NASA Tightens Space Shuttle Launch Security

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

( - If you are thinking of traveling to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for next month's launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour and hope to get a good seat in the area surrounding the center, you had better think again. NASA has imposed new launch security restrictions in the wake of last month's terrorist attacks against New York and Washington.

"It's because of the terrorist threat," said NASA spokesman George Diller at the Kennedy Space Center.

In the past, the space agency has allowed those with "car passes" to drive their cars into a restricted area of the NASA causeway near Cape Canaveral to view launches. Other than news media and NASA employees, it is the closest point from which shuttle watchers can observe launches. The causeway is about seven miles from the launching pad.

Requests for such car passes usually number in the thousands and are given out on a first come, first serve basis.

But NASA officials now say they are suspending the longtime tradition because of security reasons.

"The car passes are not going to be honored. And we are not giving out any car passes right now at all for any of the future launches. However, the (Kennedy Space Center) visitor complex is still going to be taking buses out to the (NASA) Causeway and you can purchase a viewing ticket through the visitor complex to go out to the causeway," said Diller.

Shuttle watchers can pay $15 for a launch viewing ticket and be bused to a viewing area from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex or for $35.50 they can purchase a combined launch viewing ticket and admission to the visitor complex.

"The tickets for this upcoming launch have already sold, but they will be available for the launch next February," Diller said.

He added that people entering the visitor complex now have to pass though a metal detector and have their bags searched. Also, they are no longer allowed to bring in coolers or backpacks.

When asked if NASA's new policy will be permanent, Diller said, "They really haven't said. They have said this is the way we are going to operate until the circumstances change. But they really didn't say that they were going to look at this, launch by launch. They said here's the policy that we are going to be following and we'll review it when it looks like we are under a different set of circumstances."

The terrorist threat has caused changes to NASA's usually open policy for the news media as well. Diller said journalists are no longer being allowed to work at the news media site at the Space Center because of new security restrictions. In the past, many reporters have worked at that site between launches.

The Space Shuttle Endeavour is set for launch on Thursday, November 29.