Florida and the Apollo Program
Florida After Apollo
When Apollo 11 launched successfully on July 16, 1969, Floridians celebrated. When Neil Armstrong took that first step onto the surface of the Moon four days later, they cheered even louder. It was a remarkable achievement for the United States and in many ways for Florida as well. Still, amid all of the glory was a bit of anxiety. What would the space program look like now that Apollo’s mission had been accomplished? NASA was a big employer, as were the companies it contracted with, but would they stay that way? Even before Apollo 11 blasted off for the Moon, there were signs that things would indeed not stay the same.
NASA’s workforce peaked at 25,600 in September 1968 as the agency went into overdrive to achieve its goals by the end of the decade. As the moonshot approached, however, the need for some kinds of work began to decrease, which prompted a drawdown in the number of staff. By the time Apollo 11 launched in 1969, NASA had cut back to 23,600 workers, and soon after the launch it announced that another 5,000 jobs would be gone before the end of the year.
Still, NASA’s work was far from finished. Six more Apollo missions lifted off into space from Florida, five of which landed on the Moon for additional experiments and exploration. The one mission that did not land was Apollo 13, which launched on April 11, 1970. Two days into the mission, an oxygen tank in the service module portion of the spacecraft exploded, prompting lead flight director Gene Kranz to abort the mission. Even in the midst of a tense and dangerous situation, Apollo 13 still managed to set a record. Because NASA opted to bring the astronauts home on a trajectory circling the Moon and taking advantage of its gravitational pull to swing the craft back to Earth, the ship ended up passing over the far side of the Moon at an altitude of 137 nautical miles above the lunar surface. That was and still remains the farthest any human has ever traveled from Earth.
Apollo 17, a 12-day mission that launched on December 7, 1972, was the final flight of the program. By that time, NASA was concentrating on new goals—particularly the Skylab space station. The idea for such a station had stuck around since the days when Wernher von Braun had suggested one as a halfway-point for missions to the Moon. When NASA opted to go with a different method, work on the space station idea went to the back burner. Skylab returned to the forefront when Apollo began wrapping up its work in the early 1970s. Cape workers were glad—this meant the manned space flight program and the jobs it sustained would continue for at least a few more years. Components of Skylab began arriving at the Cape in July 1972, and the station was launched into space aboard a Saturn V rocket on May 14, 1973. Three crews with a collective total of nine astronauts worked in Skylab over the next year, conducting scientific experiments and demonstrating that humans could live in space for extended periods of time.
Since Skylab, Kennedy Space Center has been the launch site for numerous other space missions, including 135 space shuttle flights. The space shuttle, unlike its predecessor spacecraft, was reusable and designed to land on a runway like a jet. Most missions returned to Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral upon reentry, although 54 of the landings were at Edwards Air Force Base in California, and one landed at White Sands, New Mexico.
Florida continues to play a critical role in space exploration and space-related industries. In May 2006, the Florida Legislature passed the Space Florida Act, which consolidated three existing state agencies geared toward attracting space-related jobs and capital projects to the Sunshine State. The new combined Space Florida organization manages a wide variety of properties in and around Cape Canaveral. As of 2017, space-related industries employed more than 130,000 Floridians in more than 17,000 companies. Payroll and other investments from this tremendous economic activity accounted for $19 billion in revenue.