One thing that’s sure to rise at Cape Canaveral over the next 24 hours—beside space shuttle Atlantis, which is due to lift off on Friday morning if the weather cooperates—is the price of a ticket to view the launch. Up to a million pairs of eyes are predicted to be on hand for the shuttle’s last sendoff, and some will pay eye-popping prices to scalpers for the privilege, even though NASA admonishes against it.
“NASA Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex does not condone or promote the resale of launch viewing tickets by individuals who originally purchased tickets from us,” says the visitor center’s web site. Yet it goes on to wink, “Nonetheless, resale of tickets is not prohibited by law in Florida.”
Anyone can plant a chair for free at more than a dozen viewing spots outside the gates of the Kennedy Space Center. But if you want to watch from NASA property, you’ll need a $20 ticket to the Astronaut Hall of Fame, a $43 ticket to the visitor complex, or a $61 package that lets you park your car and cooler on the Causeway leading to the complex. All of those tickets sold out weeks ago, but some NASA-authorized re-sellers still had a few left as of early this week.
When those sell out, you’ll be at the mercy of scalpers. As of this morning, Craigslist’s South Florida board had more than 200 listings for shuttle viewing tickets, ranging from three to ten times times the face value. Prices for a Hall of Fame viewing spot began at $100 per head, but went as high as $500 or more for a “VIP package” and parking pass to the Causeway.
Andrea Farmer, a public relations manager at the visitor center, says that NASA was overwhelmed with the demand for tickets for the final shuttle missions. “We began to think, what events are similar? The Olympics? The World Series? How do you fairly and efficiently provide tickets?” The agency sought advice from others, including tickets.com and Major League Baseball. A new ticketing process came online three Shuttle launches ago.
“We decided to use the Internet and social media to announce a one-week window to register for a random drawing,” says Farmer. “Random and fair are the key words.” Aside from these individual tickets, NASA set aside another batch for authorized vendors and VIP guests. “We went with providing tour operators with tickets, since they can bring in 50 people on a bus versus people in 50 cars,” she says. “Our biggest constraint is parking.”
How many tickets were sold for the Atlantis launch? She won’t say. Nor will she say what percentage were bought by individuals versus the vendors. “That’s all proprietary,” says Farmer. She does offer that the number of tickets made available for STS-135 was “100 percent more than the previous launch.”
The Space Coast Office of Tourism is estimating that 750,000 to one million people will be on hand for the Friday liftoff. And if the launch slips, tickets from would-be viewers who couldn’t stick around for another day may end up on eBay and Craigslist.