For launch spectators, storms more worrisome than virus

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A woman walks to her spot along Indian Creek Lagoon in a Titusville, Fla. to watch the launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken in the Dragon crew capsule, Wednesday, May 27, 2020 from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla. The two astronauts are set to travel on the SpaceX test flight to the International Space Station. For the first time in nearly a decade, astronauts will travel to space aboard an American rocket from American soil, a first for a private company. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

TITUSVILLE, Fla. – For the spectators gathered along the Space Coast on Wednesday for an astronaut launch, the rumbling thunder, darkening clouds and then a drenching downpour were more worrisome than any pandemic.

But neither kept crowds from jamming favorite viewing spots in parks and area beaches.

At a park in Titusville with a clear view of the Kennedy Space Center launch pad 15 miles away, hundreds of spectators huddled under tents and umbrellas during on-and-off drizzle before the launch was called off because of the weather.

It would have been the first launch with astronauts from Florida in almost a decade, and the first by a private company, SpaceX. The next attempt is Saturday.

NASA and SpaceX had urged spectators to stay at home for safety reasons. But officials in Brevard County, home to the Kennedy Space Center, rolled out the welcome mat in an effort to jump-start a tourism industry hit hard this spring by coronavirus-related lockdowns.

About a third of the people at Space View Park wore masks as encouraged by health officials to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

The Brevard County Sheriff's Office asked visitors to practice social distancing as they waited for the launch of astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on a test flight of SpaceX’s Dragon crew capsule.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence traveled to the space center for the launch, while the number of visitors inside was drastically curtailed.