Space-hungry tourists have flocked to Florida hoping to see an unseen spectacle on Saturday: NASA’s launch of a new rocket to the moon that could draw up to 400,000 people, local officials say.
The first launch of the SLS rocket for the Artemis 1 mission promises to be exciting as it is the most powerful rocket ever built by the US space agency.
The Kennedy Space Center, from where it will be launched, is closed to the public, but spectators will be able to see it rise into the sky and hear its roar, in particular from nearby beaches.
“I remember some of the moon landings when I was very young” during the Apollo program, Alberto Tirado told AFP in an interview in Cocoa Beach the day before the scheduled takeoff date.
On Monday, the first launch attempt was canceled at the last moment due to technical problems. At that time, local authorities expected between 100,000 and 200,000 visitors.
The total number of tourists who actually traveled has yet to be confirmed, but it could “double” this weekend, Brevard County spokesman Don Walker told AFP Friday.
“We estimate that the launch audience will be between 200,000 and 400,000 people,” he said.
By comparison, SpaceX’s first manned launch in 2020 attracted 220,000 people (at the height of the pandemic).
The fact that the launch is now expected not on a weekday but on a weekend, which in addition is a long weekend with a public holiday on Monday, as well as its historical nature, contribute to the expected success in attendance, AFP explained. Megan Happel of the Florida Space Coast Travel Bureau.
Visitors are being urged to hit the road early to avoid traffic jams, which, like Monday, are expected “three to four hours” before takeoff, scheduled for 14:17 (18:17 GMT), she said.
Hotels on the coast have been full for weeks now, and parking spaces near the best viewpoints will be limited.
The Artemis 1 mission is a test flight without an astronaut on board. The rocket-powered Orion capsule will spend about six weeks in space, traveling up to 64,000 km behind the Moon, farther than any other habitable ship.