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Crowds could go out for historic launch despite coronavirus

Florida leaders and NASA are split on whether it's a good idea for spectators to show up for next week's space launch.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — As the coronavirus pandemic continues, Florida leaders and NASA have different ideas about spectators showing up for Wednesday's historic space launch.

Typically, the beaches and roads along Florida’s Space Coast would be packed with people eager to watch the first astronaut launch from Florida since 2011.

NASA and SpaceX are urging people to watch the launch from home in order to protect themselves. During a video conference last month, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine asked people not to travel to Kennedy Space Center. But officials in Brevard County are not discouraging people from going out as they try to jump-start a tourism industry hit hard this spring by lockdowns.

On Thursday, the Brevard County Emergency Management Office issued a safety alert and traffic advisory for people interested in going out to watch the launch. The EOC suggests that people follow CDC social distancing guidelines, to "keep six feet between yourself and others, to avoid groups of 10 or more people and to avoid mass gatherings."

Visitors to the Space Coast will not have as many places to see the launch when it happens. Kennedy Space Center, which has been closed to visitors since March, is not offering any viewing packages. And Jetty Park, one of the most popular offsite viewing spots for launches, will only be open to annual pass holders.

Despite the lower than expected crowds, multiple law enforcement agencies still have a plan to control traffic along the Space Coast on launch day. The Brevard EOC suggests using a GPS app to find changes in traffic patterns and available parking.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon launch is set for Wednesday, May 27 at 4:33 p.m. Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will take on the first manned mission to launch from U.S. soil since the Space Shuttle program ended nine years ago.

RELATED: NASA astronauts arrive in Florida ahead of historic SpaceX launch

RELATED: Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex reopening May 28

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