Here in this bleak and raw-edged space colony, where few of the early colonists would turn a head if R2D2 beep-beeped into the darkened Satellite Lounge, at least two successful launchings took place before the space shuttle Columbia finally soared into the heavens.
Charlie and Karen were launched successfully aboard their own little shuttlecraft, a Trekkie cruiser that ventured off the colonial shore Friday for some partying and a closeup view of what was to have been the galactic debut of the Columbia.
Columbia's computers couldn't marry up Friday, Charlie and Karen could -- becoming Mr. and Mrs. Cochran aboard the ship that went out to watch the blastoff. "The shuttle wasn't a success but the marriage was," Karen said proudly, time and infinity, like forever, being relative in space.
One of the wedding guests, having hit the space-warp tonic a bit too hard, also successfully if inadvertently launched himself -- over the side into the Banana River just about the time the Columbia was supposed to go. His name was withheld from the many historians here, a natural group protectiveness showing itself once again among the hardy folks who live on the edge of mankind's constantly expanding frontiers.
This desolate corner of the universe is called the Space Coast. In towns like Cocoa Beach, Titusville, Cape Canaveral and Merritt Island, streets named Astronaut Boulevard and Apollo Avenue are lined by emporiums named the Sea Missile Inn and the Moon Hut Cafe. The towns have a certain raw frontier edge to them, the romping and stomping getting a little heavy at times just as it did in old Wild West towns like Dodge City or would in a far-flung Star Wars outpost.
And, as in any far-off and occasionally forgotten colony, the paint on the Moon Hut gleams brightly or peels forlornly with each mood swing of the interstellar budget-makers in the far off galactic headquarters of Washington, D.C. It's been peeling lately.
"For five years this town didn't issue a single building permit -- not even for a fence," says Roger Grafe, who serves up the fastest order of early morning bacon and eggs this side of Io at a roadside cafe called George's.
But Grafe says it's getting better now -- not just because of the space shuttle, whose promised maiden flight crammed 1 million people into Brevard County this weekend, but also because of the overflow of sun-seekers from Miami and Orlando.
Still, it is those big rockets 20 miles north of here that fuel the economy of the Space Coast.
Like most early outposts, this colony is not quite paradise. Mosquitoes swarm over 'gators lounging in the hot sun; only scrawny palmetto scrub thrives where even palm trees struggle in the sandy dunes.
Ponce de Leon was the first white man to visit here and he made a voyage up the Banana River where the Cochrans got hitched yesterday. Ponce tried the water and decided that, even if the fountain of youth were around, it probably wouldn't be potable. The water hasn't changed since.
For that matter, after Ponce left, not much changed here at all until the star trekkers arrived, first in fiction and then in fact.
Jules Verne's imagination came here first, launching his 19th century sci-fi trip to the moon from a pad less than a hundred miles from the now famous pad 39A. He set his fictional launch here for the same reason the others came later: the place was so desolate nosy outsiders wouldn't be troublesome and the nearby ocean provided a good place for a crash of such an unlikely mission. t
The real-life moon-seekers came much later. The first rocket launch from Cape Canaveral was a captured German V2 sent aloft in 1950. Then came the little satellites, finally the men and now the space shuttle.
During the six-year lull since men were last launched from here in 1975 the Space Coast has felt forgotten indeed. So the townsfolk, especially the colony's merchants, can be forgiven if they had somewhat mixed feelings about the delayed launching of the Columbia Friday. Civic, as well as national, pride was hurt a bit. But it also was nice keeping the million people around for a couple more days, spending money at those special colonial rates.
Ron Heimann, general manager of the area's Burger King restaurants, conceded he was "tickled to death" at the thought of two more days of a fast-food bonanza. At the 20-cent toll bridge over the Banana River, toll-makers were looking forward to two more $30,000 days like Friday.
Paint sales are reported up sharply. The optimism is unbridled. The colonists are counting on 30 or 40 shuttle launches a year, even though the word at galactic headquarters is not always that certain.
Bill Lyerly, executive director of the Titusville Chamber of Commerce, is convinced the shuttle will be hotter stuff than Mickey Mouse over at nearby Orlando's Disney World.
"There are 230 million people in the United States alone, so it's going to take a lot of launches for all of them to get to see it," says the expansive chamber man, who thinks Ponce de Leon was a badly mistaken fellow who didn't understand frontiers and looked for the wrong kind of immorality.