Another moon landing will happen in 2024, NASA says The 2024 deadline for American astronauts to return to the moon was set by the Trump administration in 2019. NASA had previously been planning for a return to the moon by 2028. The newly-hired NASA administrator for human exploration says that he is "highly confident [NASA] can make [the new deadline]." NASA is currently building a new rocket and astronaut capsule. NASA's greatest issue regarding the mission is the moon lander that will carry a

Will virus keep spectators from Florida launch?

»RELATED: SpaceX set to make history with first private company-manned astronaut launch 

In the age of the coronavirus, local officials and NASA are split on whether that is a good idea.

NASA and SpaceX are urging spectators to stay at home Wednesday for safety reasons. Officials in Brevard County, home to the Kennedy Space Center, are rolling out the welcome mat in an effort to jump-start a tourism industry hit hard this spring by coronavirus-related lockdowns.

If people are comfortable coming and watching the launch, “by all means, come. If they aren’t, I respect that, too,” said Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey.

Crowds gathered to watch the final U.S. shuttle mission before the fleet was retired. 
Photo: Dave Martin/AP/File

“I’m not going to tell Americans they can’t watch a great piece of history. I’m just not going to do it,” he said.

The sheriff said he is asking 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.

About 85 reserve deputies will be on hand to monitor crowds and ask people to comply with social distancing if they are in groups. A local chain of beach shops is distributing 20,000 masks to spectators in coordination with the sheriff’s office, Ivey said.

Vanessa Fabrega of Austin, Texas, cheered the 135th and final shuttle launch for the U.S.
Photo: Julie Fletcher/AP/File

The sheriff, who grew up in Florida watching launches, wants a new generation to be able to experience the energy, excitement and feelings of patriotism that come from watching a U.S. launch with astronauts.

“NASA is a true part of our history in Brevard County,” Ivey said.

After a two-day safety review, NASA and SpaceX on Friday cleared the rocket for flight Wednesday. Liftoff time is 4:33 p.m. EDT.

Earlier this month, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine asked potential spectators to watch the launch online or on TV from home. The space agency is also offering a “virtual launch experience.”

The 2024 deadline for American astronauts to return to the moon was set by the Trump administration in 2019.

NASA is doing its best to facilitate social distancing inside the Kennedy Space Center by limiting access, although it may host two VIPs. Vice President Mike Pence says he plans to be there, and President Donald Trump said he is thinking of attending.

The visitor center at Kennedy, usually a prime spot for viewing launches, is closed to the public.

Artist Larry Moore painted the scene at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, during the launch of the Atlantis, the 135th and final space shuttle mission for U.S. 
Photo: Robert Ray/AP/File

NASA astronauts have not launched from the U.S. since the space shuttle program ended in 2011. It will be the first attempt by a private company to fly astronauts to orbit for the space agency.

“The challenge that we’re up against right now is we want to keep everybody safe,” Bridenstine said. “And so we’re asking people not to travel to the Kennedy Space Center, and I will tell you that makes me sad to even say it. Boy, I wish we could make this into something really spectacular.”

Although crowd sizes varied, a high-profile space shuttle launch could attract a half-million visitors to the Space Coast. Local tourism officials think next week’s launch will bring in no more than 200,000 spectators.

NASA has announced a new class of astronauts. Eleven Americans and two Canadians have completed basic astronaut training. They will have the chance to work aboard the ISS, and fly the next moon missions and perhaps even to Mars. Kayla Barron Zena Cardman Raja Chari Matthew Dominick Bob Hines Warren Hoburg Dr. Jonny Kim Jasmin Moghbeli Loral O’Hara Dr. Francisco Rubio Jessica Watkins Joshua Kutryk Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons NASA is set to soon resume American manned astronaut missions aboard commercial spacecr

With airline passenger traffic drastically down and nearby Orlando theme parks closed because of the pandemic, “we’re not going to be getting the out-of-state traffic we may have gotten during the shuttle era,” said Peter Cranis, executive director of the Space Coast Office of Tourism.

“The environment is different with COVID and people now reemerging from stay-at-home orders,” Cranis said. “There are going to be a number of people who are hesitant.”

The Space Coast’s tourism business is down by about 40% for the year, and that could cost the area $1 billion, he said.

“A launch like this after a big long weekend could really give us a shot in the arm,” Cranis said.

Local hoteliers are looking forward to the influx of visitors after two bad months. Tom Williamson, who is general manager of two hotels on the Space Coast, each with 150 rooms or more, said one hotel was closed and the other only had 15% occupancy in April. He expects both hotels to be at or near capacity on the night of the launch.

“We’re glad to seem some signs of life,” Williamson said.

In 1970, crowds watched the liftoff of the Saturn V rocket carrying the Apollo 13 spacecraft on its mission to the moon.
Photo: AP/File

Steven Giraldo works as a technical consultant for a software company in St. Petersburg, Florida, but he has a side gig with some space buff friends offering charter boat tours for watching launches. For next week’s SpaceX launch, he had booked about 150 people from as far away as Australia for $75 a head on a fleet of boats. He ended up scrapping those plans.

Regional coverage

At The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, we focus primarily on Georgia news, but we also like to provide readers with regional coverage of the Southeast. We cover stories that impact our region, especially in Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, South Carolina, North Carolina and Mississippi.

“It would take too much logistical effort to see if everyone is wearing a mask, making sure no one has a fever, and how do you social distance on a boat?” Giraldo said.

Instead, he plans to watch the launch with seven other friends, some from Arizona and Indiana, in a boat on the Banana River.

“This was going to be our biggest event. The historical significance of it created a lot of buzz,” Giraldo said. “But I just don't know how we could have done it.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.

With the largest team in the state, the AJC reports what’s really going on with your tax dollars and your elected officials. Subscribe today. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.

Your subscription to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.

X