BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey is encouraging people to come to Brevard County to watch the scheduled May 27 historic launch of a SpaceX rocket with two astronauts aboard, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
It would be the first launch of astronauts from U.S. soil since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011. Scheduled for 4:32 p.m., the 230-foot-tall rocket will take astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station in a Crew Dragon capsule.
But Ivey’s invitation runs contrary to a NASA recommendation for people to watch the launch on television. Administrator Jim Bridenstine reiterated that call on Friday during a pre-launch news conference ahead of the May 27 mission.
“We are asking people to watch from home,” either online or on television, Bridenstine said, as a way to guard against the spread of the coronavirus.
“When we look back to the space shuttle launches, we had hundreds of thousands of people that would descend on the Kennedy Space Center,” Bridenstine said. “Of course, Kennedy was always very welcoming, opening the gates, letting everyone in. People watched from the beaches and all the way from Orlando and other places. The challenge we’re up against right now is we want to keep everybody safe. That’s the No. 1, highest priority of NASA.”
Bridenstine said now is not the time to have large crowds at Kennedy Space Center and along the Space Coast.
“It would be damaging if we had some setbacks,” Bridenstine said. “We don’t want an outbreak. We need a spectacular moment that all of America can see and all of the world can see to inspire, not just those of us who’ve been waiting years for this, but to inspire the generations that are coming. We need to do it in a way that’s responsible.”
Ivey, though, has a different viewpoint about inviting spectators to come here for the launch.
“This is a phenomenal time in our space industry, and the space industry is vital to our success here in Brevard County,” Ivey said at a news conference Friday that dealt with a variety of topics related to the coronavirus pandemic. “So we want everybody to enjoy that launch. It’s another piece of great American history that’s happening right here in our backyard. So we want everybody to have that opportunity to enjoy it. But we want them to do it safely.”
Ivey advised people coming here for the launch to practice "family social distance," with individual families staying in small groups, and being "mindful of others in that regard."
"Come here, be patient, leave yourself plenty of time," Ivey said. "We don't want any traffic accidents. But come here just like you have for all the other beautiful launches we've had. And enjoy it."
Ivey said Brevard County is "absolutely" open for launch business.
"We are not going to keep the great Americans that want to come watch that from coming here," Ivey said. "If NASA telling people to not come here and watch the launch, that's on them. I'm telling people what I believe as an American. And so NASA has got their guidelines, and I got mine."
Ivey said his deputies will be looking to be sure launch viewers are maintaining social distancing, and is encouraging tips from residents about people not following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for social distancing.
"If you see something, say something," Ivey said. "That applies here as well."
Ivey said his approach to battling the coronavirus is eradicating the virus "without negatively impacting the rights and privileges of our citizens — the freedoms of this great country." He also wants to get the economy booming again "to take care of those that are unemployed, those that are out of jobs, out money — all of those things."
Bridenstine said "asking people not to travel to the Kennedy Space Center … makes me sad to even say it. Boy, I wish we could make this into something really spectacular. But, where we are right now, we need to get Commercial Crew launched and we need Demo-2 to be successful. And the best way we can do that is to do it while keeping everybody safe."
The mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which was designed to return American astronauts to the International Space Station after the end of the shuttle program using commercially procured spacecraft. Both SpaceX and Boeing were selected under multibillion-dollar contracts, the latter of which will fly a second test flight of its Starliner spacecraft later this year.