KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – There are several reasons that SpaceX’s Tuesday launch of the company’s Falcon Heavy rocket is a remarkable day in space travel, but the major event also marked a historic day on the Space Coast because of the overwhelming number of spectators that showed up to witness the show.
In other words, it’s not so much what, but, rather, who made the day special for those gathered near Kennedy Space Center.
The event was expected to draw up to 100,000 spectators to the Coast, and hundreds could be seen at Space View park alone.
Over the course of a very long day for some, beginning at 4:30 a.m., when a couple who traveled in their live-in RV from Ohio to watch the launch arrived and claimed their spots, different folks from places across the world packed the park.
[Video above: Emily Russell, 12, plays her ukulele to entertain the crowds at Space View Park in Titusville on Feb. 6, 2018 as they wait to watch SpaceX's Falcon Heavy launch.]
By 9:30 a.m., parents and grandparents were already breaking out the Dominos and decks of playing cards to keep little ones busy until the original launch window would open at 1:30 p.m.
After several delays due to upper level winds, the rocket finally launched at 3:45 p.m., with two boosters landing back at The Cape, making simultaneous sonic booms for all to hear.
But until then, the crowd worked together to keep one another entertained, with each person, or four-legged space fan, bringing a unique story or trait to the table.
Ozzie Osband, also known by many locals as “the king of Space View Park,” volunteers with the Air Force Space and Missile Museum. He was the first to announce each delay Tuesday and brought a ton of other useful information to spectators at the park waiting to see the big show in the sky, which would all happen once liftoff took place right across the water.
Osband said it’s something he’s done during launches throughout the years, but Tuesday’s crowd stood out to him.
“These are what I consider shuttle-era crowds. A number of people would come out for a manned-launch. And while this one isn’t manned, this one has been heavily awaited,” he said.
With each new spectator’s arrival, Osband became more excited to see how many people wanted to learn more about space exploration.
And as many became worried the rocket wouldn’t lift off Tuesday because of the winds, Osband said he knew the crowd was so enthusiastic that they’d return for the next attempt if it had been postponed.
Emily Russell was another crowd favorite, especially when the talented 12-year-old broke out in song after noticing the crowd beginning to get antsy.
“With how many people are over here, it seems like its going really slow. I figured just, like, entertainment would be fun since I already had it with me.”
With her ukulele and song book, she belted out a few hits to keep the crowd entertained. She even made a few dollars in tips while doing so.
Since it was her second launch, she was well-prepared for any delays, with her entertainment in hand, hoping the smile music has brought her the last two years might be contagious throughout the sometimes impatient crowd.
It’s clear that people traveled from across the state—and even the country—to see the launch, and maybe hear Osband’s space facts or Russell’s music, but one family even traveled across the pond to make a teenage boy’s dream come true.
17-year-old Ethan Bateman has dreamed of being an aerospace engineer since he could remember.
“Aerospace engineering is a huge hobby of mine. Like, 8 years old I want to say, onwards—anything to do with space, because I strongly believe that space is the future,” Bateman said.
Which is why he, along with his mom and older sister, traveled from Britain to see Tuesday’s launch, and at the drop of a hat, too.
Several scheduled test fires for the Falcon Heavy had been pushed back for various reasons.
“Months and months and months ago, I heard about Falcon Heavy and this theoretical idea that—I’m forever obsessed with this idea. Then I had to go,” Bateman said. “It kept on getting delayed.”
Bateman said he was beginning to wonder if it would ever happen, but he kept his fingers crossed.
When SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced the date for Tuesday’s launch, Bateman said his family acted fast, since they’d been waiting for the big news.
“And then as soon as we heard the official launch date, (we thought) ‘Book. If it cancels, it cancels, we cancel and we’ll go again,’” he said.
Bateman said he was most excited for the launch because he believed that if it was successful, a huge theoretical idea would be proven.
He also said he was extremely thankful to his mother for taking a week off work to make his dream come true—no matter how far they had to travel.
The traveling wasn’t the only price he had to pay, though.
Bateman said he looked around and noticed that even as temperatures were climbing Tuesday afternoon, he seemed like the only person wearing a hooded sweatshirt while waiting at the park.
“I’m having to wear a jumper just to stop getting burned,” Bateman said with a laugh.
That was in addition to the SPF 100 sunscreen he slabbed on to protect his easily burned skin. He said before he could take a job on the Space Coast one day, he’ll have to adapt to the Central Florida sun.
Bateman and his family booked tickets to stay in the Orlando area through Sunday, just in case the launch was pushed back a few days. Since it was successful, they have a few vacation days to enjoy.
In addition to those unique spectators, dozens of elementary and middle school students filled the park to witness history. Some didn’t even have to miss a day of school either, since their teachers arranged a field trip to The Cape to make sure their kiddos would remember this important day in space history.
When the ukulele was worn out, the kids were tired of entertaining and Osband took a rest from the live updates, the crowds stayed busy with the dozens of dogs that came out to the Space Coast to see if and when Musk may be able to send a pooch to outer space. No word on that one yet.