Space Shuttle Launches on Final Flight

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Space Shuttle Ends; Dark Times for Sunshine State

There are also cruise ships regularly leaving from Port Canaveral, south of the space center, though Varley said Titusville, which is inland, will feel the brunt of the shuttle program's end.

University of Central Florida economist Mike Slotkin said this is strike three for the area. It was already hit by the housing bust, the great recession, and now this.

"One out of every seven people in this county is a food stamp client," he said. "I mean, we've got some issues in this county and it just seems like it's one hit that we're taking after another."

At the cape (they still call it "the cape," though technically the shuttle complex is on Merritt Island, 20 miles north), there is simmering anger over the Obama decision to stop shuttle flights without a successor program. The administration has called on NASA to get astronauts back into the business of exploring, to do what the early pioneers of space did. It has proposed they go to an asteroid – though nobody has figured out which passing asteroid might make a good target.

Varley said he takes the president's decision as a wakeup call, to attract new companies to Florida, and ultimately, to space.

"We've got the world's biggest tailgate party here" with Atlantis' launch, he said, "but then we've got to buckle down and get to work."

ABC News' Steven Portnoy contributed reporting for this story.

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