Watching a Space Launch from Home

Advice from NASA to the public: Don’t travel to see the upcoming launch in Cape Canaveral. The SpaceX launch coming up May 27 will be the first human-occupied space mission to leave Cape Kennedy since 2011, but NASA is urging people to stay home. And I agree.

OK, so it is the first human-occupied space launch in a long time. That’s great. People can get a way better view by watching it on TV or on the internet than they would be able to see in person. And save money on gas, parking hassle, finding a place to sit, and all that.

Before the pandemic, the local government leaders were supposedly expecting a half million people to crowd into their town for this launch. (That’s how many attended the last human launch, which was in 2011.) Crazy huh!??? And a local official was quoted in the article urging people to come on ahead to the upcoming launch — the opposite of NASA’s advice. Well of course: He has an economic stake in drawing large numbers of people to a launch, whereas NASA does not.

Pandemic aside, local areas would be wise to reduce their economic dependence on this kind of huge crowd-gathering. As for the would-be visitors, surely there is plenty of equally wonderful stuff to see in their own backyards.

Watch it on TV. Or better yet tune into the stunning everyday events we often take for granted in our own local areas. Everywhere in the world, every day and night, the heavens offer us a variety of spectacular shows. And nature gives us a chorus of frog, bird, and insect song. #HyperlocalLiving — the more I slow down and zero in on the stuff right around me, the more remarkable it all seems.

And hey, I just thought of this: You could watch your neighborhood kids do a “space launch” of a homemade rocket! If you’re crafty in a science way, maybe you could even help them build it.

A Facebook acquaintance, responding to my post about NASA’s advice, shared a stirring description of her trip to see a shuttle launch. She and her husband stayed in a hotel and viewed it from the second floor. Being close enough to watch the fire burn the white paint off the shuttle; hear the rumble; feel the building shake; and then out of nowhere the crowd spontaneously burst into a chorus of “God Bless America.” No doubt a deeply touching experience and a lifetime memory.

I feel the same about my memory of seeing the Bicentennial fireworks in Washington DC. (We lived 7 miles away, in northern Virginia.) I remember standing there on the National Mall watching the pyrotechnics with a crowd estimated at two million people. There, on July 4, 1976, at age 13, I vowed that I’d live to be 113 so I could attend the tricentennial in 2076.

But times have changed, and different times call for different ways. Big events are probably not gone forever, but right now is a good time to be very hesitant about traveling long distances or hanging out in big crowds. Concerns about eco footprint, security, and public health, not to mention household finances, are all guiding us in a direction of “smaller and more local.”

Since I live in a beach city that has made itself extremely dependent on tourism and events, a big topic around here is how the hotels have suffered in the shutdown. Now that things are opening up again, the hotels are seeing a resurgence of bookings. But that path will always have its extreme ups and downs. If I were a hotel owner, I would seriously look at turning my hotel into studio apartments. The maximum per-night revenue would drop, but I’d have steady occupancy. No more weather-dependency; no more dead season; no more dependence on special events. If my hotel was one that had a laundry facility on premises, I would offer laundry and dry-cleaning as an extra “boutique” option that would be tacked onto the rent. I might still keep a few units open for occupancy by travelers. Or maybe not; maybe I’d fill them all with fulltime residents.

When July 4, 2076, comes around, you’ll probably find me watching fireworks (or stars) from my own backyard. Actually I hope that by then we’re done with fireworks, and instead get our thrills from watching fireflies. Or making our own super-creative neighborhood light-shows, where everyone participates. Hyper-hyper-local versions of Burningman, adopting that great Burningman motto, “No spectators!”

Further Exploration:

“Conventional Thinking: Stop Pinning All Your City’s Hopes on Big Projects and Events.” Excellent article by Rachel Quednau of Strong Towns. I share her opinion that “we can prepare our towns to be antifragile for the future. We do this by making small bets and incremental investments–not reorienting an entire city around a four-day event. When we can start reopening local businesses and gathering with our neighbors again, it is going to be our small-scale efforts that will create the building blocks for economic prosperity—not waiting for the next huge event to come through and save us.” (I also highly recommend Rachel’s article on how you can help make your place a “strong town” by taking walks around your neighborhood.)

“Eco-tourism” presentation by Eva Pabón. In this bilingual (Spanish + English) presentation, Ms. Pabón shares some pointers on being a good eco-tourist. It’s as much about supporting local businesses, learning local customs, and making sure local people are getting economic benefit from your visit, as it is about viewing wildlife and plants. My favorite aspect of Ms. Pabón’s talk is that she emphasizes that we don’t have to travel miles to some exotic place; we can be eco-tourists in our own states, counties, and cities, learning about and protecting our local wildlife, plants, and people. This presentation was hosted on Facebook Live by the Cuplet Fern Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society (an exceptionally active chapter that hosts a steady stream of webinars, some by nationally or internationally renowned experts).