SpaceX's Falcon Heavy launch on Tuesday has the Space Coast buzzing about a return to the heady days of the shuttle program, with businesses ready to take advantage of the surge in interest, economic leaders say.
"No question that other companies around the world, they are looking at establishing facilities in Florida so they can be near the center of space activity," Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello said. "We want to drive all of those to create tourism and job opportunities for next-generation engineers and the space workforce."
But the comeback will take time.
"It's a slow turn," Craig Technologies CEO Carol Craig said. "But as soon as SpaceX or whoever puts an astronaut in one of those, that will be where you are really going to see the place go nuts and see a resurgence."
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Tuesday's mission was expected to bring as many as 100,000 visitors to the coast, though Florida's Space Coast Office of Tourism said actual numbers won't be available until later this month.
Eager spectators crowded parks and causeways around Cape Canaveral on launch day, proving the power that major launches have to sway tourists.
However, Tuesday's crowd paled in comparison to the 400,000 to 500,000 that were estimated to have visited during the last shuttle launch in 2011.
"I haven't seen that big a crowd in Titusville in a long time," said Todd Halvorson, who has written about the space industry since the late 1990s and is the former publisher of Florida Today. The Falcon Heavy launch "was an amazing spectacle."
The Falcon Heavy launch precedes a string of events expected to bolster the region's space industry.
Both SpaceX and Boeing are scheduled to launch test flights of crew capsules in August.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said after the launch that the company already has several commercial customers lined up and should start to compete for larger military deals soon.
"If there is a big national-security satellite due for launch in three to four years, we'll probably have a dozen or more launches done by then," Musk said.
The launch showed the region remains one of the most important in the industry – and is diversifying its role in the space business.
"The Falcon Heavy launch brought global attention to what we already know here in Brevard County – that the coast is transforming from mostly a launch site to a hub for the space industry," said Lynda Weatherman, president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast.
Blue Origin plans to add 330 jobs at a rocket-production facility set to open this year.
OneWeb, meanwhile, plans to add 250 jobs at its satellite-production site and RUAG will add 60 positions at its facility.
In addition, Lockheed Martin's Orion spacecraft will be built on the coast.
As fans of SpaceX and Elon Musk who even named their dog Tesla, Nick Krumholz, of Cochrane, Wis., perched on top of a school bus he and his girlfriend, Natasha Gaffer, have remodeled into an RV to see the liftoff on Tuesday.
"I had been watching the news about this launch, and we were in Tampa so I figured we should drive over," Krumholz said.
As hours-long delays mounted because of high winds, crowds remained. Some even found a way to benefit – Bill and Theresa Banks, who run a food-truck business called Smoke 'n' Grille Mobile Cuisine, set up a sandwich stand on the busy causeway of A. Max Brewster Memorial Parkway.
Had the mission scrubbed Tuesday, "I'd be back Wednesday," Bill Banks said, showing that local business owners realize onlookers will return again and again.
DiBello said he received emails in the days that followed from at least 100 people, including many who don't normally attend launches, excited about the Falcon Heavy launch.
"We need to have the public enthusiastic about space for there to be the political and funding support for the space program," DiBello said. "Elon has done a lot to contribute to that."
(Paul Brinkmann contributed.)