Wallops Island, Va. — They’re rushing to finish the new launch pad. The innkeepers and the ice cream parlors are figuring out how to capitalize on the crowds. And although there isn’t yet enough on display in the visitor’s center to occupy a child on a rainy day, Wallops Island is getting there, gearing up for its turn as the next Space Coast.
The marshy, ear-lobe-shaped land mass southwest of Chincoteague Island is home to NASA’s first rocket-launching site as well as the state-supported Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, a scrappy, seven-person operation that is partly run out of an old gas station. With the retirement of the space shuttles, the spaceport is poised to become a major hub of commercial space flight and a tourist attraction to rival the Florida Space Coast at Cape Canaveral. If the fevered predictions of local leaders come true, the expansion of the aerospace industry around Wallops could inject tens of millions of tourist dollars into a regional economy that now relies on an annual wild pony auction and the area’s Mayberry flavor to bring in visitors.