National Aeronautics And Space Administration Formed

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was activated in October, 1958. NASA was formed to assure that the peaceful exploration of space by the U.S. would be conducted by a civilian, not military, organization. NASA immediately contracted with the U.S. military and military contractors to supply the rockets necessary to fulfill its objective of launching civilian satellites and spacecraft. This allowed the military to play an important support role in scientific programs, like the placement of astronauts in space, that no one branch of service could have done on its own.

The primary NASA launch vehicles, including Redstone, Juno, Delta, Atlas, Titan and Saturn were all adapted directly from military programs. NASA also inherited a number of important assets from the military. These included the Army-sponsored Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency design team headed by Wernher von Braun, whose expertise was vital to NASA. Indeed, cooperation between NASA and the military continued into the Space Shuttle program. Without a wealth of funding from the Air Force, it is possible that the Space Shuttle fleet might not have been completed at all.

Most importantly, NASA kept military contractors working long after their missile programs had expired. Production of Delta, Atlas and Titan launch vehicles continue today, primarily because NASA required these missile-based space launch vehicles decades after the missile programs themselves became extinct. NASA was also instrumental in the birth of a brand new commercial launch industry which thrives today. Until 1987, NASA had the sole responsibility for launching commercial satellites. In the wake of the Challenger tragedy, NASA got out of the commercial launch business, allowing rocket manufacturers to establish their own terms for launching commercial payloads.

The NASA Insignia (more commonly referred to as the "meatball") reflects the history and tradition of the Agency and is used in all of the Agency's day-to-day communications materials. Designed in 1959 by former NASA employee James Modarelli, the NASA Insignia contains the following elements:

Cape Canaveral/Kennedy Space Flight Center:

As post-war development of missile weapons progressed, a site became necessary to develop tactics and techniques for guided missile operations, train personnel, test equipment used to operate the missiles and conduct functional and tactical tests of new guided missiles to determine their effectiveness. A suitable facility would need to be relatively isolated from centers of population, provide a large expanse of unpopulated area over which missiles could fly and accommodate the installation of several downrange tracking stations. A base for military operational headquarters would also be required.

Although a missile range had been in operation at White Sands, New Mexico since the close of World War II, this range was only 135 miles long and was perilously close to populated areas. It proved to be too short for newer, more powerful missiles and too risky to support more advanced research and development tests. The dangers of a missile range so close to populated areas would become painfully clear in May, 1947 when a V-2 rocket strayed to the south instead of heading north over the White Sands range. The missile flew directly over El Paso, Texas and eventually crashed into the Tepeyac Cemetery in Juarez, Mexico. The missile impact created a hole 50 feet wide by 30 feet deep. Although no one was injured, the U.S. government caused a minor international incident and had to settle damage claims, many of which were obviously embellished by the local residents. Thankfully, the quest for a new missile range had begun almost a year before this incident.

In October, 1946 the Joint Research and Development Board under the Joint Chiefs of Staff established the Committee on the Long Range Proving Ground to analyze possible locations for a new missile range to be shared by the various branches of the military. Three potential sites emerged. One was based on the coast of northern Washington, with a range along the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. A second was based at El Centro, California, with a range along the coast of Baja, Mexico. A third was based at the Banana River Naval Air Station, with launches from Cape Canaveral and a range over the Atlantic Ocean.

The very traits that kept large numbers of settlers away from Cape Canaveral now made it a perfect site for the establishment of a missile range. Covering 15,000 acres, the Cape was relatively isolated from heavily populated areas, but it was accessible by road, rail and shipping. The weather was also favorable most of the year. The unique location of Cape Canaveral provided a huge over-water flight area removed from populated land masses and shipping lanes, as well as accessible West Indies and South Atlantic island sites for the installation of optical and radar tracking stations. Cape Canaveral also was located near the Equator, which would prove to be an asset in ballistic missile testing and eventually space launches. Rockets launched from the Cape could take advantage of the rotational speed of the Earth, which is greatest at the Equator. The relative position of Cape Canaveral required less rocket engine thrust than would have been necessary elsewhere.

On May 9, 1950 work began under a contract between the Army Corps of Engineers and Duval Engineering Company of Jacksonville, Florida to construct the first permanent access road and launch sites on Cape Canaveral. The first area developed for launch operations became known as Launch Pads 1, 2, 3 and 4. Construction of instrumentation sites and missile handling areas on the Cape was also begun. Initially, military offices were established in existing buildings on Cape Canaveral itself, including abandoned homes. Prior to the completion of a runway and missile handling areas on the Cape, missile hardware was received and handled at the Joint Long Range Proving Ground Base, then trucked to Cape Canaveral for launch.

Although Launch Pads 1, 2, 3 and 4 and their associated support buildings were not all fully completed, the Army scheduled launches of two modified German V-2 rockets for July, 1950. The rockets were called Bumper, and each employed a V-2 rocket as first stage and a Without Any Control (WAC)-Corporal rocket as second stage. The first rocket launch from Cape Canaveral, that of Bumper #8, occurred on July 24, 1950.

As new ballistic missiles were introduced and tested, new facilities at Cape Canaveral were constructed of necessity. From a relatively humble beginning, launch facilities at Cape Canaveral eventually covered a sprawling area literally extending from the top to the bottom of geographic Cape Canaveral.

By the late 1950s, the Cape Canaveral skyline already had distinctive features. Towering gantries rose along "ICBM Row." The various missiles had certain similarities in ground environmental needs and operational requirements. In the test phase, each required an assembly and checkout building, transport from assembly area to launch complex, a launch pad, a gantry service tower, a blockhouse for on-site command and control of the launch, and a network of power, fuel, and communication links that would bring it to life. For a long while, the complexes resembled each other. Igloo shaped blockhouses stood 230 meters from the pads and looked like the pillboxes of World War II. They provided protection for the launch crew and the control consoles and instrumentation. In the case of complexes 11, 12, 13, and 14, designed for the Atlas ICBM, the inside walls of the 12-sided domed structures were 3.2 meters thick at the base with 12 meters of sand around them.

Besides the blockhouse or launch control center, the essential features of a fixed-pad complex included a concrete or steel pedestal on which to erect and launch the vehicle, a steel umbilical tower to provide fluid and electrical connections to the vehicle, a flame deflector, and a mobile service structure that moved around the vehicle so ground crews on platforms could service and test various components. Other features of the complex included an operations support building, storage facilities for kerosene and liquid oxygen, a tunnel for instrumentation and control cables, roads, camera sites, utilities services, and security.

Three factors largely determined the choice of sites for the launch complexes: explosive hazards, the dangers of overflight, and lines of sight. In 1959 the launch planners assumed that the first five or ten missiles in a new program would have a high rate of failure on the pad or shortly after launch. Approximately 5% of the Cape's previous developmental launches had exploded a few seconds after takeoff, most of them in an area 10 degrees to either side of the intended azimuth (direction) of launch. Experience thus showed the wisdom of locating a pad in an area where there were no permanent facilities immediately downrange. Likewise, the frequency of accidents during test programs made backup pads desirable. The explosive hazard further influenced the placement of facilities within the launch site to minimize damage to "long-lead-time" equipment. Planners also had to maintain a clear line of sight from the launch vehicle to the launch control center, and to electronic and optical instrumentation sites.

Even before NASA embarked on a manned lunar landing program, the space agency planned to dramatically expand its use of large, heavy lift rockets. The first of these was the Saturn I, which was designed in a number of configurations to meet manned and unmanned NASA applications. Initial NASA forecasts called for as many as 100 launches of Saturn-type rockets per year. Cape Canaveral could host just two Saturn I launch complexes, Launch Complex 34 and Launch Complex 37. The former could accommodate a maximum of four Saturn I launches per year, while Launch Complex 37 could accommodate a maximum of eight Saturn I launches per year. It was clear that if NASA required 100 Saturn-type launches per year, or even 20 Saturn-type launches per year as mentioned in more conservative forecasts, more land than was available on Cape Canaveral would be needed. NASA also envisioned larger and larger rockets for introduction in the future. These rockets could not be serviced in the relative confines of geographic Cape Canaveral.

Cutaway view of the assembly building (high bays to left, with Saturn V and mobile launcher on a crawler-transporter; individual stages in low bays in center), with the launch control center at right.

By early 1961, NASA developed and refined a mobile launch concept, whereby a central processing area would service multiple launch pads. This would make launch processing more efficient, decrease the time a rocket spent at the launch pad and decrease the amount of land required for each individual launch area. Initial mobile launch concepts called for a vertical transfer of the rocket from a central assembly area to the launch pad by barge or train. In April, 1961 the NASA Future Launch Systems Office issued a report recommending that the assembly area and transfer method be designed specifically for the rocket being used.

By July, 1961 the basic technical requirements of the launch site were decided. These requirements included:

As larger variants of the Saturn rocket emerged from the drawing boards, NASA refined the criteria to include more buildings for spacecraft processing and launch control, a launcher/transporter with a pedestal for the rocket and an arming tower to be located midway between the assembly area and the launch pad where solid propellant devices and ordnance would be installed.

Meanwhile, design of Launch Complex 39 took shape quickly. The main technical challenge was the method of transporting the huge Saturn V from the assembly area to the launch pad. Transport by barge was considered unsafe due to wind resistance, and a railway was considered to be too expensive. NASA settled on a crawler/transporter, based upon the Bucyrus-Erie 2700 metric ton crawler shovel. A crawler roadway bed could be constructed for half the cost of a railway, so Bucyrus-Erie submitted design modifications of their crawler shovel for the purpose of transporting a Saturn V to NASA in March, 1962. The crawler/transporter concept was approved by NASA on June 13, 1962.

Designs for the rocket assembly area, launch control center, launch pads and a sprawling industrial support area also took shape in 1962. The total cost of Launch Complex 39 was estimated at $500 million, with construction time estimated at three years. A topping out ceremony was held atop the Vehicle Assembly Building on April 14, 1965 marking a milestone in the assembly area. Kennedy Space Center Headquarters was formally opened on May 26, 1965 marking a milestone in the industrial area.

On November 28, 1963 President Lyndon B. Johnson announced in a televised address that Cape Canaveral would be renamed Cape Kennedy in memory of President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated six days earlier. President Johnson said the name change had been sanctioned by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names. Executive Order Number 11129, issued by President Johnson on November 29, 1963 decreed that the NASA Launch Operations Center (LOC), including facilities on Merritt Island and Cape Canaveral, would be renamed the John F. Kennedy Space Center, NASA. That name change officially took effect on December 20, 1963. After a ten-year campaign by Florida residents failed to convince the U.S Congress to change the name Cape Kennedy back to Cape Canaveral, the name it had held for 400 years, the Florida Legislature took action. On May 18, 1973 Florida Governor Rueben Askew signed a Florida Statute requiring that Cape Kennedy be renamed Cape Canaveral on all State of Florida official documents and maps. The U.S. Board of Geographic Names responded on October 9, 1973 by agreeing to officially recognize the name change from Cape Kennedy to Cape Canaveral at the national level. The name John F. Kennedy Space Center, NASA remained the same.


In mid-1950s, the USSR initiated the development of the first intercontinental missiles ballistic R-7 and winged Burya. They both required a new test site, since the location of the existing facility in Kapustin Yar on Volga River would not allow "fitting" the flight range of missiles exceeding 1,000-1,500 km. The major requirement for the new test range was dictated by radio-control developers, who needed to deploy an array of guidance antennas, which would have unobstructed "view" of the rocket over hundreds of miles during powered phase of the flight.

Space center in Baikonur originated as a test launch site for the R-7 ICBM developed at Sergei Korolev's design bureau. The original facilities of the test range founded in 1955 included a single launch pad at Site 1, and an assembly building, known as MIK-2, located at Site 2. The processing area and the launch pad were connected by a railway. The first R-7 rocket blasted off from Site 1 in Tyuratam on May 15, 1957. The world's first artificial satellite was launched from the same pad on October 4, 1957. After the launch of the first manned spacecraft, Vostok-1, in 1961, the pad at Site 1 was nicknamed "Gagarinskiy Start" (Gagarin's pad).

Baikonur R-7 Site

Soyuz Launch

Topical Questions:

  • Why was NASA formed? How does it work within the Federal Government?
  • What were the drivers for developing Cape Canaveral? It's advantages and disadvantages over other sites?
  • How does the Soviet spaceport at Baikonur compare to Kennedy Space Flight Centers?