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Rocket Launch Watchers Weigh In On Presidential Politics


Across the Indian River, just to the right of the Vehicle Assembly Building is launch complex 40. Sitting on the pad is a SpaceX Falcon 9.

Despite four previous delays, almost a hundred people are back out to watch the rocket take flight.

Keeping the spectators up-to-date on the latest launch news is Rob Osband. He’s the host of this viewing party, and he’s got a radio antennae strapped to a light pole, and he’s monitoring the latest radio chatter

This isn’t Osband’s first launch. He has seen "countless," he said. "You can either keep track of that stuff or enjoy them, and I come out here to enjoy them."

As someone who follows the space program closely, Osband said funding NASA has a big impact on what is driving him to the polls this election cycle.

"As a space guy I have to want more money for the space program, of course," said Osband. "I realize there are other issues involved, but you’ve got to look at what the space program gives back to the public, too, in the way of spinoffs, research that goes into the space programs and comes back, in particularly healthcare."

Last year, Congress appropriated about $19 billion for NASA, with some of that money coming to Florida’s Space Coast.

Sam Gardella just moved to Central Florida from New York to attend Full Sail University. This is her first launch, and first presidential election she’s eligible to vote in. That $19 billion price tag took her by surprise, but she says she thinks the spending is justified.

"Exploring space itself is something we should be investing money into because it’s educational and we don’t know what else is out there," said Gardella.

Launches attract space-fans from all over including Canada. Roger Ledlow is from Otowwa and this is also his first launch. What does he think about a 19-billion-dollar price tag?

"It seems like a lot of money," said Ledlow, "that’s be a lot of money up on the Canadian side of things."

Florida’s Space Coast is more than just space exploration and scientific research. Surrounding the Kennedy Space Center are wildlife refuges – the Cape Canaveral National Sea Shore, St. Johns National Wildlife refuge and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

It’s the environment that’s driving people like William Krueger to the polls.

"I’m a bird geek," said Krueger. "I like to go out to the National Sea Shore here and bird watch, so environmental factors certainly are a big deal for me in terms of a presidential candidate."

Being a coastal community, the Space Coast is susceptible to rising sea levels due to climate change,  something that is make-or-break for Krueger’s vote. "I feel that if you’re a politician and a climate change denier, you’ve just 100% lost my vote. Period."

As the countdown timer nears T-minus zero, Rob Osband alerts the crowd. "I’m a bird watcher," said Osband, "but it’s for the big metal birds going up."

With that, the engines of the Falcon 9 glow as the rocket clears the tower and heads into orbit.

Brendan Byrne is WMFE's Assistant News Director, managing the day-to-day operations of the WMFE newsroom, editing daily news stories, and managing WMFE's internship program.

Byrne also hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration.