The head of NASA is urging space enthusiasts not to show up to Florida for the launch of SpaceX's first crewed mission next month.
The historic launch, slated for May 27, will be broadcast online, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that is where the general public should plan to watch astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken fly into space atop a SpaceX rocket.
It will mark NASA's first human spaceflight launch from US soil in nearly a decade. Bridenstine said NASA and SpaceX are pushing forward with the mission amid the pandemic because it is critical for the space agency to maintain normal operations on board the International Space Station, where rotating crews of astronauts have lived since 2000.
"We're trying to make sure we have access to the International Space Station without drawing the massive amount of crowds that we usually would," Bridenstine told reporters Thursday.
NASA said it is not inviting any spectators to the launch site at Kennedy Space Center. In Brevard County, Florida, county officials are also discouraging tourists from showing up to the area's beaches and other popular launch viewing sites.
"We know there's a lot of excitement about returning humans to spaceflight, and we're proud that it's happening here in our county — but everyone is safer at home right now," Don Walker, the county board of commissioner's communications director, said.
If people do flock to Brevard County, Walker added, they should expect "a headache and a half."
Public parking is closed along the county's entire 72-mile stretch of coastline. Restaurants are still shut down, and hotels are not welcoming guests. If that is still the situation next month, Walker said an influx of tourists could leave people gridlocked in traffic and stranded on roadways.
Walker added that the county is continuing to monitor the Covid-19 outbreak, and he said it's possible restrictions could change over the next month. Some rules were lifted for Florida beachgoers this week.
Brevard County is following guidance from federal and sate officials, he said, and looking to see a two-week decline in new Covid-19 cases before officials move to reopen the local economy. But delays in testing could mean officials still don't have a complete picture of how widespread the virus may be in the area, Walker added.
No matter what, officials don't want large groups of travelers gathering in the area, potentially setting off another outbreak.
"We urge visitors to plan ahead and stay safe, protect yourself and others," Walker said.
SpaceX and Boeing have worked for the past decade to return human spaceflight capabilities to the United States. NASA allotted $2.6 billion to SpaceX and $4.2 billion to Boeing in 2014 to develop next-generation spacecraft. That marked a new approach for the space agency, which has long kept design and testing of spacecraft in-house.
SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft was the first to complete its major testing milestones, and NASA announced last week that the company's first crewed mission will take off on Wednesday, May 27 at 4:32 p.m. ET.