Glenn's Flight Brings In Bucks

John Glenn's second trip into space may have scientific interest for some and sentimental value for many, but on Florida's Space Coast they have other, more Earth-bound reasons to love the 77-year-old astronaut.

Twenty million of them, in fact.

Heidi Brandow, president of the Cocoa Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said Thursday's launch of the shuttle Discovery is expected to be a $20 million boon for Brevard County.

More visitors also mean more security, reports Correspondent Yvonne Martinez of CBS affiliate WKMG. The Kennedy Space Center has been under heightened security since August, when the U.S. bombed two terrorist sites overseas. Add to that John Glenn, a national hero, two shuttles on the pad, and countless U.S. dignitaries and you've got a prime target.

So, armed security officers watch everyone and everything coming through the gates. Every available officer is on duty, looking for not just a terrorist threat but anything suspicious.

That's what comes of having 250,000 people invade an area in which 600,000 people live, filling every hotel, eating at every restaurant and buying every souvenir, no matter how tacky.

"It's getting to be crazy around here," said Catherine Murphy, retail director of the Space Shop at the Kennedy Space Center's visitor complex. At 13,000 square feet, it's the largest space stuff store in the world.

The top sellers? Anything that has John Glenn or the crew or insignia of his shuttle mission, STS-95.

"Pins, magnets, patches, T-shirts. We have it all," said Ms. Murphy, as she carried a box of John Glenn Hot Wheels figures. "They're flying out of the store."

The demand is 10 times more than for a normal shuttle mission, she said. "Instead of having 10 different items, we have 60."

There are the many, many T-shirts. "Legends are forever," reads one. "Once is not enough. Do it again John Glenn," reads another.

But there are a few special items. For just $95, the true John Glenn fanatic can buy an "authentic, collectible" button from Glenn's futile run for the presidency in 1984.

Many shoppers were not planning to be at the launch, and most claimed to be buying T-shirts for grandchildren.

Rose and Les Booker of Kissimee were at Space Shirts, south of the space center. They said they had driven 80 miles just to buy shirts for grandsons Kevin, Tony, and Justin. And, oh yes, how about a commemorative Glenn envelope (50 cents) for each boy?

"You gotta tell them in advance that they don't have any checks in them," Booker said.

At Space Shirts, they're working double shifts to keep up with demand, according to office manager Ann McClure. The shirts are printed right there and sold soon after they come off the presses; in the end, the shop expects to sell more than 15,000.

Th "then-and-now shirt" which features the Glenn of 1962 on the front and Glenn and his 1998 cohorts on the back "is selling astronomically," saleswoman Angel Denyer said.

Space Shirts also is selling patches and stickers and the like, but it too offers an unusual item: a shuttle launch countdown manual, 1,160 mostly incomprehensible pages of computer printout for the launch junkie. That goes for $15.

There are, of course, other ways to make money off the Discovery launch. Some lots on the mainland are charging $25 a night for parking spots for RVs (no amenities). Delaware North, the company that runs the visitor's complex at the space center, is charging $20 for a T-shirt and a spot to watch the launch; all 10,000 tickets have been sold.

The King's Duck Inn on Merritt Island is advertising a "Godspeed Discovery-Glenn Launch Party." Manager Lee Biscontini promises cocktail-hour prices all day, and finger food. The TVs, usually tuned to sporting events, will show Glenn instead.

"Everybody's in a festive mood," he said.

Fat Boy's Bar-B-Q in Titusville, meanwhile, is offering a launch-linked promotion: "Astronauts over 75 eat free."