In July Nasa’s space shuttle touched down for the last time. Bereft of their jobs and their mission, what will happen to the people of Florida’s Space Coast?by Sam Knight / January 26, 2011 / Leave a comment
End of an era: the shuttle takes off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, a regular sight that will happen at most three more times
You know you’re in Brevard County when you start seeing rockets. As soon as you reach the Atlantic edge of Interstate 4, the highway that sways across central Florida, depictions of spacecraft begin to adorn the stores, diners and payday loan places. These are the towns of Titusville, Rockledge and Port St John, communities that for the past 50 years have made sure America’s astronauts have reached the Beyond. Their livelihood is visible long before the road finally sweeps up and crosses the wide rivers and cane reeds of Cape Canaveral and you see the distant red blinks of the launch pads, the shimmer of the vast buildings of KSC, the Kennedy Space Centre.
Nasa has 18 facilities across the US, from Maryland to California, and its major contractors, companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, have dozens more. But no place has assumed the identity of the country’s space programme quite like Brevard County. A mosquito-bitten slip of coast, 20 miles wide and 70 miles long, it was somewhere people used to drive through on their way to Palm Beach, until the US army decided to start testing its missiles there in October 1946.
And then, quite suddenly, it was colonised. The arrival of Wernher von Braun, designer of the V2 rocket, and the other founding fathers of the US space programme, made Brevard the fastest-growing county in America. Nasa, founded in 1958, built bridges and water systems, and when the space race reached its exorbitant heights in the mid-1960s, Brevard was the edge of the world. Astronauts raced their cars on the beach, newsmen camped out on their lawns and the county was given the dialling code 3-2-1 after the launch sequence. In 1973, Brevard put the Moon landing on its county seal.
The Apollo boom was followed by bust: 10,000 people lost their jobs when the programme was cancelled in 1972. But since then, Brevard has rebuilt itself around the space shuttle, Nasa’s longest-serving spacecraft and one of the most recognisable vehicles ever to fly. The parts may be manufactured elsewhere and its missions managed from Houston, but for the past three decades Brevard County and KSC have been, in Nasa-speak, where the rubber hits the road. The tourist-friendly launches…