NASA’s return to the moon revives life in Florida’s coast

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TITUSVILLE, Florida — This used to be a lazy paradise. Motels with blinds ushered in the smell of salt and seaweed from the Indian River. Tourists in rented convertibles thundered down the scenic A1A on their way to Marineland. And the monster oysters at Bernard’s Surf in neighboring Cocoa Beach were only 25 cents each.

The aromas, attractions and oysters are still there, but you wouldn’t recognize it as the same place in the 60s and 70s. The same goes for any community within an 80-mile radius of where large rockets now light up the skies on their way to more exotic destinations.

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No, Titusville and surrounding Brevard County are a bustling metropolis, thanks in part to NASA, Kennedy Space Center, and the revamped US space program.

Monday at 8:33 a.m. Eastern Time, things will take a marked upward turn, when the largest rocket NASA has ever built — the 32-story, 5.8-million-pound Space Launch System (SLS) — is ready to explode. and his next-generation Orion deep space exploration vehicle on a crewless journey around the moon and back. If all goes well within the space of 42 days, Orion will return to Earth and crash into the Pacific Ocean.

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The mission, Artemis 1, is designed to pave the way for an eventual return of NASA astronauts to the moon’s surface — perhaps in just a few years.

The NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft on board is seen atop the mobile launch vehicle on Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center on August 17, 2022 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Joel Kowsky/NASA via Getty Images

More than 200,000 visitors are expected to attend to watch the action within the two-hour launch window. Hotels have been booked for months, restaurant reservations require an act of Congress and Sunday traffic could be a nightmare. In addition to the congestion, thousands of people will disembark from five cruise ships docked in Port Canaveral.

As they did for the Space Shuttle launches, crowds from the Disney World area were able to pour into the eastbound Beachline Expressway connecting Orlando to the Space Coast and turn it into a parking lot. And just like those shuttles from way back when, once Artemis is off the ground, most of the 200,000 people will leave to go back home…all at the same time.

“Disharmonic Convergence” is how Brevard County Emergency Management describes the mess that is about to unfold.

Anticipate a major stalemate everywhere,” said spokesman Don Walker. “And the launch takes place on a workday, when people are going to work and children are on school buses.”

People arrive for a tour of the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex, which attracts nearly two million visitors a year to the Space Coast.

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images

But others will embrace the chaos, including local businesses eager to accommodate those in need.

“This is going to be huge,” Greg Holladay, general manager of the Dixie Crossroads, a popular seafood restaurant in Titusville, told The Daily Beast. “And the impact of Artemis going forward will be huge for Titusville when NASA releases the… [crewed] launches. Many of our clients come from other states to work for the space program, so the housing market is booming.”

This weekend, Holladay expects double or even triple the number of customers above the normal 1,000 or so on a combined Saturday and Sunday. To prepare for the onslaught of hungry visitors, he has increased his staff from 50 to 75 people.

Greg Holladay, general manager of Dixie Crossroads restaurant in Titusville.

Greg Holladay

The same goes for hotels and motels. Calls from The Daily Beast to more than a dozen in the area underscore the blitz: No vacancies, and most had been booked since the spring. Even with construction booming — there are currently 10,734 hotel rooms in Brevard County — Artemis demand overwhelmed supply like a tsunami.

And most developers are hedging bets that the Artemis program will make long-term investments worthwhile. Planners aren’t just building more hotels — they’re customizing them as platforms with unlimited views of rocket launches, said Peter Cranis, executive director of the Florida Space Coast Office of Tourism.

Spaceflight memorabilia for sale at the Courtyard Titusville – Kennedy Space Center hotel in Brevard County, Florida, on March 29, 2022.

Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images

“Over the past few years, there has been massive hotel construction on the Space Coast, where we have added more than 1,500 new rooms to our inventory,” he said, “including hotels in Titusville with premier rooms and decks overlooking the launch. .’ ‘

Private Party, Public Places

The emphasis on space has brought life to Titusville and the neighboring towns of Cocoa Beach, Port St. John, Merritt Island, Rockledge and Melbourne. They took advantage of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo days, as well as 30 years of the Space Shuttle program, which ended in 2011.

Then people expected a downturn, but the ghost never came to the city. After all, the area still had its attractions: Florida’s second most active cruise ship port; affordable real estate and living expenses; and access to exceptional waterways, fishing, and beaches north and south of the 140,000-acre Merritt Island National Wildlife Preserve.

It also has something else: jobs from private space companies.

In the decade since the Space Shuttle’s shutdown, commercial companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin began using the launch complexes at Kennedy and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, keeping people at work and generating new businesses for locals.

People visit Space View Park in Titusville, Florida on May 30, 2020.

Scott Audette/Reuters

The presence of more than 90 private sector partners and nearly 250 partnership agreements fuel Titusville and neighboring communities as they enable NASA to enter a new era of space exploration. In turn, the agency injects about $5.2 billion into Florida’s economy each year, according to the Kennedy Space Center 2021 Economic Impact Study.

“It’s unbelievable how much activity there has been since the shuttle,” said Lynda Weatherman, chair of the Rockledge Economic Development Commission. “Now you have two or three launches a week. If you look at our economy, with all the launch activities alone, it’s profound. The point is, we’ve been able to diversify the space market since the shuttle program ended. And now we have Artemis to look forward to.”

The largest rocket ever built

The Artemis program — named after the Greek goddess whose twin is Apollo — is a giant among modern technological endeavors. SLS is the world’s largest rocket and stands taller than the Statue of Liberty. It can be compared to the Saturn V of the Apollo program of the 1960s in size, ambition, lunar target – and of course price tag.

The cost of the upcoming mission, including all planning and support, is $4.1 billion. By the time NASA sends astronauts on an orbital trip around the moon on Artemis 2 in 2024, the agency will have invested nearly $93 billion in the program. Artemis 3 will follow with the return of human boots to the lunar surface in 2025 (although experts generally expect that launch date to shift by at least one or two years).

Workers continue to prepare NASA’s Artemis I rocket to launch pad 39-B at the Kennedy Space Center for an unmanned flight around the moon on Aug. 25, 2022 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Cost aside, both the Artemis and Apollo programs are turning points in American history and her own life, Weatherman added.

“I remember watching the Apollo 11 moon landing with my parents in the summer of 1969, and how exciting that was,” she said. “And now I’m watching America go back to the moon after all this time. So “I will see both in my life, and it’s unbelievable that I get to experience this, that I have Apollo and Artemis as bookends in my life. I feel like this is the next great era in space.”

It starts with Monday’s mission. Artemis 1 is intended to test the Orion spacecraft systems as it travels 280,000 miles from Earth and 40,000 miles beyond the far side of the Moon, and while safely entering Earth’s atmosphere and splashing down off the coast of California. This data is crucial for all subsequent Artemis missions, with a live crew of astronauts on board.

The SLS (consisting of a main booster and two smaller twin boosters on the side) will take off with a controlled explosion of 8.8 million pounds of thrust. In clear skies, it can be seen along the east coast of the US. The white exhaust trim will float in the wind for hours, a silent remnant of the deafening noise and ground-shaking vibrations that preceded it.

That alone is worth the price of admission, said Janis Shellabarger, an agent at Titusville Travel, whose husband was a union pipe fitter at the space center’s launch pads.

“We are so happy and excited and excited about this launch, and we expect a big turnout,” she told The Daily Beast. “The Artemis program will be such a boost to our community for a long time to come, even as we take for granted all the things NASA has given us.”

Tick ​​Tock

Now that the countdown has begun and all systems are running smoothly, NASA officials hope to announce the coveted “go for launch” Monday morning. But delays are part of space history: For example, over the course of 118 of 135 shuttle missions, 71 were delayed, while only 47 left on time.

If Artemis encounters bad weather or a minor technical glitch, it has two more chances on September 2 and 5. You can be sure that many people will stay.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s delayed,” Holladay said with a laugh. “But I wouldn’t mind, because then more people would stay here and contribute to our economy.”

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