Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Last Launch, a closure of my childhood


Tomorrow Friday is the last scheduled launch of the space shuttle program, the Atlantis is the protracted finale. This will be the 33rd flight for Atlantis and the 135th shuttle mission overall.

This sad news weighs heavily on my heart and marketing mind.

Growing up with the space program since the first shuttle launch brings back fond memories of my childhood intertwined with the race to space. It was a time of pride where our country continued to pioneer new territory, new technologies. A "race" to be the first, to be the best, to beat the Russians.  It was also during the Cold War.  My visit to communist Poland and Czechoslovakia are forever engrained from the age of 12.

Titusville, Florida (my hometown) sits across the Indian River from Kennedy Space Center. The city is laid back, very laid back.  The heat, slow tempo, and the location, made it too easy for many residents to continue in slow motion, with little motivation to pursue lofty career or life goals. At a 20 year reunion of my grade school, most classmates continue to reside in Titusville as PE coach, hairdresser, and a nail technician. I wonder if the abrupt hiatus of the space program after the explosion of the Challenger launch in 1986 dampered or halted a person's aspirations.

Thanks to my parents, the nuns of St Theresa school, and the space program, their confluence pushed me to study and work hard.  I learned "anything is possible".  Thankfully we moved to the suburbs of Washington DC,  a beltway of fast movers, thinkers and the need to succeed.

And so I studied hard and earned mostly straight A's from grade school to my MBA. I discovered my passion for marketing and its transforming powers in uplifting lives, starting or saving a business, even saving lives.

Then I ask, "What will happen to the Kennedy Space Center? Will the fire of the space program endure and still draw tourists or will remnant flickers fade in time?   Why does it feel like I'm about to lose my childhood friend from next door? Is it more than the predicted 7,000 job losses? I think so. I continue to ask, "After the Cold War, did we lose our competitive spirit?" Looking at advances in telephone technology such as the iPhone and iPads and the revolution in social media such as Facebook and Twitter, clearly not.  Then why the flickering flames?

Could it be that collectively, with younger, nonbaby boomer generations, the space program can not compete with the attraction or sizzle of technologies that impact our quotidian needs? Look at generations X and Y and tweens leading the use of Facebook and texting and tweeting. It's about our daily uses. The iPod, iPhone and now the pervasive iPad. How about an iShuttle? There's a thought! A more efficient way to transport humans and cargo to the space station?  Do we dare think it?

Aaah but US companies such as Blue Origin, Boeing, Space X and Sierra Nevada Corp. are bankrolled by the space agency to develop new spacecraft to ferry astronauts and payloads into orbit. However, none of these companies have home bases in Florida. Experts say we're still three years away from shooting humans into orbit. In the meantime,  plans call for NASA to pay Russia to deliver Americans to the International Space Station at $50 million a seat. 

Technologies evolve and they are also getting smaller and faster. The cell phones and laptops are prime examples. Each space shuttle launch cost a hefty $1 billion plus.  But the shuttle was designed in the 1970's long before cellphones existed and Internet reached mainstream.

Having witnessed the economic devastation from the avalanche effect of the two shuttle explosions my immediate concern remains. Will the Kennedy Space Center still survive as a  tourist destination? According to the Space Coast office of Tourism, the shuttle launches represented about 5 percent of the destination’s tourism business.  So there is hope the current attractions of the bus tour through the KSC, the guided tour which gets you closer to the launch pad for amazing photo opps, the IMAX films, the Astronaut Encounter, the new interactive multimedia Space Exploration, and the Astronaut Hall of Fame will continue to pique young engineering minds, inspire a nation and visitors and preserve a chapter in American space history.

Thankfully Titusville has another secret treasure. An unspoiled national seashore and wildlife refuge that boasts the nation's largest birding festival and a new 260-mile St. John's River biking-hiking trail.
Ecotourism is their new pot of tourism gold.

I encourage anyone reading this post, to visit the SpaceCoast. There is something for everyone and makes for an ideal family vacation. I will rediscover my own hometown and make new inner-child memories.

Kennedy Space Center
The Space Coast

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