The end of the shuttle program in the USA not only scratches the pride of the space nation, but also means great financial losses for many people in Florida. For decades, the otherwise structurally weak region benefited from space travel and shuttle tourism.
No matter which radio station you tune into around the Kennedy Space Center – almost all of them proudly have "Space Coast" in their name – "Space Coast". Space has been shaping life in this part of Florida for more than half a century. The telephone area code – these are the last digits of the countdown: 3-2-1. Primary schools are named after the space shuttle. No hotel, restaurant, or supermarket that doesn’t have at least one photo of a space shuttle taking off.
This Friday is the 135th and last start. Bob Arnolds just missed four of them: "I grew up with it," says the 61-year-old and has to swallow. His father helped build the launch pad for the Apollo rockets. Arnolds is one of the volunteers at Space View Park in Titusville. It is a very important place for space travel fans, because the view of the space shuttles taking off from the Kennedy Space Center opposite is magnificent.
"There aren’t too many jobs out there"
Space lovers have been making a pilgrimage to this park for years and watch from here how the space shuttles soar into the sky with a thunderous thunder. The employees share the onlookers’ enthusiasm for manned space travel. But that doesn’t help them at the moment either. Because the shuttle program expires, 7,000 people have already been fired. Like Kathy Woodle – she checked the Endeavor’s heat tiles. The Endeavor has been out of service since May and Woodle is out of work: "There aren’t too many jobs out there," she says.
Thousands of jobs outside of the shuttle program will also be lost on the Space Coast – because not so many tourists are coming and because the locals have less money in their pockets. Unemployment is already 10.6 percent higher than in the rest of the USA. “It’s a big part of the economy,” says Jen in her mid-thirties.
The Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavor space shuttles
The first space shuttle was the "Columbia", here on its maiden flight on April 12, 1981. Two days later, the spaceship returned safely to Earth with astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen – a sensation at the time.
But that’s not the only reason many along the Space Coast are wistful. NASA’s white space shuttles have made people proud here in Florida, but also in the rest of the United States. Like this woman, "It started with President Kennedy, it was the dream. It’s just very emotional."
On the decline?
First the moon landing, then the space shuttle – with this the Americans have proven what extraordinary performance they are capable of. Or as this man fears with a view to the end of the shuttle program: "Does that mean that we are on the decline and the Asian countries on the rise? You could conclude that. But I hope not. Hopefully it is just a minor accident at work. "
One thing is certain: if the Atlantis is also mothballed after its farewell flight, the USA no longer has its own spaceship. You will then have to fly with the Russians until further notice. NASA has new plans for the return of its astronauts to space, but when that will become reality is written in the stars.