This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

The Cape

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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.

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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.

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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.

United Launch Alliance images of the Atlas V rocket being transported to the pad.

United Launch Alliance images of the Atlas V rocket being transported to the pad.

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.

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The final Space Shuttle launch

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 A new chapter in space flight began in July 1950 with the launch of the first rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida: the Bumper 8. Shown above. Bumper 8 was an ambitious two-stage rocket program that topped a V-2 missile base with a WAC Corporal rocket. The upper stage was able to reach then-record altitudes of almost 400 kilometers, higher than even modern Space Shuttles fly today.  Launched under the direction of the General Electric Company, the Bumper Project was used primarily for testing rocket systems and for research on the upper atmosphere.  Bumper rockets carried small payloads that allowed them to measure attributes including air temperature and cosmic ray impacts.


A new chapter in space flight began in July 1950 with the launch of the first rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida: the Bumper 8. Shown above.
Bumper 8 was an ambitious two-stage rocket program that topped a V-2 missile base with a WAC Corporal rocket. The upper stage was able to reach then-record altitudes of almost 400 kilometers, higher than even modern Space Shuttles fly today. Launched under the direction of the General Electric Company, the Bumper Project was used primarily for testing rocket systems and for research on the upper atmosphere. Bumper rockets carried small payloads that allowed them to measure attributes including air temperature and cosmic ray impacts.

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August 1991 Cape Canaveral, Florida, and the NASA John F. Kennedy Space Center are shown is this near-vertical photograph. Numerous launch pads line the Atlantic Ocean coast near the center of the photograph. To the north of the multiple launch pads, the Space Shuttle landing runway, the Shuttle Assembly Area, and Shuttle Launch Pads A and B are visible. To the south of the multiple launch pads are Port Canaveral and the city of Cocoa Beach, Florida.

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.

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