OCEAN CITY – An official NASA Wallop Flight Facility rocket launch viewing site could be designated on the southern portion of the Boardwalk in time for the next launch in early May or June.
Rebecca Hudson of Wallops Flight Facility, Va., came before the Tourism Commission on Monday afternoon to propose partnering with the town to develop a rocket launch viewing post in Ocean City.
Tourism and Marketing Director Donna Abbott had met with Hudson to discuss the best location.
“We met on the southern end of the Boardwalk by the Lifesaving Museum to brainstorm some ideas about what we can do in a joint effort to work together to promote these rocket launches that are visible. It is a huge vantage point down in the Inlet Lot area and the southern end of the Boardwalk area,” Abbott said.
Hudson explained she has been traveling the Eastern Shore reaching out to local partners and organizations to promote Wallops rocket launches.
“There are a lot of people that come to Wallops for launches. Our visitor center fills up to capacity where we have to close the gates. For every launch in the past year, we have had that problem … so we are kind of running out of public area,” she said. “We are not trying to pull people out of Ocean City. While they are here, why not walk down the Boardwalk to enjoy a rocket launch along with the fun of the beach. There are not many places in the world where you can do that … if we team up together, you just can’t beat that.”
Hudson pointed out rocket launches out of Wallops have increased in popularity over the past year, especially the night launch of LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer).
NASA’s LADEE is a robotic mission that launched on the evening of Sept. 6, 2013. It caused a sensation in the Eastern United States on its way to the moon as it was visible from Virginia to Massachusetts, and the fireball was captured by photographers and videographers in many locations.
Crowds gathered in Times Square in New York and on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to watch. The launch turned the hashtag #NASA into the top trending topic on Twitter in the U.S., and the launch coverage on NASA TV went out in 66,000 webcast streams.
“I had several of friends here down at the Inlet, and they said it was amazing,” she said. “It is a perfect opportunity and what I thought was why aren’t we working together?”
There are a couple pieces of equipment NASA is willing to bring to Ocean City’s viewing post at the time of launches, such as a portable speaker system built by a Stephen Decatur High School senior that is capable of plugging into a smart phone and amplifying Wallop’s live countdown 200 to 300 yards away. Additionally, a large screen that would play a live feed of the launch from Wallops, and a trained NASA employee to be on the scene to provide the public with information on the mission or on Wallops in general.
“There are a lot of things we can provide for you. All of this is at no cost,” Hudson said.
The next launch date is set for May 6 that will send off Orbital 2 Commercial Resupply Services flight from Wallops Flight Facility. Orbital 2 will deliver cargo and crew supplies to the International Space Station.
However, a scheduling conflict at Kennedy Space Center in Florida may cause delays of Wallops’ launch schedule.
“We will know by the end of the week. If it is not in May, it will be in June. Either way that is when the tourism season is ramping up, so I think it would be a great opportunity to try it for this launch,” Hudson said.
Commission Chair Councilwoman Mary Knight pointed out a rocket launch viewing post in Ocean City would be one more event to add to Ocean City’s long list of free family-friendly activities.
“We love it,” Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones said.
Hudson will continue to coordinate with Abbott to set-up a rocket launch viewing post in the Inlet area of downtown Ocean City for the next launch on May 6 or soon after.
Wallops Flight Facility launch schedule can be found at www.nasa.gov.