BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — How has business on Florida's Space Coast changed in the nine years since the last space shuttle mission?

What You Need To Know

  • Shuttle program's sunset affected businesses on Florida's Space Coast

  • Owner of one business, Space Shirts, said they had their best year in 2019

The ramping up of commercial spaceflight could not have come at a better time in the wake of the program's retirement.

From shuttle mission STS 26 in September 1988 to STS 135 in 2011, Brenda Mulberry and her Space Shirts team in Merritt Island cranked out shuttle mission-themed shirts.

"We were designing and printing a T-shirt for every shuttle launch," Mulberry told Spectrum News. "There was a period of time when we printed shirts every month (because) we had a shuttle launch every month."

It all came to an end when Atlantis landed for the final time at the Kennedy Space Center nine years ago.

"We were worried about what we would do afterward," Mulberry says.

In the midst of uncertainty on the Space Coast, which was so heavily reliant on shuttle missions, it meant her business would have to adapt or fade away like so many others when the shuttle program wound down.

“We were trying to do more generic things, keep space history items," Mulberry says.

Lynda Weatherman, president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast, says the entire area needed to adapt​ to the changing industry.

"We could be better off if we were smart and aggressive," she says.

The push for commercial space flight took off to plug the gap. Companies such as Boeing, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance led the charge, and launches began soaring consistently again.

Weatherman says the key in economic development is diversification.

"Now we are launching, we're making the launch vehicles, and the products going on the launch vehicles," she says. "All of that happening in a nine-year period is quite remarkable."

Equally remarkable are the adaptations small businesses such as Space Shirts has made.​

"Honestly, last year was the best year we ever had in business," Mulberry says.