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Shuttle fleet's home counts down to an uncertain future

(This report is the first in a series on the shutdown of the space shuttle program.)


TITUSVILLE, Fla. — They call it Space City, U.S.A.

Drive along Highway 50 into Titusville, just across the Indian River from NASA's Kennedy Space Center, and you’ll pass a Space Shuttle Inn, Shuttle Car Wash, and Space Coast Pawn & Jewelry. One of the town's two high schools is called Astronaut High. There's an elementary school called Apollo.

Shuttle technician Dan Quinn can't go shopping at the local Walmart without running into co-workers from Kennedy, by far the town's largest employer. His kids used to play a game: Guess how many friends Dad's going to see. Five? Six? Quinn would buy the winner a candy bar.

Like Hollywood and the movies, Detroit and its cars, Titusville's fortunes have long been tied to aerospace. Prospering during the Apollo heyday, declining when the program was halted. Expanding with the shuttle program, taking a hit with the disasters of Challenger and Columbia.

Now, as NASA prepares to ground its shuttle fleet permanently — just four more launches are planned, including one early Monday — Titusville's 45,000 residents are left to wonder what's next.

The late 1960s and early 1970s were when the Apollo spaceflight program reached its height, putting men on the moon. More than 24,000 people moved to Titusville, eager to work at the new Kennedy Space Center and help the country win the space race.

Quinn's dad, an electrical engineer, was part of the team that built Apollo's lunar module. The family lived in New Mexico at the time, but "my father always brought us out to Kennedy for the open houses and to see the launch area," said Quinn, 56. They watched every blastoff together. It seemed then that the whole nation's — the whole world's — eyes were fixed on the cosmos. That sense of collective awe helped inspire him to follow his father into aerospace, ultimately moving to Titusville to work at Kennedy Space Center more than two decades ago.

But Titusville suffered when Apollo's missions to the moon abruptly ended in 1972. The town's growth, once exponential, ground to a halt. Al Koller, a longtime resident (Titusville High class of 1959) and an electrical engineer for NASA during the Apollo boom, remembers the program shutdown as an abrupt reversal of fortune locally.



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