Blast from the Past: First Launch Ever from Cape Canaveral


When was the first launch ever from Cape Canaveral in Florida? It was on July 24, 1950 with the launch of a Bumper rocket, specifically Bumper #8. It blasted off from Launchpad 3 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It’s amazing to see how close the photographers were allowed to stand to the scene of the action! The little blockhouse for the firing crew and support personnel was located about 152 meters (500 feet) away from launch pad.

These rockets were built by the General Electric Company, and were used mostly for testing rocket systems and for research on the upper atmosphere. The Bumper series of rockets carried small payloads that allowed them to measure attributes including air temperature and cosmic ray impacts. The Bumper rockets were two-stage rockets that used a modified German V-2 missile base and with a WAC Corporal rocket for the upper stage. The upper stage was able to reach then-record altitudes of almost 400 kilometers, which is higher than the International Space Station’s orbit.

Read some interesting history about the Bumper rockets and the early days at Cape Canaveral at the SpaceLine website.

Sources: NASA, SpaceLine

17 Replies to “Blast from the Past: First Launch Ever from Cape Canaveral”

    1. Was this a captured V-2, or a home built version? If captured, is there information where and when it came into Allied hands, and were the engines/fuels standard Nazi V-2?

      1. In April 1945 elements of Zhukov’s Soviet red army closed in on Peenemunde and Von Braun’s team fled to the west. Von Braun made his way to the US army with designs and specs. The Soviets captured the field and sent the German engineers there to the USSR to work with Korolev’s program on rocketry. Surviving V2 rockets fell into the hands of the USSR. The V2 rockets were reconstructed in the US. The Korolev team reconstructed the rocket motors and began clustering them together. The USSR developed this into the Vostock rockets. In the US the largest extension of the V2 rocket was the Redstone rocket, which had a solid propellant stage at the top, similar to the V2/WAC-corporal system featured here. The Soviet rocket program stuck with their basic design, whereas the US redesigned everything.


      2. Numerous V-2 components were shipped to the U.S. after WW2, Deborah Cadbury gave an excellent detailed chronology of these events in her book “Space Race, the battle to rule the heavens.” The transcripts of one veteran of “Operation Paperclip” namely Konrad Danneberg’s reflections in which he also recollects engines/& fuels are available here:

        The V-2 was altered at the nose wherein rails were fitted into which the WAC corporal’s fins were slotted. the missile was staged by throttling back the V-2 engine once a preselected speed was attained, the V-2 thereupon delivered a signal to the Bumper WAC second-stage to ignite it’s engine. The WAC was thrust-burned via a wire which signaled the V-2 to automatically cut off it’s engine, the WAC then slid out of it’s retaining rails.

      3. Not explicitly stated, but the linked page says: “the Army scheduled launches of two modified German V-2 rockets for July, 1950. The rockets were called Bumper”, which seems to confirm Haw-Haw’s description.

        I like how the solid WAC’s were “a Without Any Control (WAC)-Corporal rocket”. Baby steps.

  1. What? Me worry? Those guys DO look awfully close! But in that era is was ‘en vogue’ to be close to things? Like rocket launches and atomic bomb blasts! Or both….

      1. Thanks… those are interesting photos to look at.
        I suppose that some day the property will be renovated for other purposes.

  2. A Bittersweet moment for those of us with parents who experienced its predecessor landing on their city but, it has all turned out well in the end.

    1. The V2 rocket program has the unique distinction for killing more people in the production of a weapon than those killed by the weapon’s use. The manufacture of parts was done with Jewish slave labor under horrific conditions. It is a rather uncomfortable bit of history to realize the man who guided America’s Apollo lunar program was previously a Nazi armament producer.


      1. Von Braun’s relationship with the Nazi party is complicated. He was a part of the SS Algemeine, which was a non-armed wing involved with legal and engineering affairs. He kept some distance from the inner core of the Nazi party though. His situation was similar to Werner Heisenberg’s, who never joined the party, but did conduct research on the nuclear energy of uranium in an abortive nuclear bomb project for Germany. There are with Heisenberg a few more excuses, and he did meet with the Danish physicist Niels Bohr in 1943 and passed on a few bits of information that Bohr took with him when he escaped to the UK.

        Von Braun’s affiliation with the SS allowed his V1 and V2 factories to be manned by slave labor. I think this is the biggest unfortunate aspect of his career. If it had not been for that his work could have been passed off as a pure military affair. He was clearly driven by a huge ambition to send rockets into space, and even set up work on a large V rocket with 4 V2 rockets on a first stage and a V2 at the top with the intention of sending a satellite into orbit. He was even detained and interrogated by the SS or Gestapo for this as a betrayal of the war effort.


      2. He was even detained and interrogated by the SS or Gestapo for this as a betrayal of the war effort.

        Apparently, that was due to a young female dentist (“Is it safe?”), who was an SS spy, informing her superiors that von Braun and his colleagues Riedel and Gröttrup had expressed regret at an engineer’s house one evening that they were not working on a spaceship and that they felt the war was not going well – which was considered a “defeatist” attitude by the Nazi regime. Also, Himmler’s false charges that von Braun was a communist sympathizer and had attempted to sabotage the V-2 program, and the fact that von Braun was a qualified pilot who regularly piloted his government-provided airplane that might allow him to escape to England, consequently resulted in his arrest by the Gestapo.

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