TITUSVILLE, Fla. (AP) — 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 that filled the area’s restaurants and hotel and motel rooms during regular astronaut launches.
The 7,400 shuttle workers laid off from Kennedy Space Center struggled to find jobs in their fields, and many left for other states. The county’s unemployment rate soared to nearly 12%, and foreclosures raged following a housing crisis that hit Florida harder than most states. The Miracle City Mall, a once-thriving shopping destination that had existed since the Apollo moon shootings in the 1960s, was abandoned in the mid-2010s, and other stores and restaurants were closed.
“It was devastating. Along with our nation going into a recession, we had lost our bread and butter. We had lost our economy,” said Daniel Diesel, the mayor of Titusville, who sits on the other side of Indian River from Kennedy Space Center.
Today, the county’s unemployment rate is below 3%, and the Space Coast is buzzing with jobs and space launches. NASA’s first launch of its new moon rocket scheduled for Saturday was expected to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors like Ed Mayall. He traveled more than 4,300 miles (about 6,920 kilometres) from London to witness the first clean launch attempt on Monday.
“It’s so exciting, the idea of being able to go into space, myself, potentially with all the commercial programs going on, it just makes you want to experience it,” Mayall said. “Like it’s just exciting to be there.”
While most of the past six decades of space activity in Florida has been orchestrated by NASA and the Air Force, this recent rejuvenation on the Space Coast has been propelled over the past decade by private commercial companies like Space X. and Blue Origin, founded by two of the richest men on the planet, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. Several launches per month now take place along the Space Coast, with Space X launching its Starlink internet satellites every few weeks.
Perhaps nothing captured the return of the Space Coast better than Space X’s first astronaut liftoff in the spring of 2020, which put Florida’s central coast back in the business of catapulting humans into the world. space and marked the first time a private company launched people into orbit. The efforts drew hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world and ended a nine-year launch drought for NASA.
As of last year, the Kennedy Space Center had more than 12,300 civil servants, private contractors and other employees working at the spaceport, down to a few thousand employees near the 15,000 workers at the height of the shuttle program.
Along the Space Coast, new subdivisions have been cleared, new hotels have been built, small manufacturing plants supporting the space industry are being built in industrial parks, and a gleaming outdoor shopping area has recently opened its doors. doors within the Miracle City Mall footprint. Last year, the Milken Institute ranked the Space Coast metro area as having the second-strongest economy in the United States using an index based on jobs, wages and high-tech growth. The metro ranking rose 47 places from three years ago.
In addition to the growth of commercial space ventures, the Space Coast economy has diversified over the past decade beyond its traditional reliance on space, and includes defense contractors, cruise ships, automotive 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 doubt about that, but we also like to be able to say that we’re more diverse than before.”
He said he was a ‘space kid’ growing up and knew the nature of the boom and bust of the space industry 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 huge impact on life on the Space Coast, he said.
Jessica Costa, owner of C’s Waffles restaurant in Titusville, recalls how quiet the Space Coast became after the space shuttle program ended. Now that there are rocket launches all the time, she doesn’t take them for granted.
“I’m just happy he’s thriving the way he is,” Costa said. “I’m glad they’ve reinstated the program now. I’m glad people can come and enjoy it with us.”
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