July 1, 1962
Owner / Operator:
Merritt Island, Florida, US
3 m (10 ft)
The John F. Kennedy Space Center is one of the world’s premier launch facilities. The 144,000-acre facility has played host to the Apollo 11 moon mission, many of the Space Shuttle missions, and the growth of commercial space operations. Today, the Kennedy Space Center is poised to become the centre of the United States’ revitalised crewed space program with the SpaceX Crew Dragon, and NASA’s own SLS all set to launch from the facility in the coming years.
In December 1959, 5,000 personnel and the Missile Firing Laboratory were transferred by the Department of Defense from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to NASA. Along with the transfer, the Launch Operations Directorate was formed to manage the facility under NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC). In 1961, John F. Kennedy announced the United States’ intent to launch a manned mission to the moon. The ambitious goal required the construction of expanded launch facilities and as a result, the Launch Operations Directorate was separated from the MSFC and renamed the Launch Operations Centre, a precursor to the Kennedy Space Center.
In 1962, NASA began to purchase land on and around Merritt Island buying approximately 240 square kilometers (131 square miles). An additional 230 square kilometers (87 square miles) was given to NASA by the state of Florida. In November 1962 construction of the site’s major buildings designed by architect Charles Luckman) began. During construction, President Kennedy visited the site twice in 1962 and once more 1963 just a week before his assassination.
A week after Kennedy was assassinated, President Lyndon B. Johnson renamed the facility the John F. Kennedy Space Center with Executive Order 11129. Originally, the order called for both the Merritt Island facility and Cape Canaveral to be renamed after Kennedy. However, this caused confusion and Cape Canaveral was renamed Cape Kennedy Air Force Station soon after and then later returned to its original name, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Today, the historic Launch Complex 39A is the only launch facility still active at the Kennedy Space Center. The launchpad is managed by SpaceX who regularly use it to launch their Falcon 9 launch vehicle. The pad also played host to the Falcon Heavy’s maiden launch and will likely see additional Heavy flights in the near future.
Looking to the future, Launch Complex 39B that had previously been used for both Saturn and Space Shuttle launches will host NASA’s new SLS launch vehicle. Additionally, Northrop Grumman will be launching their OmegA launch vehicle from 39B. Launch Complex 49 (previously 39C) will likely be utilised by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to launch their next-generation New Glenn vehicle.