June 1, 1968
Owner / Operator:
U.S. Department of Defense
Cape Canaveral, Florida, US
3 m (10 ft)
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station has played host to a number of milestones of the United States space programme. The first US Earth satellite, the first US astronaut, and the first US astronaut to orbit Earth all launched from the facility along with many other landmark missions. The facility is located on 1,325 acres of coastline in Florida. It sits adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center with bridges and causeways linking both facilities.
Originally founded under the name the Joint Long Range Proving Ground (JLRPG) on June 1, 1948, the facility was created on the former grounds of the United States Navy’s Banana River Naval Air Station. The base, including the land and all facilities, were transferred from the Navy to the Air Force with JLRPG’s founding. Over the next three years, the name of the facility would be changed several times until 1951, it was established as the Air Force Missile Test Center.
Over the next decade, the facility would launch several suborbital rockets including the Viking 12 sounding rocket. When NASA was founded in 1958, Air Force personnel, who were already well versed in launching rockets were utilized to launch missions at the facility on behalf of the fledgeling agency. The facility was used to launch Redstone, Jupiter, Titan and Thor missiles for NASA, the last of which would become the basis for the Delta expendable launch vehicle.
As Yuri Gagarin became the first man in history to travel to space in April 1961, the Cape Canaveral facility was gearing up for Project Mercury. Throughout 1961 several manned and unmanned suborbital test flights were launched from the facility. Then, in 1962 it played host to the launch of the first American astronaut to space, Alan Shepard.
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. In a bid to commemorate his short but impactful time as president, Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order 11129 that named both Cape Canaveral and the Merritt Island facility after the late president. However, this caused immediate confusion and before long the former was renamed the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the name it retains to this day. The Merritt Island facility would retain the late president’s name ensuring Kennedy’s continued association with the United States space programme.
Today, Cape Canaveral’s launch facilities are utilised almost exclusively by commercial entities. United Launch Alliance launches their Delta IV and Atlas V rockets from SLC-37 and SLC-17. SLC-40 is utilised by SpaceX to launch their Falcon 9 rocket. SLC-47 is used to launch weather sounding rockets and SLC-46 has been reserved by Space Florida, the aerospace development agency of Florida. Additionally, Blue Origin has leased SLC-36 to launch their next generation New Glenn rocket. With the continued activity both commercial and civic, it’s clear that Cape Canaveral Air Force Base will continue to play a significant role in the United States aerospace industry.