| Florida Today
SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts arrive at Kennedy Space Center
The astronauts for SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station arrive at Kennedy Space Center on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020.
BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Emergency officials expect up to 250,000 out-of-county day-trippers to converge on viewing spots surrounding the Kennedy Space Center in Brevard County, Florida, for the nighttime SpaceX crewed launch to the International Space Station scheduled for Saturday.
On top of that, Brevard County Communications Director Don Walker predicts perhaps 250,000 people already within the county – residents, hotel and vacation rental guests, beach-goers – will head outside to watch Saturday’s historic launch.
NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi are scheduled for liftoff at 7:49 p.m. EST Saturday aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center.
During the last week of May, huge crowds flocked to the Space Coast twice – for a May 27 scrub and the May 30 launch – of SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-2, the first human spaceflight launch from the U.S. since 2011. Saturday’s launch will be the second crewed mission.
However, NASA officials ask spectators to socially distance and remain vigilant amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
And lingering showers from erratic Tropical Storm Eta – which is forecast to zoom far offshore by Saturday – may pose problems. The launch window is instantaneous.
Thursday morning, the 45th Space Wing upgraded the forecast to 70% “go” for liftoff on Saturday. Atlantic Ocean conditions could still be a factor. Why? The Crew Dragon capsule could abort the mission along its northeastern trajectory during an emergency, forcing an astronaut rescue at sea.
Tourism director predicts full hotels
According to mobile-device tracking data compiled by AirSage, about 220,000 devices from outside Brevard County were detected in the county on May 30, Space Coast Office of Tourism Executive Director Peter Cranis said. That sum included about 70,000 out-of-state mobile devices.
Cranis said the first SpaceX human space launch generated $27 million to $28 million in economic impact in Brevard – a welcome boost during the coronavirus-triggered recession.
“Very positive, obviously. We were coming right off of hotels not being allowed to have tourists in them. And we had Memorial Day weekend the weekend before,” Cranis said.
“So the timing of the last launch was really well-timed for us, from an economic perspective. This one is looking to be similar. Because it’s happening on a Saturday, and it’s happening in prime time,” he said.
“I think we’re going to see full hotels for this weekend. Of course, we’re dealing with the effects of Eta – the thing is just languishing out there,” he said earlier this week.
Saturday’s launch spectators will provide an economic jolt amid the COVID-19 pandemic for hoteliers, restaurants, retailers and other businesses. Cranis said launch day-trippers likely spend about $50 per day, while spectators who stay overnight spend about $350 per person.
Brevard hotel occupancy hit 86.7% on May 30 during the SpaceX Crew Dragon launch, Cranis said. That was up from 74.4% occupancy on May 30, 2019, before COVID-19 struck.
Hampered by the coronavirus, collections of Brevard County’s 5% tourist development tax on hotel rooms and short-term rentals dropped 18.5% this fiscal year (October 2019 to September 2020), from $16.02 million to $13.07 million.
COVID-19 social distancing
Launch crowds will spark coronavirus concerns about lack of social distancing at sites such as the A. Max Brewer Bridge in Titusville – where throngs of people jammed together in May, triggering a social-media uproar.
“I think we’re expecting a large turnout,” Kathy Lueders, NASA’s chief of human spaceflight, said during a Tuesday flight readiness briefing.
Lueders said she wants NASA fans to celebrate and enjoy “what I’m sure is going to be a spectacular launch.” But she stressed the need for social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We do want people to be careful when they’re out there. I know from a NASA and SpaceX perspective – and I’m sure a (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) perspective – we’d be really sad if this was a superspreader event. You know, this would not be good for us,” Lueders said.
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will open additional outdoor viewing areas, including sections of parking lots, to enable social distancing for launch viewers, spokesperson Rebecca Burgman said.
The visitor complex is also requiring masks and conducting daily temperature checks for visitors and employees.
“Just like we’re taking care of our crew members, we want you to take care of yourself and wear your masks and, you know, figure out how to get your 6 feet on the beach,” Lueders said.
Follow reporter Rick Neale on Twitter: @RickNeale1
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