Space Coast Tourism Sector Smiling

Florida Today: The launch of space tourism in the post-shuttle era got good reviews, as big crowds watched the Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft lift off Friday afternoon.

It is a relatively high-profile mission, and thousands of spectators crowded into two viewing sites at Kennedy Space Center to watch Juno launch from Cape Canavera Air Force Station. More than 1,000 of them were waiting outside the KSC Visitor Complex when it opened at 7 a.m. to be assured of getting a bus pass for the Apollo/Saturn V Center, the closest public viewing area for this launch.

Revenue from rocket launches will help the tourism sector bridge the gap between last month's end of the space shuttle program and the first launch of the still- undetermined program that will take its place. Hotels, restaurants, retailers, museums and other attractions all benefit from tourists coming to the area.

"Visitor attendance was double what a normal August day would be," KSC Visitor Complex spokeswoman Andrea Farmer said. "We blew away our expectations for attendance."

Among the spectators was 22-year-old Lakini Yogeswaran of Paris, who is working at World Disney World this summer.

"I was off today, so I was really happy to come there to see the launch,"said Yogeswaran, a college student majoring in information systems. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Chhaya Patel, 60, of Orlando brought her granddaughter and her brother-in-law, who is visiting from Manchester, England.

"It's a great experience," Patel said.

KSC Visitor Complex Sales and Marketing Director John Stine said the complex did extensive marketing in newspaper ads, on its Website, through email blasts, through promotions at local hotels and on social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to promote experiencing the Juno launch. The complex also had Juno-themed events at the complex on the two days leading up to the launch, including appearances by Bill Nye ("The Science Guy"), who is executive director of The Planetary Society.

The setups at the Apollo/Saturn V Center and at the visitor complex's Shuttle Plaza area included prelaunch commentary from NASA and from mission control. At the Shuttle Plaza, there also was a live feed from NASA-TV-- paralleling what has been done for shuttle launches.

Stine said the pre-launch events attracted strong crowds, including many families with children, and the visitor complex plans to have expanded programs centered on the launch of missions to the moon in September and to Mars in November.

"It tells people that a lot of cool things are happening, and NASA continues to actively explore into the solar system," Stine said.

Nancy Evans, director of sales at the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott in Titusville and Melbourne, said her 96-room Titusville hotel was sold out on Thursday and Friday night, largely because of tourists and space industry employees in town for the Juno launch. If it wasn't for the launch, Evans said, 40 percent to 50 percent of the rooms would have been vacant those days.

"It is excellent business for us," Evans said. "It makes a direct impact on our employees' pay" by giving housekeepers and front-desk staff more hours of work.

"I'm very pleased we are promoting these launches," Evans said, citing efforts by the KSC Visitor Complex and the Space Coast Office of Tourism.

The visitor complex area wasn't the only one to get viewers for the Juno launch.

Ken Broun and his daughter, Katelyn, were among spectators watching from Jetty Park in the Port Canaveral area.

They drove down Wednesday from Virginia Beach, where Ken, 57, is an astronomy professor at Tidewater Community College, and Katelyn, 22, is a college student. They plan to stay until Sunday.

"It gives me some experiences coming here to talk about in class," Ken Broun said, adding that he hopes to be back to the Space Coast for the Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory launch, scheduled for Nov. 25.

Atlanta resident Jeff Trew celebrated his 52nd birthday with his wife and two daughters, watching from the bleachers outside the Apollo/Saturn V Center as Juno launched.


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