USF Libraries | Special & Digital Collections | Exhibits

Florida's Space Coast

Florida’s space coast has become one of the defining features of Florida, representing innovation in technology and space exploration and instilling a sense of national pride.

The first steps in the development of Florida’s space coast came when, “In October 1946, a committee of the Joint Chiefs of Staff decided that Cape Canaveral in Brevard County was the place for military services to test guided missiles” (Faherty 2). Cold war tensions that had developed after the end of WWII sparked the U.S.’s formation of the Army Ballistic Missile agency headed by German rocket scientist Dr. Wernher von Braun: “In the late 1950s, the U.S. began to launch its intercontinental ballistic missiles from the Cape area” (Faherty 9). Cold War tensions peaked in 1957 when the Soviets successfully launched the first man-made satellite, Sputnik, into space. As a result, in 1958 Congress passed the Aeronautics and Space Act. This gave President Eisenhower the authority to officially establish the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

This prompted a boom in development of the space coast, as the U.S. sought to make up distance in the space race. Brevard County soon became the fastest growing county in the country: “Brevard soared from 23,653 to 111,435 individuals, an incredible increase of 371 percent, almost five times as high as the state’s average and 19 times higher than the national average for counties” (Faherty 15). Industry in Brevard County grew alongside the booming population. Prior to the activity of the Space Coast, Brevard County had only a handful of manufacturing firms. However, during the 1950s alone eighteen new manufacturing firms came into existence. These new firms produced a variety of products from boats to precision tools. The space program and beaches of Brevard County offered an attractive destination to tourists. Hotels, restaurants and night clubs sprang forth in Cocoa beach offering a relaxing spot for both tourists and locals.

Florida’s space coast saw another large addition in the early 1960s after President Kennedy made his famous address to Congress proposing that the U.S. should endeavor to put a man on the moon. With this new challenge at hand, NASA had to expand their facilities to accommodate the launch of manned lunar flights. In 1962, NASA acquired 131 square miles of land on Merritt Island and northwest of Cape Canaveral and an additional 87 square miles soon after. The facilities built on this land are what are now known as the Kennedy Space Center.

The Kennedy Space Center visitor complex has its origins in the 1960s when it consisted only of a small trailer with some minor displays. Since then it has greatly expanded and become one of the largest tourist attractions in Central Florida. The current visitor complex has two IMAX theaters, exhibits detailing past space missions, a space shuttle launch simulator, and bus tours. The guided bus tours showcase the Apollo/Saturn V center, views of launch pads, and the vehicle assembly building. In addition, over the past half of a decade visitors from all over the world have visited the Space center to observe historic launches from the Apollo moon missions to the more recent space shuttle launches.