Titusville, Florida (AP) – A decade ago, Florida’s space coast was in the doldrums.
The space shuttle program is over, and with it the steady stream of space enthusiasts who have filled area restaurants, hotel rooms, and motels during regular astronaut launches.
7,400 shuttle workers laid off at the Kennedy Space Center struggled to find jobs in their fields, and many left for other states. The county’s unemployment rate has risen to nearly 12%, and foreclosures have spread in the wake of the housing crisis that has hit Florida harder than most states. Miracle City Mall, a thriving shopping destination that’s been around since Apollo moon shots in the 1960s, was abandoned in the mid-2010s, and other stores and restaurants closed.
It was devastating. Besides the fact that our nation was in a recession, we lost our bread and butter. “We’ve lost our economy,” said Daniel Diesel, mayor of Titusville, which is across the Indian River from the Kennedy Space Center.
At present, the county’s unemployment rate is less than 3%, and the space coast is brimming with jobs and space launches. NASA’s first launch of its new lunar rocket scheduled for Saturday was expected to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors like Ed Mayal. It traveled more than 4,300 miles (about 6,920 kilometres) from London to witness the first scanned launch attempt on Monday.
“It’s so exciting, the idea of being able to go into space myself, with all the commercial programs going on, makes you want to live it,” Mayal said. “As if it’s exciting to be around.”
While most of the past six decades of Florida’s space business has been orchestrated by NASA and the Air Force, this latest renovation on the space coast has been backed in the past decade by private commercial companies such as Space X and Blue Origin, founded by two of the world’s wealthiest Planet Men, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. Several launches are now taking place per month along the space coast, with Space X launching its Starlink satellites to the Internet every few weeks.
Perhaps nothing better than the return of the Space Coast than the launch of the first SpaceX astronauts in the spring of 2020, which put Florida’s central coast back in the business of sending humans into space and marked the first time a private company has launched people into orbit. The effort attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world and ended a nine-year drought for NASA.
As of last year, the Kennedy Space Center had more than 12,300 civilian employees, private contractors, and other employees working in the spaceport, just a few thousand fewer than 15,000 workers during the days of the shuttle program.
Along the Space Coast, new subdivisions have been allowed, new hotels are being built, and micro factories are being built supporting the space industry in the industrial parks and the recently opened gleaming outdoor shopping district in the Miracle City Mall area. Last year, the Milken Institute ranked the Metro Space Coast area as the second-strongest economy in the United States using an index based on jobs, wages and high-tech growth. The metro ranking rose 47 sites compared to the previous three years.
Besides the growth of commercial space companies, the space coast economy in the past decade has diversified beyond its traditional reliance on space, and includes defense contractors, cruise ships, auto parts manufacturing and nature tourism.
“We are growing from many angles,” the mayor said. “Our economy thrives when the space program thrives. There is no doubt about that, but we also like to be able to say that we are more diverse than we used to be.”
He said he was a “space brat” who had grown up and had been aware of the booming and bustling nature of 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. He said that NASA’s budgets from the White House and Congress have greatly affected life on the Space Coast.
Jessica Costa, owner of C’s Waffles in Titusville, recalls how quiet the Space Coast was after the space shuttle program ended. Now that there have been missile launches all along, she doesn’t take them for granted.
“I’m glad it’s thriving as is,” Costa said. “I’m glad they brought the show back now. I’m glad people can go out and have fun with us.”
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