July 24, 1950: First Launch from Cape Canaveral
The first successful rocket launch occurs at Cape Canaveral. The rocket, Bumper 8, was a captured German V-2 modified with a US Army Corporal second stage.
Cape Canaveral’s location in the southeast is an ideal site for rocket launches. The Cape was chosen to take advantage of the Earth’s rotation. The linear velocity of the Earth’s surface is greatest towards the equator; the relatively southerly location of the cape allows rockets to take advantage of this by launching eastward, in the same direction as the Earth’s rotation. It is also highly desirable to have the downrange area sparsely populated, in case of accidents; an ocean is ideal for this. The east coast of Florida has logistical advantages over potential competing sites. The Spaceport Florida Launch Complex 46 of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is at the tip of the cape.
It was named by Spanish explorers in the first half of the 16th century as Cabo Cañareal. The name “Canaveral” (Cañaveral in Spanish, meaning “reed bed” or “sugarcane plantation”) is the third oldest surviving European place name in the US.
From 1963 to 1973 the area had a different name as US President Lyndon Johnson by executive order renamed the area “Cape Kennedy.” President John F. Kennedy set the goal of landing on the moon. After his assassination in 1963, his widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, suggested to President Lyndon Johnson that renaming the Cape Canaveral facility would be an appropriate memorial. Johnson recommended the renaming of the entire cape, announced in a televised address six days after the assassination. Accordingly, Cape Canaveral was officially renamed Cape Kennedy.
Although the name change was approved by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names of the Interior Department in December 1963, it was not popular in Florida, especially in the neighboring city of Cape Canaveral. In 1973, the Florida Legislature passed a law restoring the former 400-year-old name, and the Board went along. The name restoration to Cape Canaveral became official on October 9, 1973. The Kennedy family issued a letter stating they “understood the decision”. NASA’s Kennedy Space Center retains the “Kennedy” name.
1965 Newsreel of a Titan Launch
Also on this day at 12:51 EDT, Kennedy’s goal is accomplished. Apollo 11, the U.S. spacecraft that had taken the first astronauts to the surface of the moon, safely returns to Earth on this day in 1969.