Florida and the Apollo Program
Building the Space Coast
While NASA was preparing for the moonshot, Florida—especially the area just outside the Cape—was rapidly transforming. Brevard County more than doubled its population in the 1960s, with most of the newcomers moving into Eau Gallie, Titusville, Melbourne or Cocoa. Contractors working on specific components of the Saturn rockets and the Apollo spacecraft fanned out across Central and South Florida. General Electric set up its Apollo Support Department in Daytona Beach. Aerojet-General had a plant in Homestead. Honeywell and Sperry-Rand built electronic components in St. Petersburg.
Floridians took pride in their ever-increasing involvement in the Space Race, and it proved to be very marketable as well. Organizations from law fraternities to the Cub Scouts adopted space-related themes for their conferences and parties. Space-themed businesses popped up around the state, like Club Sputnik in Fort Myers, the Orbit Motel in Daytona and Gemini Apartments in Cape Coral. Entire subdivisions were developed with aeronautical flair, Rocket City near Orlando being perhaps one of the largest and most ambitious. While many of these neighborhoods lost their space flavor over time, the street names are still a testament to the Space Age enthusiasm that accompanied their construction.
Public institutions bought into the space coast identity just as enthusiastically as private businesses did. Eau Gallie’s city government began using the slogan “Gateway to the Space Program,” while Melbourne called itself the “Crossroads to the Universe.” Cocoa Beach was the “Free World Space Center, U.S.A.” Melbourne High School claimed to offer “Education on the Threshold of Space.” Rockets, spacecraft and the Moon became part of many local governments’ seals and letterheads.
Eager to cash in on the average American’s curiosity about the space program, chambers of commerce and promoters in East Central Florida began to advertise opportunities for space tourism. By the mid-1960s the term “space coast” was being widely used by both realtors and advertisers to identify the section of Florida’s Atlantic coast roughly from Daytona Beach down to Fort Pierce. Communities noted their proximity to Cape Canaveral and urged visitors to get the best of both worlds during their vacation—a relaxing time on the beach and the excitement of a rocket launch at the Space Center.
In the early days of the space program, no visitors were allowed near the Cape facilities. In 1963, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara eased up on these restrictions by allowing visitors to drive through the Cape Canaveral area on Sunday afternoons. The following year, the protocol office at Kennedy Space Center began conducting tours of the Cape, including launch complexes 34 and 39. These early tours were restricted to family members of NASA workers and contractors, but each of the first two still attracted more than 200 guests. In 1965, NASA opened up the tours to the general public and more than 1,900 attended the first one. By 1967, the visitor count had risen to more than a million, and NASA decided to establish a Visitors Information Center. In the ensuing decades, space-related simulators and attractions began to appear near the Kennedy Space Center, and NASA itself began offering Space Camp to youngsters interested in spending a few days up close and personal with the space program.