By Emre Kelly, Florida Today

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Sold-out hotels. Excitement that seems to grow by the day. The potential for hundreds of thousands of visitors, support staff and more. 

These are just a few of the factors being calculated into preparations for Artemis I, the first launch of NASA’s moon-focused Space Launch System rocket slated for Aug. 29. Standing 322 feet tall, it promises to be the biggest, most powerful rocket to launch from Florida’s Space Coast in years – bringing with it a level of excitement to match.

All told, Space Coast officials are expecting at least 100,000 visitors for the rocket’s first window, which includes opportunities on Aug. 29, Sept. 2, and Sept. 5 (Labor Day). Currently, T-0 on Aug. 29 is set for 8:33 a.m. ET from Launch Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The rocket is part of NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to put humans back on the moon sometime this decade. That starts with the uncrewed Artemis I mission and its plan to take an Orion capsule on a four-to-six-week journey to the moon and back. Artemis II will do the same with astronauts, then Artemis III will put two astronauts on the surface sometime after 2024.

Sold-out hotels, Space Coast tourism

The Space Coast isn’t a stranger to launch day crowds. During the space shuttle era that ran through 2011, half a million or more visitors would sometimes flood the area, scooping up hotel rooms and packing local businesses.

Since then, crowds have been more smaller, but still significant. Even during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, thousands still flocked to Florida’s Brevard County to see launches.

Some of the recent SpaceX Crew Dragon launches, which take astronauts to the International Space Station from KSC, have drawn between 100,000 and 250,000 visitors, according to Peter Cranis, executive director of the Space Coast Office of Tourism. It wouldn’t be a stretch to expect more than 100,000 for Artemis I. 

“I think the crewed launches and these Artemis launches are going to be of equal interest to people,” Cranis said. “I would expect certainly over 100,000, if not more, coming for that.”

Just glancing at hotel room listings shows a rapidly dwindling supply among those that haven’t been sold out.

The space-themed Courtyard by Marriott Titusville – Kennedy Space Center, for example, is one of the area’s newest hotels. Completed this year and opened to the public in April, it boasts views of KSC and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station pads and even has a rooftop “Space Bar” specifically for launch viewing.

All the Courtyard’s rooms, along with the Space Bar, are sold out for Artemis I.

Spectators aren’t the only visitors expected on the Space Coast. Hundreds of media members from around the world have signed up to cover the liftoff, too.

KSC’s public affairs team confirmed at least 700 media have signed up so far, a figure that dwarfs typical launches and is closer to crowds seen during the space shuttle program. Heather Scott, a spokesperson for the Space Force’s Space Launch Delta 45, said the military branch will also be pitching in to help manage media.

“The growing sense of energy and excitement that has been steadily building around Kennedy and among our workforce in the last year is tangible,” said Mike Bolger, director of KSC’s Exploration Ground Systems. “A sense of anticipation is growing daily as we close in on launching this amazing rocket and spacecraft.”

From an employee perspective, launch day car passes that can be used to bring personal vehicles – and family and friends – are highly sought after.

And it’s not just about launch day viewing: employees not directly working on Artemis have been handling non-critical items for those who are, even going as far as buying their lunch to help free up time. 

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“The excitement across the center is palpable,” KSC Director Janet Petro said. “You can see it in peoples’ faces, you can hear it in their voices, and when we all stand together with our eyes to the sky on launch day, I don’t think there will be a feeling in the world like it.”

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