon Heavy launch

Watching the Falcon Heavy rocket launch live was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Don Hladiuk. (Submitted by Don Hladiuk)

The 23-storey Falcon Heavy rocket was created by SpaceX — which is backed by billionaire Elon Musk — and roared off from the same site used by NASA's towering Saturn V rockets to carry Apollo missions to the moon more than 40 years ago.

It was designed to be the most powerful rocket in use, and many hope it will make it easier to get humans past low-Earth orbit, back to the moon and even to Mars.

Along with being "a historic first," Hladiuk says the launch ushers in a new age of possibilities around space exploration.

Falcon Heavy SpaceX launch

Don Hladiuk was able to mount a camera close to the launch site of the Falcon Heavy rocket. (Submitted by Don Hladiuk)

"It certainly makes journeys to Mars more affordable," he said.

"If anything, it lowers the cost of gaining access to space. That's the whole idea of these private enterprises. And who knows, there could even be a new space race between Blue Origin, which is Jeff Bezos's company, and Space Exploration, which is SpaceX, the Elon Musk company. They may be battling each other to see who goes back to the Moon or to Mars. There could be a new space race, not between nations, but between private companies."

Part of Tuesday's payload was a cherry red Tesla Roadster with a "Starman" at the wheel.

"Only a multi-billionaire can do something like that," said Hladiuk, referring to Musk.  

"The pictures were surreal. It almost didn't look real. You see him casually sitting in this convertible."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener