A woman walks to her spot along Indian Creek Lagoon in a Titusville, Fla. to watch the launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken in the Dragon crew capsule, Wednesday, May 27, 2020 from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla. The two astronauts are set to travel on the SpaceX test flight to the International Space Station. For the first time in nearly a decade, astronauts will travel to space aboard an American rocket from American soil, a first for a private company. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

For launch spectators, storms more worrisome than virus

May 27, 2020 - 12:48 pm

TITUSVILLE, Fla. (AP) — For the spectators gathered along the Space Coast on Wednesday for an astronaut launch, the rumbling thunder and darkening clouds were more worrisome than any pandemic.

At a park in Titusville with a clear view of the Kennedy Space Center launch pad 15 miles away, hundreds of spectators sheltered from an off-and-on drizzle under tents and umbrellas on lawn chairs more than four hours before launch. They turned out to watch the first launch with astronauts from Florida in almost a decade, and the first by a private company, SpaceX.

NASA and SpaceX had urged spectators to stay at home for safety reasons. But officials in Brevard County, home to the Kennedy Space Center, rolled out the welcome mat in an effort to jump-start a tourism industry hit hard this spring by coronavirus-related lockdowns.

About half of the spectators at the Titusville park wore masks as encouraged by health officials to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

The Brevard County Sheriff's Office also asked visitors to practice social distancing as they watch the launch of astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on a test flight of SpaceX’s Dragon crew capsule.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were going to watch from inside Kennedy.

Mike Rine, who set up a folding chair to watch the launch at Space View Park in Titusville, found the mixed message a bit confusing, so he came but left his elderly father at home in Leesburg, Florida.

“If the president and the vice president can come...," joked Rine, who was wearing an Apollo 11 anniversary T-shirt. “But I've got a mask."

Erin Gatz came prepared for both rain and pandemic. Accompanied by her 14-year-old daughter Regan and 12-year-old son Gavin, she brought face masks and a small tent." The children have faint memories of watching one of the last shuttle launches almost a decade ago when they were small.

“I wanted them to see the flip side and get to see the next era of space travel," said Gatz, who lives about an hour away in Deltona. “It's exciting and hopeful."

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Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter: @MikeSchneiderAP

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