Hoards of space enthusiasts began gathering in Florida Friday morning to experience the space shuttle Endeavor’s final launch firsthand. If all goes according to plan, Endeavor will lift off at 3:47 pm EST.
The next-to-last launch for America’s long-running shuttle program is expected to draw between 250,000 to 700,000 spectators. The latter figure would rival the crowds that gathered for the Apollo moon launches in the 1960s and 1970s.
Some of the extra attention stems from the fact that the mission will be commanded by Mark Kelly. Kelly is the husband of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who continues to recover from an assassination attempt in January. Giffords will be on hand for the launch alongside President Barack Obama and his family.
Local business owners are thrilled with the renewed interest. An average launch generates about $5 million in local economic activity. The crowds gathered for Endeavor’s launch could generate more than $15 million, according to estimates.