July 5th, 2011
09:53 AM ET

A space town's long goodbye

When the space shuttle blasts off for the last time on July 8, it will leave behind a 30-year legacy of exploration, and the most dedicated cheerleaders the space program has ever known. In Titusville, Florida, a small town just across the river from Cape Canaveral, generations have relied on manned rocket launches to bring the nation to their doorstep.

"We have a population of 43,000, and there'll be several hundred thousand people here, so our population triples or quadruples," said Laura Lee Thompson, the owner of the Dixieland Crossroads restaurant, a favorite for locals and visiting space enthusiasts alike.

Titusville is just 15 miles from the launch pad; no place on Earth has a better view of the NASA launches. "You take this boardwalk and go straight ahead, that's the launch pad," said resident Bob Socks, gesturing just off the Titusville shore and across the Indian River. When the shuttle launches, said Titusville Mayor James Tulley Jr., "It's spectacular, it really is."

The role of Titusville as the Yankee Stadium of space flight, however, predates the shuttle program. Titusville has been saying goodbye to crews of astronauts for nearly half a century, since the days of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions.

When man landed on the moon, no place was prouder. Several monuments have been built in Titusville to honor not only those who have gone into space, but also those who put them there, like City Manager Mark Ryan's parents.

"They're retired IBMers. My father worked on the instrument unit for the Apollo rockets, and my mother was in the quality control, records-keeping unit for IBM as well," he said.

No other place has shared the space community's grief in quite the same way, either. When tragedy struck in the Apollo 1 fire, or the shuttle disasters years later, the people of Titusville mourned.

"We grieved. The whole city did. It was quite awful. Like some member of the family had died," said Pastor Ray Johnson.

"The Challenger hit us hard for three years," said Socks. "The unemployment rate went up. People were laid off, and it had a dramatic effect here and for people like myself. I was an eyewitness to Challenger; I was standing on the river and watching it. There are times when I look out over the river and I see that same cloud configuration, or the sky is as blue as it was that morning, and I flash back."

They have shared in the work and triumph, too.

When danger threatened, as it did on Apollo 13, Titusville was there.

Marty Winkle said he was home asleep when the telephone rang. "We had a problem on Apollo 13 on the lunar module, on the command module, and I explained what I thought we could do," he said.

More than anything else, though, Titusville's people have watched each and every launch and welcomed the thousands who have come to watch with them. David Hamids is a science teacher whose family opened the Moonlight Drive In restaurant when the launches first started.

"We definitely feel the effects, the positive effects of the space shuttle launches, there is no doubt about that," he said.

Even after the last shuttle goes into orbit, there will still be hundreds of NASA employees nearby, and unmanned rocket launches. But everyone knows without astronauts, the crowds will not be as big.

"Our community is going to lose the gift of hundreds of thousands of hotel rooms that we didn't really have to work very hard to fill," said Thompson.

With the last launch, the town's identity will slip a little further into the past.

"For me, it's probably going to be a lot of joy and a lot of sorrow all at the same time," said Socks, who knows when the tourists depart this time, all that will be left is a suddenly, shockingly empty sky.

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Filed under: Florida • Shuttle • Space
soundoff (52 Responses)
  1. banasy

    @petercha: President Obama has been the best President our country has had. Don't blame him, blame the stupid minds that work at NASA. We've been waiting for a long time to see something out of this world but nothing has happen. This is a waste of our money, I prefer to use it to bomb countries that don't like us.

    July 5, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve

      You think nothing has come of the space program? Wow, are you ignorant.

      July 5, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Karl

      Steve: banasy thinks Obama is the best president we've ever had. 'nough said.

      July 5, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mav

    @ban: You know that the MPCV isn't planned for manned flight til 2016 right? And knowing Lockheed, that will be pushed to 2020 at least, so I wouldn't be calling that 'soon'. And lighten up with the name calling. An Obama supporter calling people morons is a bit hypocritical...

    July 5, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  3. joe

    The US is doomed. 10 percent plus actual unemployment. Homes being foreclosed in record numbers. Big buisnes outsourcing mopst of the good jobs overseas. . etc. . Why sould this town or these people be any different? What makes them better than anyone else in the US? Why dont we just outsource every job to India and Mexico and be done with it.

    July 5, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      Or go back to the 70's and choose our destiny by not buying from companies that get parts or goods overseas. Boycott is the leverage of the masses.

      July 5, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Scottish Mama

    Is that a fakey Banasy, I smell something not kosher, it a tr–l.

    July 5, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mekell

    Atlanta, where I'm from is highly dependant on the housing market and new construction. It's projected to take years to recover where some cities are already recovering. It's going to take some time.

    July 5, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  6. banasy

    I haven't posted since 12:30.

    Good eye, Scottish Mama!

    July 5, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      I can tell sometimes. I am not on that often so I miss some of the new trollsters. was Phil trolled too.

      July 5, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. banasy

    The only people I call morons are the ones who try and troll me.
    People in the know, know.
    Why doesn't anyone ask why my posting style changes so drastically from one post to another?
    Another pyro trying to fan the flames.

    I also tend to use words the Troll Brigade doesn't understand.

    July 5, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      You do not start a sentence with "and" either

      July 5, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Philip

    He he...trying to find a cure for depression you two? (banasy/Scottish Mama) I think people that don't get depressed are the sick ones...what with all of the horendous problems facing mankind these days. And A merica was sold a long time ago. What we see now is proof that it was. No? Then you tell me why both Democrat and Republican administrations have ALWAYS refused to allow US to audit Federal Reserve.

    July 5, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Walter

    Very clever banasy, don't you think the troll does it on purpose? He knows you don't call people like that.

    July 5, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Philip

    Hi Scot Mom. he he....yeah. I was trolled about where we get our oil, as if an old piece of oilfield trash wouldn't know. No harm done, other than the trollster's heart getting a little harder. They do annoy us and it does get rather nauseating, but the real damage is done to themselves.

    July 5, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  11. spindrift

    Have watched from Gemini on from my backyard. Shock waves rattled the dishes and shook the ground- especially Saturn 5's. T'ville has been struggling for years now- the big mall is a ghost town but downtown is pushing forward with an old Fla. quaint feel. And it's Dixie Crossroads- not Dixieland. Good food, but the "land-world" place is a few miles west, with the big ears. Def. not old Fla.

    July 5, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Walter

    Don't play ignorant Scottish. You perfectly know who's who. Just trying to be smart or dumb? Don't play games with trolls, you always answer them. you don't like when they troll you.

    July 5, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      I guess i really don' care, I answer them sometimes and would prefer they use their own names to get in on the text. No sometimes I don't think about it and speak to whomever. Smart or dumb? or both and alittle and sometimes alot, I just like the company of other points of view sometimes others make you reevaluate and come to better solutions, see where the countries going, and if we can get along long enough to resolve some problems that are plaguing our country.

      July 5, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jazzzzzzz

    @ Scottish ... BRAVO

    July 5, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Frank

    People of the United States of America,
    The U.S. Space Program will basically be over with this last shuttle launch.
    Not having a Replacement Space Crafft equal to the Shuttle will be found to be a critical mistake.Loss of all the jobs associated with the space program will cause a greater financial meltdown of the U.S. economy.

    July 5, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      I believe the unemployed workers will be paid handsomely by the private parites that will take this on and they will be paid for their expertise in whatever the area they specialized in.

      July 5, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Andy

    It's sad really. I grew up with the Space Shuttle. It served as both a symbol of the United States ability and ambition but also for mankind as a whole. It also provided a sense of awe and wonder of what could be out there. However, I think the U.S. needs to lose the Shuttle program. We stopped appreciating it long ago and it became misused. Perhaps one day we as a nation will have the drive to create another space program. I hope.

    July 5, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      Maybe we can look to the sea bed, the land and new geological wonders for new and innovative ideas for fuel and energy.

      July 5, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
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