Norfolk, Va. - More and more people are coming to Wallops Island these days to experience space travel up close and personal.
"They played an important part in getting the space program going, and since, they have launched thousands of sounding rockets," said Zig Leszczynski, deputy executive director of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (VCSFA). The organization owns and operates launch pads at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island.
Since the 1940s, NASA's Wallops Flight Facility has played a big role in space research.
"There's a culture of innovation, a culture of experimentation and it really gels well with what we're trying to do," said Leszczysnski. He says that while the shuttle program is no longer around, interest in space hasn't gone anywhere. In fact, launches, like the Antares rocket Thursday, is making this area a hub for space flight. The Eastern Shore's location also gives it an edge over places like Florida.
"It's very optimal in that geographic location. The incline orbits, when you send a satellite up and they're going to take pictures or do what they do, services most of the population of the world and so that really is a draw for customers," said Leszczysnski.
A draw to visitors along the Eastern Shore, too, helping the local economy.
"The people up on the Eastern Shore are wonderful. Chincoteague is a great area, so when folks come out to see the launches, you can also enjoy a kayak trip and some good seafood," said Leszczysnski.
And now that the space station will stay in orbit until at least 2024, Wallops Island will continue to play an important role, as rockets send cargo there and keep space exploration alive.
"It's all these people's dreams you know, wrapped into that rocket, that it's going to go and complete a mission. There's just something about that - something about realizing human dream," said Leszczysnski.
The Virginia General Assembly created the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority in 1995.