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City, NASA partnership with eye on Wallops considered

(April 18, 2014) A pitch by NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility to partner with the Town of Ocean City for rocket launch-based tourism met a warm reception from the city’s Tourism Commission this week.

“This would be a joint effort to promote the fact that these launches are visible and we have a great vantage point in Ocean City,” city Tourism Director Donna Abbott said.

The city is anticipating setting up some type of “official viewing area” at the southern end of the Boardwalk and inlet area, she said, with the hope of attracting additional tourists for the already popular launches.

Wallops is located near Chincoteague, Va., with most take-offs clearly visible from the resort roughly 40 miles away.

For every rocket launch over the past year, Wallops’ visitors’ center has filled to capacity and closed on launch days, said facility public relations representative Rebecca Hudson.

“We are already kind of running out of public spaces [for viewing],” Hudson said.

Wallops could provide the city with information for any promotional materials, and would also be willing to set up launch-day amenities on the Boardwalk at no charge to the town, Hudson said.

These include a countdown box – built by a facility intern from Stephen Decatur High School – which broadcasts a countdown signal to phones and other devices within 200 to 300 yards. Wallops also has a giant inflatable screen that could be used to show footage from the control room.

“I could also send a trained docent to answer any questions from your guests,” Hudson said.

Council Secretary and Tourism Commission Chair Mary Knight noted that the city already heavily promotes its series of “free family events,” of which a rocket launch viewing could definitely be a standout.

“To say we offer a ‘free family rocket launch’ would be spectacular,” Knight said.

Wallops’ next launch is scheduled for May 6, although Hudson said this would likely be pushed back due to delays in coordinated launches at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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