Florida’s “Space Coast”—a collection of launch pads and rocket factories in Brevard County, on the state’s east coast—has been a focal point for human space flight since the 1950s. It’s the spot from which the Apollo 11 astronauts ascended to the Moon in 1969. It’s where the US launched its first satellite (1958), astronaut (1961), Mars rover (1996), and space station component (1998). Between 1981 and 2011, it sent the space shuttle into orbit 135 times.
But when the US pulled the plug on the shuttle program in 2011, the Space Coast—and the residents and businesses of Brevard, who depend on the economic activity their local spaceport generates—fell on hard times. The loss of the local launch industry sank the region into a depression, until private space firms began setting up shop in the same facilities that used to house NASA operations in the Space Coast’s golden age.
Today, the Space Coast is making a comeback fueled by a flurry of launch activity from the nascent US space industry.