Up to 1M Gather for Final Shuttle Launch
A 50-mile traffic jam is expected
By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 8, 2011 3:59 AM CDT
Updated Jul 8, 2011 6:53 AM CDT
The space shuttle Atlantis on Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.    (Getty Images)
camera-icon View 6 more images

(Newser) – Up to 1 million people are converging on Cape Canaveral to see the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis, surprising many with such a level of interest in the 30-year-old space program. A 50-mile traffic jam from the Kennedy Space Center to Orlando is expected today, despite the 70% chance that bad weather will delay the last-ever space shuttle launch. "I always wanted to see one in person, and now I got my chance," a 72-year-old retired Air Force sergeant who drove down from Kentucky tells the Los Angeles Times.

With budget hotel rooms going for $299 per night and souvenir shops packed with shoppers, space enthusiasts say the government has seriously underestimated public support for the space program. "There is no other government activity where 1 million people come to watch," astronaut Chris Hadfield says. "That's a benchmark measure of how people view this." NASA says that if the shuttle can't be launched by Monday, it will have to wait until July 16.