By Bobbye Kenyon
Launching Boats To Launch A Shuttle
Endeavour’s historic and final launch drew thousands to waterside venues along Florida’s Space Coast
May 16 at 8:56 AM, Endeavour makes its final journey into space as more than 350,000 people watched from boats, campsites, beaches and nearby parks
Welcome to Florida’s Space Coast, the largest stretch of coastline in Florida with 72 miles of impeccable beaches and a variety of excellent boating and fishing locales. There's a reason it's called "the Space Coast." By the end of this year, 135 space shuttle launches over a period of 30 years will have lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center. Add to this, almost as many of the shuttles have returned right here (if weather conditions are poor at the Space Coast, shuttles will land at California’s Edwards Air Force Base) and the name of this part of Florida is all the more appropriate. In fact, any boater who’s watched launchings and landings from the water will tell you, this is the proverbial lifetime event.
Launching at Kennedy Point Park in Titusville; a prime viewing area for shuttle launches.
One such person is Dawna Thorstad, Director of Sales at nearby Dixie Crossroads, a Titusville landmark since the Thompson family opened the restaurant as a 30-seat diner in 1983; she’s been described as "a veteran launch watcher," using a kayak. “It brings you up close for an unobstructed view of the launch,” she explained. “We went out Haulover Canal and into Mosquito Lagoon. Out of all those boaters on the water, the kayak trip afforded a unique position. You’re maybe one in 100 that gets this kind of view.” Her favorite excursion took place during NASA’s final night launch a few summers ago. “My husband Ron and I went out in our kayak and enjoyed the wonderful phenomenon and beauty of the bioluminescence before the launch literally lit up the sky. It was all amazing.”
Heading up to Kennedy Point Yacht Club and Marina in Titusville on launch day, the drive via U.S. 1 showcased an array of scenic intracoastal stretches occasionally dotted with parks and ramps for boaters to gain easy access on an aquatic course that offered a stellar view of the day’s launch. Approaching Eau Gallie, we decided to take a right off Harbor City Boulevard (also U.S. 1) and onto Thomas Barbour Drive, to check out the ramp activity down at Ballard Park.
Don Dings grabbed an early start and trailered his 21-foot Paramount over to the park, where finding a parking spot was a cinch. After launching his boat, he planned to head up to a gathering spot for local viewers, Ski Island, near the west entrance to the locks providing passage into Port Canaveral and out to the Atlantic Ocean. “It’s a great ramp facility,” Dings explained of the area south of State Road 518 (W. Eau Gallie Boulevard) that has a trio of ramps and ample parking. “Launching here gives you a nice ride up the waterway and you have access to two different routes – either under Mathers Bridge or up the ICW to the Barge Canal. Either way, it takes about one-and-a-half hours to get up to Ski Island. It’s probably as close you can get.”
Dings is an avid boater and five-year resident of neighboring Palm Shores, who has experienced the thrill of a few launches. He described the on-water and in-air event that really supercharges the atmosphere. “There’s between 50 and 100 boats anchored, people are just hanging out, waiting for the launch and cheering when it lifts off. It’s pretty exciting with all the camaraderie of the boat people using their boats to get an advantage without the hassle of a traffic jam. It’s a great get-together.”
The West family launching to see a launch: pictured left to right, Blake and Raile, Tyler, Nate, newlyweds Emmalee and Brewer, along with Aaron at POW/MIA Park in Melbourne, just south of KSC.
Heading north, another gathering is POW/MIA Park (formerly known as Pineda Landing Park) where one of those boaters, Melbourne resident Blake West, and his wife Raili brought their family out to enjoy the view of Endeavour’s final flight from the comfort of their 2050 Bayliner. Blake prefers to launch his boat from the POW/MIA ramp because it’s close to home and provides a great excursion for all onboard. “It’s much better to launch here and boat up,” he said. “We don’t have to sit in traffic for three or four hours. And you can get so much closer. It makes for a fun outing.”
Resuming the drive further north, the dramatic impact of launch fans upon roadways became apparent as they made their way to prime-viewing venues: eastbound bumper-to-bumper traffic as we passed under major causeways that connected the mainland to Merritt Island, while cars inched along at crawl speed nearly a mile south of the marina.
An all-access pass provided by Krystal Newby, manager of Kennedy Point Yacht Club and Marina (the closest marina to Launch Pad 39A), proved priceless, with entrance and parking as easy as a spring breeze. She introduced me to an enthusiastic couple, Andy and Kerry Nelmes, who trailered their Regal 1950 LXC on a two-hour trip over from Kissimmee, Florida. “I keep the boat at the new marina on East Lake Toho in nearby St. Cloud,” Andy said. The drive from Central Florida took Andy and Kerry eastbound across Highway 192 onto I-95 and north to Titusville. The Nelmeses (who moved Stateside from London, England, three years ago) were holding their own informal poolside countdown, totally hyped for their first launch. “We’re here for the experience,” Kerry laughed.
Landside spectators arrived very early at Kennedy Point Park to get a view and maybe a photo.
The Titusville Municipal Marina, a BoatUS Cooperating Marina located at Marker 39 on the Indian River, afforded everything Andy and Kerry needed to enjoy their Space Coast stay and take in the Endeavour launch. “These guys made it so easy for us,” Kerry said. Andy echoed her comments, “They have everything – the pool, showers, laundry – it’s perfect.” However, the marina’s strategic location was at the top of Andy’s list in hopes that their rented dock space would provide a fast ride to a front-row waterfront seat. “The position is just great, directly across from the site. It’s worth buying a boat just to come here,” he said with a laugh.
To the south, Kennedy Point Park welcomed early arrivals that grew into crowds lining the seawall for a landside view. Some cranked up the outdoor grills to enjoy cooked-to-order fare, while others monitored cell phones and radios for the latest launch update. The trailer boat action was nonstop as tow vehicles and a variety of hulls made their way into the park down to the ramps. “The county parks offer budget-friendly and easy accessibility to ramp facilities,” Ron Force, a supervisor of five different parks within the Brevard County Parks & Recreation Division, explained. “The county parks are open 24/7 from 7 a.m. to dusk, while boat ramps are open 24 hours a day. There’s no charge for parking.”
For those who haven’t experienced the excitement of a launch firsthand, consider the next best thing with a trip to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) where you can board the Shuttle Launch Experience for a thrilling simulated shuttle launch designed by astronauts, step back to early space exploration with a tour of the original Mercury Mission Control, and view the Apollo/Saturn V Center that houses rockets and equipment from the Apollo moon missions.
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