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Cape Canaveral, formerly known as Cape Kennedy, is a NASA space center near the Atlantic coast of Florida. The center is part of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Many space craft are launched from the station and the Kennedy Space Center, so the term Cape Canaveral has come to mean both.
Bumper 8 was the first rocket launched from the Cape. That was in July of 1950. Nine years later, the first intercontinental ballistic missile was launched from the site. Projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo 7 were launched from the Air Force station. The remaining Apollo missions and every Space Shuttle mission to date were launched from the Kennedy Space Center.
Cape Canaveral was chosen for rocket launches because the linear velocity of the Earth’s surface is greatest towards the equator. The location of the cape allows rockets to take advantage of this by being launched eastward to match the Earth’s rotation. Also, since it is best to launch a rocket downrange towards an unpopulated area, the ocean is a great area to launch towards. Although the United States has sites closer to the equator with expanses of ocean to the east of them. There are better sites in the United Sates(Hawaii for instance), but they present significant logistical obstacles.
The Kennedy Space Center does not just focus on astronauts. There are space camps for children, teens, and adults. There are off-site training programs for any citizen, but some concentrate on educators only. Cape Canaveral also has several historic sites and accommodations for tourists. It is a great place to visit and learn about the American space program.
We’ve recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast all about the Launch Facilities. Listen here, Episode 161: Launch Facilities.