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An Empty Florida Beach Becomes a Spaceport

Cape Canaveral, Florida, was geographically very well suited as the location for America’s spaceport. It was a sparsely populated strip of flat land facing the ocean. Railroads and ships could bring in the materials to build the launch pad and space station. The Caribbean islands were near enough for monitoring and communication stations.

Mission Control Operator Gene Kranz said, “we could depend only on a learning curve that started at a place that wasn't more than a complex of sand, marsh, and new, raw concrete and asphalt. It wasn’t even Kennedy Space Center then. But it was our first classroom and laboratory.” (Gene Kranz, Failure is Not an Option, 13.)

Looking north from the casino: Canova Beach, Brevard County, Florida (1929)

Looking north from the casino: Canova Beach, Brevard County, Florida (1929)

Image number: GE1241b

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

The Soviet Union launched the first man-made satellite into space with the Sputnik Flight of 1957. The United States watched the Soviet satellite beeping and blinking across the American night sky.

Pressure exploded from United States politicians and the American public demanding that the country catch up and increase investment in rocket technology and aeronautics.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on October 1, 1958. Texas Senator Lyndon Johnson, under the president’s direction, spearheaded the “man in space project.”

Rocket engine undergoing tests: Apix, Florida (1958)

Rocket engine undergoing tests: Apix, Florida (1958)

Image number: RC08584

In the late 1950s the government created a fictitious town named Apix (Air Products Incorporated, Experimental) to build and test rocket engines powered by liquid hydrogen in order to keep pace with Soviet Union developments.

Highly classified and requiring a large degree of secrecy, the project was given the code name "Suntan." Land near the testing ground was platted for houses to conceal the true nature of the site. Apix was given a bogus population to add to its cover as a small fertilizer-producing community.

By June 1959, the use of liquid hydrogen was determined to be too costly. The project was abandoned and Apix was dismantled.

Rocket engine developed by Pratt and Whitney Aircraft (1959)

Rocket engine developed by Pratt & Whitney Aircraft (1959)

Image number: RC08589

The Pratt & Whitney Aircraft XLR115 liquid hydrogen fueled rocket engine developed at the Florida Research and Development Center was designed to be used in the Centaur and Saturn Space Vehicles.

View of Atlas Missile 10D with Mercury Capsule installed: Cape Canaveral, Florida (1959)

View of Atlas Missile 10D with Mercury Capsule installed: Cape Canaveral, Florida (1959)

Image number: C038461

Launch of America's first man in space: Cape Canaveral, Florida (1961)

Launch of America's first man in space: Cape Canaveral, Florida (1961)

Image number: RC04805

Alan B. Shepard Jr. flew a sub-orbital trajectory on a Mercury-Redstone vehicle named Freedom 7.

Photographed on May 5, 1961.