Once in doldrums, the Florida coast is teeming with space launches

Once in doldrums, the Florida coast is teeming with space launches

Once in doldrums, the Florida coast is teeming with space launches

NASA Moon Rocket (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

NASA Moon Rocket (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

A decade ago, Florida’s Space Coast was in the doldrums.

The space shuttle program was over, and with it the steady stream of space enthusiasts filling the restaurants and rooms of the area’s hotels and motels during regular astronaut launches.

The 7,400 shuttle workers fired by Kennedy Space Center have struggled to find work in their fields, and many have left for other states. The county’s unemployment rate has skyrocketed to nearly 12%, and foreclosures were rampant in the aftermath of a housing crisis that hit Florida harder than most states. Miracle City Mall, a once thriving shopping destination that has existed since the Apollo moon strikes in the 1960s, was abandoned in the mid-2010s and other shops and restaurants closed.

“It was devastating. Along with the fact that our nation was going into recession, we had lost our daily bread. We had lost our economy, ”said Daniel Diesel, mayor of Titusville, which is across the Indian River from the Kennedy Space Center.

Nowadays, the county’s unemployment rate is less than 3% and the Space Coast is filled with jobs and space launches. NASA’s first launch of its new lunar rocket scheduled for Saturday would attract hundreds of thousands of visitors like Ed Mayall. He traveled more than 4,300 miles (about 6,920 kilometers) from London to witness the first launch attempt canceled on Monday.

“It’s so exciting, the thought of being able to go into space, myself, with potentially all the commercial programs going on, makes you want to experience it,” Mayall said. “Like it was just exciting to be around.”

While most of the past six decades of space activity in Florida has been orchestrated by NASA and the Air Force, this recent rejuvenation of the Space Coast has been fueled over the past decade by private commercial companies such as Space X and Blue Origin, founded by two of the richest men on the planet, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. Several launches per month are now underway along the Space Coast, with Space X launching its Internet Starlink satellites every few weeks.

Perhaps nothing captured the return of the Space Coast better than Space X’s first astronaut takeoff in spring 2020, which brought Florida’s central coast back into the human catapult business into space and marked the first time a private company launched. people in orbit. The efforts attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world and ended a nine-year launch drought for NASA.

Last year, Kennedy Space Center had more than 12,300 civil servants, private contractors, and other employees working at the spaceport, just a few thousand fewer employees than the 15,000 workers during the heyday of the shuttle program.

Along the Space Coast, new subdivisions have been cleared, new hotels have been built, small manufacturing facilities to support the space industry are being built in industrial parks, and a glittering outdoor shopping area has recently opened in the Miracle City area. Mall. Last year, the Milken Institute ranked the Space Coast metropolitan area as the second strongest economy in the United States using an index based on high-tech jobs, wages and growth. The ranking for the subway rose 47 places from three years earlier.

In addition to the growth of commercial space companies, the Space Coast economy has diversified over the past decade beyond its traditional dependence on space and includes defense contractors, cruise ships, automobile parts manufacturing, and nature tourism.

“We are growing from so many angles,” the mayor said. “Our economy thrives when the space program thrives. There’s no question about that, but we also like to be able to say we’re more different than before.”

He said he was a growing “space brat” and that he knew the nature of the boom and bust in the space business since his family moved to the space coast in 1965 so that his father could take a job with the Apollo program. . NASA budgets from the White House and Congress have had a big impact on life on the Space Coast, he said.

Jessica Costa, owner of C’s Waffles restaurant in Titusville, remembers how quiet the Space Coast became after the end of the space shuttle program. Now that there are always rocket launches, she doesn’t take them for granted.

“I’m just glad it’s exploding as it is,” Costa said. “I am happy that they have resumed the program now. I am happy that people can go out and have fun with us.”

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