Photo above: Astronaut John Glenn pictured above with President John F. Kennedy looking inside the Mercury Space Capsule in 1962. Right: Kennedy Space Center with Shuttle approaching the launch pad. Photo courtesy NASA.
From its initial days in the lexicon of the United States, Cape Canaveral, NASA, and the space program has been adding to the modern view of history, by making much of its own. From the time Buck Rogers strapped himself to a movie rocket and blasted into space, the world has been fascinated with what was out beyond the stars. As the cold war moved through its inevitable phase of increased munitions and accomplishments, it was natural that it would lead to a space race as well. Cape Canaveral witnessed its first launch on July 24, 1950 with the Bumper mission.
- Then and Now
- Things You Should Not Miss
But it was the Soviet Union that made the initial giant leaps in space exploration when it launched Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the first satellite to circle earth, then followed that with the first man to do the same on April 12, 1961. With these two advances, the mission of the United States and NASA was known. It must beat the Russians to other firsts; to put a man on the moon, to find out more about the movements in the sky, to gain an advantage in the use of space for military purposes and defense, and how to harness it better than their counterpart in Moscow. It was at Cape Canaveral that this history would take place, from its triumphs to its tragedies, from Mercury through the Space Shuttle, from missions to the moon and Mars, and into the future. The astronaut program would launch with what would become famous names: Alan B. Sheppard, Jr., John Glenn.
As NASA moved from the Mercury missions to Gemini and then to the Apollo programs, it became a stated goal, as explained by President Kennedy (see excerpt below) as a national priority to put a man on the moon. The goal, which seemed unattainable when uttered, was achieved less than a decade later. The picture above of earth is from the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. The achievement have been many, with more to come, with tragedies of large proportion along the way. The current era, with the Space Shuttle undergoing some of its final missions, and the International Space Station will give way to new challenges. And somewhere, probably at Space Camp, the new astronauts are forming their visions of new frontiers in space and a future of historic achievements for them to make. There will likely be a vacation to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center to check out NASA's past and present, before then.
Historic Dates of the Space Program
October 1, 1958 - NASA begins operation.
May 5, 1961 - First manned suborbital flight by Alan Shepard. It lasted 14.8 minutes.
February 20, 1962 - John Glenn became the first American to circle the earth in space.
March 23, 1965 - First manned two-man Gemini flight by John Young and Virgil Grissom.
May 30, 1966 - First American surveyer launches for its first landing on the moon three days later in the Ocean of Storms. January 27, 1967 - Apollo 1 fire on the launch pad kills Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger B. Chaffee.
July 20, 1969 - At 4:18 p.m. EST, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil A. Armstrong take "one small step for man - one giant leap for mankind" when he becomes the first man to step on the moon.
May 14, 1973 - Skylab Space Station launched into orbit.
April 12, 1981 - The first Space Shuttle, Columbia, flies into orbit.
January 28, 1986 - Space Shuttle Challenger disaster shortly after launch kills seven astronauts.
October 31, 2000 - The first expedition of the International Space Station begins its 136 day mission with U.S. astronaut William M. Shepherd and Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gidzendko and Sergei Krikalev.
February 1, 2003 - The Space Shuttle Columbia explodes during its descent, losing seven astronauts in the tragedy.
January 4, 2004 - The first of two mobile labs, Spirit and Discovery, lands on the surface of Mars, discoving that water had at one time existed on the planet, possibly supporting life.
Cape Canaveral Then
President John F. Kennedy Moon Speech, Excerpt
May 25, 1961
First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations--explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon--if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.
Cape Canaveral Now
Cape Canaveral and the Space Program Today - Although the public seems to treat each launch of the Space Shuttle with less enthusiasm than in the days of Apollo, the mission of the National Aeronautic and Space Association remains the same at the Kennedy Space Center. Whether it be with the Space Shuttle, unmanned missions to Mars, or its cooperation with other nations at the Space Station on research and development, the mission to push the envelope of science and exploration of the unknown is still important and dangerous. Technological applications to every day items, while they may be unknown when first utilized in the space program, become common goods within a decade. Cape Canaveral remains the main location for much of this effort, twinned with the Johnson Space Center in Houston, to take us to the far reaches of the next century, making history in the sky like its predecessors.
More than 13,500 people work at the Kennedy Space Center today.
1. Kennedy Space Center Complex. Although like many admission prices, this one is a bit steep, there is a whole lot to do here, and the ticket is good for two days. IMAX theaters, exhibits, shows, flight simulators, and bus tours, plus the Astronaut Hall of Fame.
2. Although it is dependent on the day of your arrival, and you can check on the schedule of flights at the Kennedy Space Center website, witness the lauch of a space flight. I'm sure it will be a breathtaking experience.
3. The area around Cape Canaveral is full of things to do, including wildlife, beaches, and, yes, forty-five minutes away, that Disney mouse and his world.