Cape Canaveral

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Cape Canaveral

It’s hard to think of the White Sands region of New Mexico as confining. It covers thousands of square miles, and few people live there. In the late 1940s, though, the U.S. military was feeling hemmed in. It was launching rockets from White Sands. They could go high, but they couldn’t go very far without flying over towns or cities — a possible danger to residents.

So Congress passed a bill establishing the Joint Long-Range Proving Ground at Cape Canaveral, on the Atlantic coast of Florida. President Harry Truman signed it into law 75 years ago today.

“The Cape,” as it’s been known for most of those years, offered many advantages. The region had a small population, the climate wasn’t too extreme, and there were thousands and thousands of miles of ocean to plop rockets into. Launches to orbit have benefited from its southern location — rockets get a “boost” from Earth’s rotation.

It took a year to clear away some of the scrub and build the early launch pads. The U.S. Army launched its first rocket there in July of 1950 — an American-built version of the German V-2 terror weapon.

Since then, thousands of rockets have taken flight from the Cape and the facilities on nearby Merritt Island. They’ve sent satellites into orbit, astronauts to the Moon, and probes to all the planets of the solar system — and beyond. And today, the facilities are busier than ever — at the first American spaceport.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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