A sheriff in Florida has invited residents to come out and watch a manned space launch set for late May, dismissing pleas from both NASA and SpaceX urging spectators to stay home to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Sheriff Wayne Ivey of Brevard County – where the launch site is located – insisted that anyone who wanted to witness the event at the Kennedy Space Center should do so without worry, despite advice from NASA to watch remotely.

“We are not going to keep the great Americans that want to come watch that from coming here,” Ivey said on Friday, calling on people to “come here just like you have for all the other beautiful launches we’ve had. And enjoy it.”

If NASA is telling people to not come here and watch the launch, that’s on them. I’m telling people what I believe as an American. And so NASA has got their guidelines, and I got mine.

Ivey – an ally of US President Donald Trump, who has also questioned Covid-19 containment measures in some states – didn’t entirely dismiss fears of the lethal virus, however, advising that launch-watchers should practice “family social distancing” and remain in small groups.

.@SheriffIvey or @JimBridenstine? Who will the public listen to regarding coming out to watch the biggest rocket launch in a decade? @NASA, @SpaceX@Commercial_Crew#Demo2 scheduled May 27 with @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug on board

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told a news conference earlier on Friday that “we don’t want an outbreak,” voicing concerns that hundreds of thousands of spectators could flock to the space center to see the launch, risking further spread of the coronavirus.

“The challenge that we’re up against right now is we want to keep everybody safe,” Bridenstine said. “And so we’re asking people not to travel to the Kennedy Space Center, and I will tell you that makes me sad to even say it. Boy, I wish we could make this into something really spectacular.”

Gwynne Shotwell, the president of SpaceX – which partnered with NASA for the mission, providing its Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rockets to bring two astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) – said much the same, asking people to “be there for the ride with us,” but “in spirit more so than in physical space.”

A number of netizens did not react well to the suggestion, however, some outright refusing to obey the request to stay away from the space center.

No. We will go to a park or roadside to watch the historic.launch.

I live in Orlando and if I’m not back to work by launch day then I absolutely will be beachside watching this!

He’s a real winner.

But Ivey’s remarks also had some users fuming, one accusing the sheriff of throwing “the public safety and NASA community under the bus.”

Our sheriff just threw the rest of the public safety and NASA community under the bus, said everyone should come to watch.

I hear they might have some evidence in places like New York and Italy. Go record a video of you reading the names of the dead, say they’re only numbers, and ask survivors and loved ones to comment…

“Why would you contradict [NASA and SpaceX’s] request for the public to not attend the launch?” one critic asked. “This sends a conflicting and dangerous message that has the potential to add security, health and other risks to a very important launch.”

Set for May 27, the mission represents the first manned space launch from US soil in nearly 10 years. American astronauts have relied on Russian Soyuz rockets for trips to the ISS since NASA shuttered its space shuttle program in 2011, paying sizable fees to secure seats on the spacecraft.

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