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.