This lesson has been reviewed and approved by CPALMS.
The Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the first man-made satellite, into space in 1957. Americans watched the Soviet satellite beeping and blinking across the American night sky. Sputnik I weighed only 184 pounds and could do little more than beep, but many people worried that this meant the United States was losing the race to develop space technology.
Pressure exploded from United States politicians and the American public demanding that the country catch up and increase investment in rocket technology and aeronautics.
Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson used his influence to push the Aeronautics and Space Act through Congress the following year. President Dwight D. Eisenhower used the authority granted by this act to establish the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on October 1, 1958. When John F. Kennedy took office as President in 1961, he committed the United States to the goal of landing a human on the moon.
Cape Canaveral, Florida, was geographically very well suited to become 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.
Project Mercury was the first human spaceflight program of the United States. The goals of the program were to place a manned spacecraft in orbit around Earth, investigate man's performance capabilities and ability to function in space, and recover both man and spacecraft safely.
NASA established a new space launch center on Brevard County's Cape Canaveral in 1962, which had been used as a missile testing center. The next year, President Lyndon B. Johnson renamed the center in honor of the recently assassinated John F. Kennedy, calling it the Kennedy Space Center. Cape Canaveral was also known as Cape Kennedy from 1963 to 1973.
Apollo 8 was the first human spaceflight mission to travel to, but not land on, Earth's moon. The crew of Apollo 10 also orbited the moon but did not land. The Apollo 11 mission finally achieved a moon landing. On July 20, 1969, Commander Neil Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr. landed in the Sea of Tranquility and became the first humans to walk on the moon.
One of the greatest achievements witnessed at the Kennedy Space Center was the successful development and repeated launching of reusable orbiting spacecraft, the space shuttles. More than a hundred space shuttle flights have sent astronauts into orbit to study space and map the earth, construct and outfit the International Space Center, successfully deploy the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and perform ongoing repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope.
The Space Age changed Florida forever. Thousands of new workers moved to the state and transformed Cape Canaveral into a hub of aeronautics, electronics design and manufacturing.
Cities near the Cape, such as Titusville, Cocoa, Melbourne and Orlando, grew rapidly in population. Factories manufacturing crucial products for the space programs emerged all over the state. Space exploration and related industries pumped billions of dollars of federal funding into Florida's economy.
The National Defense Education Act of 1958 provided federal funding for education, especially in mathematics, science, engineering and modern foreign languages. New science and math programs were created, and existing programs were strengthened, as money poured in to educate Floridians to work in the space industry.
Space became an integral part of Florida’s culture. Communities near Cape Canaveral promoted Florida’s “Space Coast” as a new and exciting destination for tourists. Motels, restaurants and even housing developments adopted space-related themes to capture the interest of visitors and potential new residents. Developers and chambers of commerce emphasized Florida’s role in the space industry to attract new people and new businesses to their communities.
After the successful Apollo launches and subsequent change in direction of NASA’s mission and goals, major portions of NASA personnel and members of the area’s space-related workforce left for high-tech and military career opportunities in the Pacific Northwest, southern California and the northeastern states. However, thousands of native Floridians and recruited workers stayed following decades of serving the nation’s drive to explore space.
An entire generation of space-industry workers retired in the Space Coast area. Other initiatives, such as environmental services, including the development of solar energy technology, attracted even more skilled workers to the Space Coast. After five decades of space age development, Florida remains one of the nation’s centers for technology and manufacturing industries and still serves as the home of one of the world's most significant spaceports.
This film starts with a Mercury launch sequence. It shows a thriving aerospace industry in its prime. The film shows recreation, educational centers, and corporations and their space-related products. It describes the economic, cultural and population booms. The film was sponsored by the Florida Development Commission.
Questions for students: