Exploring Cape Canaveral

On July 11th 2011, the Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down in Cape Canaveral from its last mission, ending the era of the 30-year Space Shuttle program. The retirement of the shuttle in 2011 left the United States without the ability to send astronauts into orbit for the first time since the early 1980s, leading some to wonder whether America was abandoning its leadership in space travel. Take a tour through the past, present and future of space travel with the Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archives.  

On March 5, 1958, a Special Committee on Space and Aeronautics was formed by Congress and chaired by House majority leader John W. McCormack, with the objective of founding a space agency. This agency was named NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 


On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy began a crusade that would thrust the space program to new heights when he challenged the nation to claim a leadership role in space and land a man on the Moon before the end of the decade. The Soviet Union, America’s rival in the Cold War, had surged ahead of the United States with spectacular achievements in space that struck fear into the hearts of many American citizens. Soviet leaders hailed these feats as a triumph of Communism.  America responded with one of the greatest mobilizations of resources and manpower in U.S. history. Eight years later, on July 20, 1969, two American astronauts walked on the Moon.

After the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, President Lyndon Johnson renamed the area “Cape Kennedy.” Johnson also recommended the renaming of the entire cape. The decision was announced in a televised address six days after the assassination when Cape Canaveral was officially renamed Cape Kennedy.

Cape Canaveral was originally named “Cabo Cañaveral”400 years ago.  People in the region and some historians disliked the name change.  It is, after all, a prominent geographic feature. In 1973, after several years of nudging by historians, local residents, and the Florida Legislature, the name was quietly changed back to Cape Canaveral. 

Soon space travel may once again be on the horizon. Several commercial space travel companies are competing to corner the market on space tourism and send you into space. Blue Origin, a new space flight company created by Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon.com, recently leased Launch Complex 36 in Cape Canaveral to build a launch pad for their orbital launch vehicle. The aeronautics company aims to create 330 jobs and invest $200 million in order to make Florida its operational base for production of their new BE-4-powered orbital launch vehicle.

Blue Origin plans to lower the cost of space flight by manufacturing reusable rockets on a 139-acre site in a section of the Kennedy Space Center called Exploration Park. Their launch system is built to fly up to six people into suborbital space, with the capsule returning to Earth under parachutes while its booster lands vertically using the same BE-3 rocket engine it uses for launch. As of March 2016, the first Blue Origin launch from LC36 is scheduled for 2020. The aeronautics company plans to sell tickets for space tourism flights on the capsule, but has not yet released a price for those outer space joy rides.

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