MERRITT ISLAND, Fla.
Seeing a rocket blast off to the moon is “a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says Joanne Bostandji.
The 45-year-old has traveled all the way from northern England to Florida with her husband and two children for a space-themed holiday, and they’re prepared to make sure they don’t miss a second of the action as NASA’s youngest . and the most powerful missile is scheduled to be launched for the first time today.
“The plan is to drive very early in the morning and find a spot” at Cocoa Beach, she said, not far from the Kennedy Space Center.
“I know it will be from a long distance, but I still think it will be a sight to behold,” Bostandji told AFP as the family waited to enter a park dedicated to space exploration.
Between 100,000 and 200,000 visitors are expected to attend the launch of the mission, called Artemis 1, which will take an empty capsule to the Moon as part of a test for future crewed flights.
The “historic nature” of today’s flight, the first of several since the United States returns to the moon, “has certainly increased public interest,” Meagan Happel of the Florida Space Coast Tourism Office told AFP.
The traffic jam is expected to begin at 4am, with departure scheduled at 8:33am (12:33 GMT).
And even more people could turn up if the launch faces a weather delay, as the make-up date falls on the weekend.
Sabrina Morley was able to find an apartment to rent not far from the beach and plans to bring her two children and several dozen other people on a boat chartered for the occasion by a company called Star Fleet Tours.
For $95 a ticket, “we’ll go out on the ocean as close as they can get to the launch and we’ll watch the launch from the boat,” she said.
“I’ve never been this close to a launch before,” said the 43-year-old, who grew up in Orlando, less than an hour away.
As a child, she could see spaceships rising from her backyard, like “a ball of orange smoke” rising into the sky.
“We would hear the noises,” she recalled.
Morley likes that NASA’s Artemis program aims to land a woman on the moon for the first time, with a crew going up in 2025 at the earliest.
“Representation matters,” she said, glancing at her two-year-old daughter, who already wears a replica astronaut helmet on her head.
The return of prestigious space launches is an economic boon for the region. According to the tourism office, a family of three will spend an average of $1,300 for four or five days.
On the main road to Merritt Island, the peninsula where the Kennedy Space Center is located, Brenda Mulberry’s space memorabilia shop is packed with tourists.
Once inside, visitors are greeted with Artemis t-shirts for sale, printed in-house, there were 1,000 copies made on August 27th alone.
It has seen an influx of customers in recent days, Mulberry, who founded Space Shirts in 1984, told AFP.
“I think they’re excited to see a NASA launch because the private space business is not that motivating for people,” she said.
This rocket, called the SLS, a large scale model of which is displayed outside her store, “belongs to the people,” Mulberry said.
“It is their rocket. It’s not a SpaceX rocket,” she added.
There is an air of nostalgia about the Apollo rocket program, 50 years have passed since the last time a crewed mission went to the moon, in 1972.
“My family had to go to the neighbor’s house to see [the Apollo missions] because they didn’t have a television,” said Bostandji, who was not yet born.
“Now we will see it with hope for truth.”