Space shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to liftoff to complete the last mission of the 30-year-old shuttle program, STS-135, on July 8 at 11:26 a.m. EDT. This 12-day mission to the International Space Station marks the final chance for space enthusiasts to experience a shuttle launch.
With the space shuttle program drawing to a close, the expected number of visitors to Florida’s Space Coast to witness Atlantis taking off for the last time is approximately 1,000,000, the most launch spectators expected since Apollo 11, the first mission to the moon which launched July 16, 1969. Area hotels are sold out with many visitors needing to stay in Orlando. Kennedy Space Center’s ticket lottery to see a space shuttle launch normally receives around 75,000 entries on average. For this last shuttle launch, they received more than double that number, with 194,000 entries.
If you’re one of the 1 million+ expected to see the final launch in person, the Space Coast Office of Tourism offers 5 tips for the best viewing experience:
1. Arrive early – at least five to six hours – to get a good spot. For a map of locations with great views visit www.spacecoastlaunches.com.
2. Bring sunscreen, water and snacks. Expect temperatures to be in the 90’s.
3. Plan to hang out for a while afterwards to avoid the traffic. If you’re watching at the beach enjoy the ocean or walk to restaurant for a meal.
4. The Cocoa Beach and Titusville areas will be the most popular, but spectators can get great views all the way south to Satellite Beach.
5. Most importantly – be safe and use good judgment
Despite jobs being lost and a program being dissolved, the expected economic impact on the surrounding area is a boost of $15 – $20 million dollars. The space program that’s done wonders for Florida’s east coast. Total impact of tourism for the Space Coast is about $2.8 billion annually with shuttle launches representing about 5 percent of the destination’s tourism business.
But even with the space shuttle program ending, it’s expected that tourists will still make regular trips to the KSC Visitor Complex, as it is one of the top space attractions in the world. In 2013, Space Shuttle Atlantis will go on display permanently there in an elaborate new exhibit. That new exhibit, combined with the complex’s history and other attractions should continue to draw excited space fans for years to come.