It's 4:30 am. I thought I was early. I am not. The roads here are already clogged. Caravans of tour buses are inching towards viewing centers and the beaches lining the jungle-like Merritt Island, home to the Kennedy Space Center.
Up to a million people are expected to jam this area ahead of NASA's final space shuttle launch, scheduled for 11:26.
It was the morning of the final launch of NASA's vaunted 30-year shuttle program, exactly 7 hours off. But SUV's were stuffed with people and provisions for a long day -- bikes strapped to the back, just in case the forecasters predicting only a 30 percent chance of launch, were wrong.
Viewing areas are already cheek to jowl with shuttle launch vets – folks in folding chairs, snoozing under straw hats… others sipping coffee. Some vets, like Kandi Brown knew to get here early. "Traffic was gonna be backed up miles you know. We just cruised right on in and got a front row parking spot and we're here to go," Brown said.
And she intends to do it all again if the shuttle launch is scrubbed today. If it is the next opportunity to fly would be on Sunday.
Driving on the roads around here you'll find "Shuttle's" bar, "Space Inn", you may drive down Astronaut Blvd in Cape Canaveral. But this may be the last boon for the so-called Space Coast, which for 50 years has hosted the millions that have watched 135 space shuttle launches. At gas a station in Titusville -- long lines, the market inside was full. The windows of the packed Waffle House steamed with greasy goodness. Lots of younger people in flip flops, board shorts and sarongs --a festival atmosphere.
Hotels are packed within a 50 mile-radius. Many were booked months ago.
Police were already out in force to try to channel the flood of up to 1 million expected here today. If the shuttle doesn't launch today, the majority are expected to make the traffic filled trek back -- all for a last chance to watch history.
And incidentally it is said here at Kennedy Space Center, one doesn't "watch" the launch, one "feels" it.... That flash of fire so bright it forces you to look away -- that crackling rumble with vibrations are so powerful that for a brief moment they seem to rejigger your innards.
There is enormous nostalgia here not only among spectators. Bob Crippen, the pilot on the very first space shuttle was here. Now astronauts and engineers are a generally crusty bunch, not known for emotion, certainly not tears. But the 73-year-old Crippen noted there may be many of them. He believes it's too early to retire the shuttle, "I could fly it another thirty years."