This Wildlife Refuge comes with Rockets

Will the resumption of human spacecraft launches lead to a rebirth of Florida’s Space Coast? The anticipated blastoff of a SpaceX rocket carrying two NASA astronauts could herald the return of the boom years for this 72-mile stretch of shoreline east of Orlando.

On May 30, if everything unfolds according to plan, the reusable Falcon 9 rocket will launch its Crew Dragon capsule on a mission to the International Space Station. It will be the first U.S. launch of American astronauts since 2011. When it lifts off, all eyes will be on the skies.

But there’s also a world to discover underfoot. Alongside NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, migratory birds fly and West Indian manatees swim. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, the 140,000-acre marshy expanse surrounding the launch area, is a vital habitat for endangered and threatened species.

“You’ve got a center of next-wave technological advancement, and they’re doing it right here in a national wildlife refuge,” conservationist Duane DuFreese tells us.