Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

By Aviation: From Sand Dunes to Sonic Booms
Saturn [SA-3] lifting off from Launch Complex 34
Saturn [SA-3] lifting off from Launch Complex 34 Photo courtesy of NASA

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida has played an important role in the space program and missile testing in the United States. In 1947 Cape Canaveral Air Force Station was selected as the site for a U.S. Missile Testing Range. The first missile, a German V-2 rocket, was launched on July 14, 1950. During the following three years, facilities were constructed for the testing of cruise-type missile weapons including the Matador, Snark and Bomark. Launch Complex 5/6, constructed in 1955 for the Redstone missile testing program and subsequently used for the Jupiter C, Juno I, Juno II and Mercury/Redstone missiles, launched Alan Shepard in Freedom 7 on May 5, 1961 and Gus Grissom inLiberty Bell 7 on July 21, 1961. Launch Complex 26 launched Explorer I, the first U.S. satellite, on January 31, 1958 and was the site of the launch of primates Ham, Gordo, Able and Baker in tests that paved the way for Alan Shepard's Mercury flight. The Atlas, the nation's first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), utilized Launch Complexes 13 and 14. On December 18, 1958 an entire Atlas vehicle, Project Score, was placed into orbit carrying a tape-recorded message from President Eisenhower that was relayed to the world.

A total of 10 Gemini launches were flown from Complex 19 in 1965 and 1966, marking the beginning of sophisticated manned space flight. Two of the largest and most advanced launch facilities built at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) were Launch Complexes 34 and 37. Here, the first of 15 launches of the Saturn space vehicle occurred on October 27, 1961. Launch Complex 34 was also the site of the January 27, 1967, fire that claimed the lives of astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffe.These complexes went on to launch the first series of the three-man Apollo space flights.

However, a gradual decline occurred in most operations at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which could no longer house new rocket facilities. Most operations, including the remainder of the Apollo launches, were transferred to nearby John F. Kennedy Space Center. The Cape Canaveral Air Force Station includes discontiguous sites and encompasses six launch pads, a mobile service tower and the original Mission Control Center that was used for all Mercury flights and the first three Gemini flights. 

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Last updated: August 29, 2017